Camps for Creative Teens



Courtesy of Stanford Summer Art Institute

Your teenager may be a soft-spoken poet, a boisterous street painter or an amazing manga artist. But whatever their artistic style and no matter how advanced their skills, they can find a big canvas for exploring their creativity at the Bay Area’s many art and writing summer camps.

Camps range from half-day classes in cozy storefronts to weeks-long institutes at local universities. Class topics are just as diverse. Writing camps range from flash fiction to journalism, while art camps run the gamut from impressionistic painting to digital art boot camp. Many offer camps for younger kids as well.

While some of the teenage students at these camps already see themselves as artists, others are just beginning to discover their artistic side, camp leaders say. Most teens are so busy with college-entry tests, academics and athletics that they rarely have the chance to unfurl their creative wings; summer camp gives them time and license to do so. And while building technique is a goal of all the camps, also important is helping each teen discover his or her distinctive voice and style.

“Every student is an artist, with unique vision, creative ideas and favorite themes,” says Maria Zhalnina, creative director of the Art School of San Francisco Bay, echoing other camp directors. “We support each creative individual, gently guide them through all steps of creative process. And we make sure that each camp's theme allows creative freedom.” 

But creativity for its own sake is only one of the benefits of arts education, camp leaders say. Forbes magazine recently listed creativity and writing skills as number two and four, respectively, of the top seven job skills desired by employers.

If your teen has a heart for art, here is a sampling of the camps they can attend. Camps are listed in order from half-day programs to more intensive courses.

WRITING CAMPS

Ripe Fruit Teen Writing Camp

Inspiring young writers to fall in love with the English language is a mission for Leslie Kirk Campbell, director of Ripe Fruit Teen Writing Camp in San Francisco.

Kirk Campbell’s camp, held in a homey Edwardian, offers weeklong sessions on general creative writing in the morning for middle-school students and afternoon for high-school students.

“She teaches that a word isn’t just a word,” says Alexa Crandall, 14, of San Francisco, who has attended three of Kirk Campbell’s camps. “It can show emotion and specific meaning. It can bring the reader into the light that the author wants to express.”

Each day, Kirk Campbell leads her class through three or four fun and challenging writing exercises that are designed to get their creativity flowing.

“We don’t jump into writing stories or essays without first falling in love with the language itself,” Kirk Campbell explains.

The students might arrive to find something surprising on the front steps ‒ a variety of hats or shoes, large art books or strange objects, which will become part of a writing project that day. Another time, they might cut several phrases out of short stories and paste them together randomly to make unique poems. Each day, they make up new names for themselves, and while sitting in Ripe Fruit’s comfortable chairs, they come up with qualities of their new character to build their descriptive vocabulary and learn about character development.

Kirk Campbell, who has won writing awards, also guides students through various elements of fiction ‒ theme, character, setting, conflict, perspective and voice.

She becomes a mentor to her students by offering specific pointers. She tells them when she sees their writing grow and improve.

“They can see that I’m excited by specific elements in their writing,” Kirk Campbell says. “They can see that I totally believe in them, which liberates them to be adventurous and free.”

Alexa says the experience made her “more comfortable and confident in my writing. At school, I know I can get my point across.”

“I am always blown away by what young people can write if you just give them freedom and permission to write from their hearts,” Kirk Campbell says.

Weeklong, 3.5-hour classes are $295. See www.ripefruitwriting.com.

Berkeley Teen Writing Camp

Held on the iconic University of California, Berkeley campus, this camp features weeklong classes, both half- and full-day, for 9th- to 12th-graders on nine topics –  ranging from academic writing to sports writing.

The instructors, all professionals in their topics, lead the students through the fundamentals of composition while also emphasizing the fun of it, says Katherine Suyeyasu, director of the UC Berkeley Bay Area Writing Project (BAWP), which puts on the camp. There’s no sitting quietly and copying lines here; camp is active and engaging, no matter the topic.

“In our Backpack Reporter camp, students might learn about investigative journalism techniques by conducting their own field interviews,” Suyeyasu says. “At another camp, such as Engage and Write, writers might wander the campus and write in place for inspiration. Writers in the Rebellious Writing camp might start their day with critically analyzing a current event to inspire their writing.”

This last class is for opinionated risk-takers “who aren’t afraid to tell it like they see it,” the BAWP website says.

To make all their students want to take risks and experiment in their writing, instructors focus on building a sense of community in each camp. That involves developing a supportive peer group and arranging a comfortable space to share their work.

Famous writers don't usually create stories on their own, Suyeyasu points out. “They are supported by a larger community of writers. Sharing writing allows writers to get feedback and new ideas.”

For parents and students who are wondering if they want to spend their summer sharpening their writing skills, Suyeyasu offers, “Writing is important not only for college and career success, it is also a way for our voices to be heard.

Whether you want to be a journalist, travel writer, musician, politician, activist… or veterinarian, writing is a powerful tool for communication and self-expression. Even famous athletes need to write their best-selling memoirs!”

Half-day classes start at $320 per week, full-day classes at $580. A course titled “The Personal Statement: From Zero to Bang in Five Days” is held in Marin as well Berkeley. Learn more at bawpwritingcamp.org.

San Jose Teen Writing Institute

Teens who are ready to immerse themselves in the world of writing may want to consider downtown San Jose’s Teen Writing Institute. Open to 8th- to 12th-graders, the camp is 5 ½  hours a day for two weeks and takes place at San Jose State University.

All instructors are published authors of young adult literature or are teacher consultants with the San Jose Area Writing Project, says Kate Flowers, the writing project’s associate director. One teacher, for example, is Hannah Jayne, an author of young adult novels including the Underworld Detective Agency series. All are experienced teachers who love working with teens.

Meeting expert writers and hearing their advice had a noticeable impact on his writing, says Jacob Pustelnik,16, of San Jose  who attended last year’s institute.

“I was able to learn how to write like ‘high level’ authors,” Jacob says. “I implemented new literary devices to emphasize specific sections within a writing piece.”

This year, journalism and creative writing courses will be offered, as well as possibly screenplay writing, digital storytelling, academic writing, character building and world building, although the course topics aren’t finalized. Students typically choose one workshop to attend each week.

While the instructors are free to structure the class to meet their goals, most of them incorporate writing games, time for sharing and excursions onto the SJSU campus, Flowers says. Teachers lead the projects, but the students often have the freedom to take them in the direction they want. For instance, in the screenwriting class last year, the students decided to write and perform a musical.

“It was a huge hit, and came about organically as the class developed a silly idea into an amazing collaboration,” Flowers says.

While it’s called an institute, the program starts later than school, and Flowers says it’s more relaxed and lighthearted as well.

“Classes are small, and we get to know each other well,” Flowers says. “Amazing things happen to young writers who aren’t burdened with the pressures of grades or homework. Writers grow by trying out new things in an encouraging environment with supportive feedback from other skilled writers, and that is exactly what TWI campers get.” 

The two-week institute is $500 before May 1 or $650 after. For information, see sjawp.org/ssp.

ART CAMPS

Museum of Children’s Arts (MOCHA) Youth Camp

For teens whose artistic interests aren’t so much verbal as visual, the Museum of Children’s Arts (MOCHA) in Oakland offers half-day camps for 12- to 16-year-olds.

The weeklong courses are in six different disciplines, including street painting, sculpture, comic art, natural arts, drawing and painting, with each taught by an expert craftsperson who aims to inspire the artist in their students.

“At MOCHA we believe everyone is an artist,” Haldun Morgan, MOCHA’s marketing manager, says. “Each day will be a creative and productive experience for all involved.”

That proves to be the case in the street painting class taught by Zachary Greer, whose art is displayed publicly in San Francisco, North Carolina and Texas. Greer’s students will experiment not only with acrylic paints, but with paint markers, pastels, clay, stencils and other materials that can be used in street art. They’ll start by creating a small sketch and expand it into a larger piece or mural, Greer says. And they’ll invent a name or street tag that they’ll use to sign their art.

“I know many street artists, and some may come and talk to the kids,” Greer says. “We don’t get to paint on the street, but we will take a tour of street art downtown and we’ll look for the names and the styles.”

Back in the colorful studios at MOCHA, students will check out the work of prolific street artists from around the world and practice some of their techniques and styles. A lesson on how to seek permission from property owners, get commissioned and not break the law is also on the schedule. At the end of each session, family and friends are invited to celebrate the week’s masterpieces.

Any thought that art is just for girls is dispelled by classes like street painting. “Boys get into it, and girls really get into it as well,” Greer says.

The camp is $200 per week. More information can be found at mocha.org/museum/youth-camp.

Art School of San Francisco Bay

With several locations and a large portfolio of camps, the Art School of San Francisco Bay has something to offer nearly any teenage art aficionado on the west side of the bay.

Weeklong courses for teens include manga, advanced manga, comic art, stop motion animation and fan art and can be taken either in half- or full-day segments at studios in San Francisco, Mountain View and San Jose. A digital painting and drawing camp is held on summer Saturdays and a 3D-modeling camp on Sundays in Mountain View. Impressionist painting camps for kids up to age 14 are held in Palo Alto, Mountain View and San Francisco.

One thing these camps have in common is their focus on technique-building, says Maria Zhalnina, the art school’s creative director.

“Yes, the students have fun at the camp,” Zhalnina says. “Yes, they create artwork that will add to their portfolios. But most importantly, they bring home a whole new set of skills that helps them to improve their performance dramatically.”

Some techniques they learn apply to many disciplines, such as methods for representing human anatomy or shadow and light, and others are specific to the course. In the manga class, for example, students learn the shoujo and shounen styles and practice with Copic markers. In impressionist landscape camp, students practice the impasto technique and learn about the effets de soir or impact of sunset and twilight.

Though each camp follows a curriculum, teachers offer students room to experiment. Often, they literally move out into the wide-open space for inspiration. In Mountain View, campers visit the nearby Heritage Park. The Palo Alto impressionistic landscape camp meets at Foothill Park, while San Francisco campers spend time at the Botanical Garden and the DeYoung Museum in Golden Gate Park, as well as in the school’s own backyard.

Many of the teenagers, already excellent artists, end up teaching each other. Still, they benefit from receiving instruction from a teacher with a trained eye and a wide scope of experience, Zhalnina says. In one advanced manga camp, for instance, the students were particularly skilled, but they always drew one character at a time and never placed it in a context.

“We decided to help them move their skills to the next level and make a comic page with a story, interesting composition, cool characters, etc.,” Zhalnina says. “The biggest challenge was to finish in time! The results were amazing.”

Three-hour camp is $250 per week; 6.5-hour camp is $475. See www.artschoolsfbay.com.

Stanford Summer Art Institute

Teens who are so passionate about the arts that they’re thinking of making it their career can find the support and instruction they need at the Stanford Summer Art Institute.

The institute offers high school students ages 14 to 17 a choice of one of six courses in music, photography, architecture, visual arts, product design or a mix of these, during three-week overnight sessions on the Stanford campus.

The instructors come from the university’s art and academic community, and each one designs the course according to her or his distinctive style and expertise. Classes are small ‒ usually less than 15 students – and students participate hands-on, performing, composing and creating alongside peers who share their passion.

Art students, for example, learn about product design, applying tools such as CAD, Photoshop and Illustrator to build new product prototypes. Architecture students observe scale and form while sketching structural plans on the Stanford campus. Photography pupils play with story, composition and light as they take field photos and refine them for a portfolio by the end of the session.

The experience is intensive and inspiring, says Diana Sunshine, communications director for Stanford Pre-Collegiate Studies. She adds that camp organizers often hear from students, “’It's the most transformative experience I've ever had.’”

“They learn a great amount of material in a short time,” she says. “They learn, 'I can do a whole bunch of amazing things.'”

Students not only gain confidence in their artistic and social skills, but they learn they’re capable of attending a school like Stanford. They also begin to see the arts as a viable career.

“They usually hear a lot of, 'You should never go into the arts. You'll never make a living.'” Sunshine says. “We hear from them afterward that they believe they can …make a good living. An exact quote from a student is you ‘can go into the arts and be successful doing what you love.’ They're jazzed!”

Candidates must submit an application with artwork, written responses, test scores and teacher recommendations. The institute has a rolling deadline this spring until the program is full.

The $6,000 fee includes field trips, housing, dining and supervision. Scholarships are available. Information on the art institute and nine other Stanford pre-collegiate summer institutes ranging from writing to bioscience can be found at spcs.stanford.edu.

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