Trumbull art studio Abrakadoodle teaches kids in a 'judgment free zone'

TRUMBULL — Leila and Scarlet Trefz regularly hear a bit of advice from Camille Chistoni that they probably don't get from a lot of other adults.

"We learn that it's OK to mess up," said Scarlet, 9, of Trumbull.

She and her sister Leila, 11, are students in Chistoni's class at the Abrakadoodle art studio in Trumbull.

Abrakadoodle is a Virginia-based franchise business with locations throughout the United States, as well as programs in Singapore and China. Its main focus is bringing art education to schools, camps, private clients and others.

Chistoni, a Trumbull resident, has run mobile art classes with husband Walter through Abrakadoodle for three years. In October, they opened a brick-and-mortar store at 2285 Reservoir Ave. in Trumbull. The Chistonis said the store is the first brick-and-mortar Abrakadoodle in Connecticut. 

The Trefz sisters were among the students in Camille Chistoni's recent evening art class, "Kids on Canvas — Art Through the Ages," which teaches students how to create art in the style of various artists and disciplines.

During a recent class, Chistoni was teaching the students about Grant Haffner, a modern American artist who specializes in landscape paintings of roadways. At the start of her class, Chistoni showed them a painting she had made in Haffner's style, talked about his technique and encouraged her students to do something similar — but not to copy the painting exactly.

Indeed, the paintings done by Camille Chistoni's class had some elements of Haffner's work, including a horizon line, where the painted sky meets the created earth. But each one was unique, containing such flourishes as snowmen, unicorns and Christmas trees.

"It doesn't have to look exactly like the sample we're showing you," Walter Chistoni said. "This is a judgment-free zone."

And that's one of the things Leila and Scarlet Trefz like about the class.

"There are no mistakes in art class," Leila said.

Camille Chistoni loves it too, and said the goal of this class, and others at Abrakadoodle, is to teach kids about art and give them an opportunity to tap into their own creativity.

"A lot of kids come in here and say 'I can't do this,'" she said. But, she added, nearly everyone is capable of creating art with the right encouragement.

Camille has an education background and Walter’s background is in marketing. They found Abrakadoodle because they were looking to start their own business, and the franchise seemed like a good fit. They started by offering Abrakadoodle classes in schools and for other organizations, and decided to expand into the storefront.

The couple offer a variety of classes at their studio, with many classes costing $85 to $95, but they also have camps that range in price from $50 to $120. The average enrollment is six to 10 students, but Camille Chistoni said she would like to see that number grow.

"It's been a little slow," Camille Chistoni said. "A lot of people are too busy to start something new right now."

But many of the kids enrolled in the classes seem to get a lot out of it, including the Trefz sisters. "We don't have to follow the instructions exactly," Leila said.

"We get to do all different things," Scarlet said.

To learn more about the Trumbull Abrakadoodle, visit https://www.abrakadoodle.com/ct-trumbull/.