Itinerant art teacher Claire Santellana travels across the city with her wagonful of supplies for painting, sculpting and drawing classes in tow.

“Art benefits people in so many ways. Our goal is to bring more art to the community,” said the owner of Art to Finish Studio LLC.

For the past couple of years, Claire and her husband Joshua Santellana Sr., known to students as “Mr. J,” who teaches (cartoon) character design and animation, have offered dozens of classes at locations as varied as a church in Monument to Hobby Lobby stores, to homeschooled students in D20 and D38, at New Summit Charter Academy, at The Classical Academy, in private homes, and at three Pikes Peak Library District branches — Library 21c, East Library and Sand Creek Library.

After approaching Cottonwood Center for the Arts about offering children’s classes, Claire Santellana now teaches several kids’ summer art camps there.

Before the couple’s move to the Briargate area from Victoria, Texas, one of their sons underwent treatment for cancer at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. The family spent many hours in his hospital room doing art, which offered them a respite, comfort and hope.

There’s wasn’t much else to do, Santellana says, while, “living in the hospital.”

The family, which includes Annalysia, 11, J.J. (or Joshua Jr.), 7, James, 5, and a baby due in October to be named Julianna, found more than relief in the creation of art. They found it to be healing force for each family member individually. MD Anderson’s Arts in Medicine support program provides activities for patients and their families to take their minds off being poked, feeling sick, and staying for long periods of time inside the building while undergoing treatment or avoiding contamination.

“Art really unites our family,” Santellana says.

At MD Anderson the kids got to design a spacesuit that was then worn by actual astronauts at the space program there.

Santellana’s background as a teacher caused her to jump in sometimes to help teach — clay modeling, for instance — and when the program was looking to establish a board they asked her to serve. She readily agreed. Santellana says that yearlong experience was enlightening as to how medical professionals viewed the value of art activities for healing. She said she would love to help develop a similar program at Children’s Hospital Colorado.

Santellana emphasized how art brings, “that creative element, that escape from the mundane things that happen at the hospital.”

Her family’s move to Colorado was so that their then-6-year-old son would have the opportunity to be treated with medical marijuana CBD oil with THC for his painful neuropathy. The boy experienced tingling and numbness after his chemotherapy treatments, and would sometimes cry from the pain in his hands and feet. He’s doing better now, Santellana reports.

She said she discovered art as a healing activity when was mentored in high school by an especially caring teacher. After Santellana finished college the teacher, Ms. Ellie Poirrier, offered Santellana a job to teach under her for her homeschool group of 70 students. That position led to more teaching and eventually Porrier passed along her business to Santellana.

Poirrier “had the ‘maker center learning’ approach before it was a thing,” Santellana says.

There were no “cookie-cutter lessons.” Instead, for example, students would first learn to understand the concept of shading — how to highlight areas from dark to light — then study how everything has shadows, then look at pictures … and finally pick out a picture to draw.

Art to Finish Studio LLC‘s philosophy is to let students experience different mediums so parents don’t have to buy tons of supplies, only to find out a child doesn’t have a passion for painting for instance and prefers clay. Kids can try working with mixed-media materials, colored pencils, oil paints, or pastels and “see where their passion lies,” explains Santellana. The business customizes corporate and birthday parties in a similar manner.

“It’s a lot of supplies,” Santellana says. She has a wagon she’ll load up with different mediums for back-to-back classes, by organizing, “a bin for this class and a bin for that class.”

She said the goal of an Art to Finish class is not just the final creation of clay or paint, but “a learning environment where our students want to learn and grow in the arts.”

Santellana started teaching adults within the last few months and says they are, “just a little more hesitant and more critical of their own work.”

She encourages the grown-ups that, “It doesn’t have to look good. No one’s judging here. Just have fun and create.”

And she attempts to foster “that growth mindset” for all students. “If you mess up it doesn’t mean it’s ruined, let’s problem-solve.”

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