Donning paint-stained smocks and oversized T-shirts, with brushes in hand and canvases in place, two dozen children sat wide-eyed watching Jackie Humphries brush swirls of pink and glittery black watercolor paint above a city skyline she had drawn and taped to a bare wall.
The kids followed the example of “Miss Jackie,” some wildly, some meticulously, as they created their own New Year’s Eve fireworks cityscape, one of hundreds of projects Humphries has guided children on at her Tag It Art children’s art studio.
“You do it however you want,” Humphries told them, “because these are your paintings, not mine.”
After more than five years, Humphries is closing her Forest Acres studio. Wednesday was Tag It Art’s final event, with many of the studio’s regular attendees joining to celebrate the new year and celebrate the impact Humphries has had on their creativity and talent.
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“I like that when she paints ... she’s all enthusiastic,” 9-year-old Shai Sherman said. “She’s very with us. She does it step by step on our level.”
The stress of running the business and shifting priorities as she turns a corner into her 30s prompted Humphries to close the studio.
“Creativity is not the hard part,” Humphries said. “But the stress of an entire business on your shoulders – which I know I committed to and I do not regret one bit – but doing that in combination with the creative and being here at all times, that’s been the hard part.
“But again, I wouldn’t change it. This was my child.”
Humphries isn’t sure what she’s doing next. But she wasn’t entirely sure about six years ago, either, when she started planning the children’s art studio.
After graduating from the University of South Carolina with a degree in fine arts and a minor in psychology, she cared for children while she mapped out her post-college steps, knowing that she somehow wanted to blend her interests in artwork and children.
Tag It Art was not based on any other studios, Humphries said, because there were no others like it that she knew of.
Her goal when opening the studio in August 2009, quite simply, was to give children more opportunities to create.
Children, from toddlers to middle schoolers, have come to Tag It Art for classes, camps, parties and holiday celebrations, where they learned to explore their personalities and talents through art, following Humphries’ motto of “a little bit of guideline and lots of freedom.”
“That’s the thing with children,” she said. “They’re willing to at least try it, no matter what. They’re not going to doubt themselves or be fearful. Well, some will be fearful to some degree, but it doesn’t take long for them to jump the threshold.”
Jessica Daly’s three oldest children have been regulars at the studio almost since its beginning, with her 2-year-old daughter, Taylor, recently having started classes.
Six-year-old Gracie’s food-themed series she painted at Tag It Art hangs in frames around the Daly kitchen, with other gems such as 12-year-old Erin’s landscapes and 10-year-old Thomas’ dinosaurs gracing the walls of the family’s home.
Tag It Art has given the Daly children opportunities they might not have otherwise had to get excited about art, their mother said.
“They choose art. They all want a sketchbook. They choose to do that,” Daly said. “At their age, they don’t have the inhibitions that we do about not being good. They just do it. They just start to draw, and it’s good.”
On Wednesday, Erin Daly joined the Montgomery sisters, 9-year-old Hannah and 12-year-old Ally, at a table where they used wooden tongue depressors to spread neon paint into bursts of fireworks above their cityscapes, each one similar but perfectly unique.
“It’s a fun way to express yourself,” Hannah Montgomery said. “(Humphries is) really nice and really fun and teaches us, and we make really cool things.”
Closing up shop has been bittersweet for Humphries.
It’s sweet, she said, because she’s finally getting a chance to de-stress and refocus her priorities, but bitter because she’ll miss the moments – seeing a child’s personality revealed in a painting, hearing the kids tell her stories about their weekends, watching them grow and mature, both personally and artistically.
Going through artwork left at the studio to be picked up or sold in the final days brought back memories of individual birthday parties and camps and project series for Humphries.
“They can create so much. Really, they can,” Humphries said. “A lot of people think art is only for a particular person. It’s not. It is for everyone. It’s just simply trying it.