In the basement of the Corooran Gallery of Art there's a big room called a studion where nobody minds if you slop paint on the marble floor. Every fall and spring the Corcoran holds a series of weekend workshops for kids in the studio, and on registration day there's an open house where kids can eat cookies and make pictures while parents sign forms and write checks.
"It's the same color as your shirt. Am I glad." says a mother whose son wants to print at the red table. The kids are making monoprints, which means you can use only one color at a time, and there's one long, newspaper-covered table with jars of blue paint and another, more popular table with jars of red paint.
The boy dips a big wooden spoon into the paint jar and puts a glob of the red paint on a rectangle of Plexiglass.
"Roll your paint evenly all over the Plexiglass," says instructor Ginny Jannotta, as the boy pushes a brayer, or roller, around the Plexiglass. When the paint is evenly spread she hands him a Popsicle stick.
"Draw a design or a picture right on the paint. Do you have a pet?" she suggests.
Instead he draws a profile of a man with a big nose and thick hair. He presses a piece of paper down on his drawing and carefully lifts it up, but he's unhappy with the way the hair turns out. Another instructor, Lou Jones, comes to his rescue.
"Just redraw the hair and leave the rest of it. When you pushed the paper down on it the paint in that section ran together," she tells him. "We're using finger paint today. It's thicker than printer's ink and tends to run together, but we won't want to use printer's ink for a variety of reasons," she explains to an adult observer. "We're also using Plexiglass instead of glass. Adult printers sometimes pull with glass, but we don't want the children using it. Luckily, one of our framers gave us a lot of Plexiglass scraps."
While one child pulls a print of a cat name Chocolate, another searches her head for subject matter. "Why don't you do one of your landscapes?" suggests her father.
Another girl works on a self-portrait. "It's supposed to be me," she grimaces. "But my hair isn't that long." Decisively, she rolls the image over with the brayer and starts again.
As one little girl works on a print of TV antennas, a Corcoran staff member adds a new dimension. "Anyone want some yellow?" she offers.
While the red table gradually becomes the orange table, shades of purple begin to creep into the blue table, making it much more cherche. One girl has varied the technique by drawing a purple picture on the clean side of her Plexiglass and is pressing a piece of paper down on it with a purple brayer.
"You need a dry roller to make that kind of print," says Jannotta, scurrying off in search of one. Meanwhile, Jones is watching the execution of a purple portrait.
"Oh, he's going to have teeth?" she asks.
"He's a monster," explains the creature's creator.
Another boy is using the side of the Popsicle stick to make a composition of wedges on orange paint, while a little girl uses a similar technique to create what she says are mountains. A toddler is using the finger paint as finger paint and applying it directly to paper.
"The younger ones sometimes don't see the necessity of the middle step that printing involves," explains Jones.
The Corcorn has held printmaking classes for children as young as four, but this season the four-to seven-year-old are being offered a series of mixed-media workshops called "A Land From Fantasy."
"The kids will create castles out of corrugated paper. They can have moats and drawbridges around them - anything the kids want. We'll people them with kings and queens, and the kids will design their own flags. It will be their country," explains Jones.
Kids from eight through eleven can study drawing or acrylic painting at the Carcoran, and those classes include visits to the Corcoran's collections upstairs.
"Often a kid will look at a painting and say 'Hey, that's like what I'm doing!'" said Jones. "Kids like the material we have here, and they like having the freedom to use them. Parents sometimes discourage kids by saying "That doesn't look like so and so,' or 'That doesn't look like a house.' We don't judge their work. We ask them what it is."
The forms have been filled out and the adults are getting restless and urging the kids toward the sink for cleanup. But most of the kids keep on pulling prints.
"Okay, but that's your last one," a mother says firmly.
New kids and new parents keep arriving and the process starts all over agin. A girl pulls her first print and shows it eagerly to her father.
"Isn't that . . . er, interesting!" he exclaims.