For Marian Steen, being exposed to art when she was a third-grader set her career path in motion.
“I was terrible at math and a few others things, and I got a gold star on a painting, so that was it: ‘I’m gonna be an artist,’” she said.
The St. Louis native has been a professional artist for three decades now. Steen believes it’s important to continue giving children the same exposure to the arts that she had.
On Thursday, she brought her paintbrush and watercolors to Our Lady Queen of Peace School in Belleville, which was one of seven stops for Art on the Square artists such as Steen as part of the Artist in Residence Program.
Sixth-grader Aloisia Rickert said she’s more interested in a career in science, but she was “really, really excited” about Steen’s visit.
“Other than my dad, I’ve never really met an artist,” she said.
Aloisia said her dad was an art teacher at one time. Her classmate, Myles McGee, agreed that the chance to learn from an artist was exciting.
“It’s not like you do this every day,” he said.
Steen worked with students in third-, fourth- and sixth-grade classes. Each child was given a blank sheet of paper, paint, water, brushes, some salt, cut pieces of credit cards, bubble wrap and plastic wrap. Steen used her own handmade paper to demonstrate “how to enjoy watercolor,” she said.
It’s hard to fill paper with paint.
Marian Steen, Art on the Square artist
“It does its own thing,” Steen said of the paint. “If you get it kind of wet, it can do really fun things.”
Steen asked the students to create their own abstract paintings Thursday based on one of the four seasons, just like she had done in a series of previous work. She encouraged the students to pick up their papers while they were wet and let the colors drip and run together. They could use the salt, plastic credit card pieces, bubble wrap and plastic wrap to add texture, Steen told them.
The salt gave the paintings an effect that she said looks like stars — or maybe snowflakes in a piece inspired by winter.
“I call it magic, but literally, it’s the salt pushing away the water,” Steen said.
Sixth-graders Alex Hampton and Luke Gundlach said they enjoyed the freedom of abstract art.
“I think it’s really interesting because it can be anything you want,” Alex said.
Luke agreed. “You’re not going to be criticized,” he said.
Steen said she hopes the students gained an appreciation for art and learned that it’s not easy.
“It’s hard to fill paper with paint,” she said.
I think it was the best art project I’ve ever done.
Clyde Barger, Our Lady Queen of Peace School sixth-grader
She saw lots of blank papers early on among the sixth-graders, which Steen said she understands from experience.
“It’s intimidating. Years ago, I had a huge piece of paper ... and it sat up in my studio for months,” she said. “... I couldn’t approach it because it was kind of scary. But I finally did, and it worked out.”
Sixth-grader Clyde Barger said Steen’s advice helped him as he created a blue-green painting on winter.
“I think it was the best art project I’ve ever done,” he said.
It’s Steen’s fourth year as an Art on the Square artist and her third year participating in the Artist in Residence Program.
The Belleville art show runs Friday through Sunday. Steen said this year she will be displaying and selling large watercolor collages and paintings that feature foliage and floral designs — all in color.
Sixth-grader Norah Buescher said she’s been to Art on the Square previously with her family. “I saw some really cool paintings,” she said.
Norah likes that when she returns to the event over the weekend, she can say she’s met one of the artists behind the paintings.