When fourth- and fifth-graders at McKinley Elementary caught wind that nationally renowned local painter and sculptor Mike Capser would be visiting their school after hours to give them a quick art lesson, they were ecstatic.
There was such demand, in fact, that school counselor Carolyn Yegen had to make a sign-up sheet for the event.
“The kids were very excited,” she said.
In the end, 24 students attended the lesson Tuesday in the school cafeteria.
Each student started with a blank sheet of a paper, but after about an hour of Capser’s instruction, they left with a watercolor painting to be proud of.
When Capser walked in, he asked the kids, “Ready to make a mess?”
“Yes!” they excitedly responded at once.
The kids gathered around a table, anxiously awaiting Capser’s instruction.
Landscapes were the subject of the day.
He went step-by-step to show them how. After each step, the students would return to their tables to apply what they learned, and Capser would walk around the room offering pointers.
He said having a plan when dealing with watercolors is crucial, as the medium doesn’t forgive so easily.
An hour later, there were 24 unique mountain landscapes in the room and 24 smiling faces.
Yegen said she started organizing the event about a month ago after receiving a phone call from Carol Daniel, a long-time volunteer at McKinley.
Daniel’s idea for the event came after her son, Brett Daniel, a former student at McKinley who is now a doctor in Seattle, accidentally gave her 36 paint sets for Christmas.
"What am I going to do with all these?" she asked her son. “Oh, you’ll think of something,” she said he responded.
He was right.
Daniel, who has been taking art classes from Capser at Q’s Art and Frame Shop over on 1511 6th Avenue N., had just the idea, and after talking to friends and family she was able to make it all come together.
Capser volunteered the lesson; store owner John Armstrong volunteered the paper; her other son, Roger Daniel, volunteered the paintbrushes; and about eight other people with whom she takes classes volunteered their time.
“I loved it!” said Lily Webb, a fifth-grader. She added that watching the colors change as she mixed them was particularly fun.
Volunteer Rita Feller, 85, said that watching kids paint offered a learning experience for the adults, too.
“You can’t believe what you learn from the kids and the colors they use,” she said.
Within those colors, she said, exists an opportunity to learn something about the children that you might not have learned otherwise.
Fifth-grader Josh Brown, who has been drawing since he was 3, said art is therapeutic for him.
“It’s a coping skill. It helps me relax,” he said. “When my house is really noisy, I just go in my room and do it.”
Raised on a cattle ranch near the Snowy Mountains, Capser is a professional artist who lives in Billings. At one time, 3,000 galleries around the country displayed his work, he said.
He used to travel a lot back then. Capser teaches art classes biweekly at Q’s.
“He’s one we should really be proud of in Montana,” Armstrong said.