Kids channel their inner Van Gogh

COSTA MESA — A stark art gallery was brought to life Thursday afternoon with colorful paintings.

But even more colorful — and excited — were the artists themselves.

In a whirl of hot pink, purple and red, tutu-clad Ruby Anne Cesario, 4, broke into a run as she crossed the gallery with her family to show them her painting of a branch from an apple tree in front of a fence.

"Having [her painting] in the gallery is great," said Ruby's mother, Anne Cesario. "And it's a great experience for her."

Orange Coast College hosted the one-day "Language of Paint" exhibit, which displayed 24 paintings in the children's gallery of the Frank M. Doyle Arts Pavilion. Pre-kindergarten students from the campus' Harry & Grace Steele Children's Center created the works.

The exhibit showcased the 4- and 5-year-olds' paintings, the photographs they were based on, and a photo collection showing each child's process.

In order to capture the world around them, each child was given a disposable camera to use while on walks around campus or in the center's garden, said their teacher, Debra Womack.

Then they got as much time as needed to recreate one of their photos in paint, Womack said.

The process taught the children about shapes, patterns, textures and spatial awareness, and it facilitated conversations about shading and shadows, she said.

The idea was to have children intentionally observe nature and give them a way to form an emotional connection with it — something Womack sees as declining with technology.

"They got to take pictures of things that were meaningful to them," she said. "They all have a special memory now and a connection to nature."

Luke Stricker, 5, decided to paint a tree that he used to play games in.

Luke said it made him sad that the tree was later removed; the painting was a way for him to remember it.

At home, Luke's work has a large and beautiful frame waiting for it, said Luke's mother, Yvette Casillas-Stricker.

"This is beyond our wildest imagination that they would paint like this," she said.

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