Born in Los Angeles, California, Mona Brookes was always the school artist. This talent was noticed, and ona received two scholarships to continue her art education. She spent one year at Chouinard Art School in Los Angeles in the Fine Arts department. Wanting a broader based education, she transferred to her second scholarship to Pepperdine College where she pursued a double major in art and psychology combined with social service.
From the social service training, Mona went to work as a probation officer, helping to rehabilitate delinquent teens. Along with her regular duties she conducted art classes for the inmates. She soon received promotions to supervision and training positions, but missed the personal contact with the teens and shared art experiences. She spent 5 years in the probation department and then transferred her skills to the Department of Employment, helping parolees gain useful employment. After 12 years of working in social service, she yearned to return to an artistic career. Having worked continuously as a freelance artist on the side, Mona decided to take a risk. She retired from social service and went back to graduate school to update her skills in graphic arts. To supplement her income, Mona took a position in a nursery school. Little did she know that this job would lead to developing an art curriculum that would eventually become the basis for a revolutionary new technique for teaching art and the publication of her book, Drawing With Children.
Mona was asked by the director of the nursery school to develop arts programs for the teachers and the 100 four and five-year-old students. This simple request turned into a passionate involvement. Mona examined what she felt was a state of visual illiteracy among the students. She noted that the children couldn’t seem to focus on or solve problems. She saw them suffering from competitive and judgmental attitudes to the point of being unwilling to try anything for the fear of failure. Mona watched them endlessly copy the same stick figure drawings over and over. She found out from teachers that very few children would draw at all after the age of 8 or 9. During the first year, she created a noncompetitive environment where she taught the children to draw through a step-by-step explanation of how to observe all visual data throughout five basic elements of shape. The classroom results were outstanding.
Noah Purifoy of the California Arts Council became aware of her work and encouraged her to apply for a grant from the council. Mona received a three year grant that allowed her to refine the technique and test it at several schools. At the Tocaloma School, 100 normal four and five-year-olds were taught. At the Poseidon School, 75 designated learning handicapped delinquent teen-agers at Jr. High and Senior Level, and at E.R.A.S., emotionally disturbed children from 6 to 18 were involved. It worked. Not only did the students’ drawing skills take a quantum leap, but their teachers reported the children were learning to focus, to concentrate, solve problems and be more creative. Children who could not learn the alphabet were able to remember all the letters after learning the elements of shape; math abilities increased after children dealt visually with numbers of elements in their drawing, and the self-esteem gained from successful and fun drawing experiences was transferring into other subjects.
In 1981 Mona started “Monart,” an art school for 125 children, while also working for “Performing Tree,” a private organization affiliated with school systems to send artist into the schools. Mona began giving in-service training workshops to elementary school teachers all over California, most of whom felt they could draw themselves, on how to use her methods. These teachers immediately began reporting the same kind of success with their students.
In 1983, when a waiting list of over 200 children piled up for classes in her drawing school, she trained teachers and opened eleven schools throughout the L.A. Basin. Adults began to request enrollment in the children’s classes, and the classes opened up to all ages.
In 1986, Mona consolidated into one large school headquartered in Santa Monica and one satellite school in Encino. At this point, teachers all over the country were clamoring to be taught the method. Unable to satisfy their demands in person, Mona decided to put her techniques into a book form that could be used by everyone–teachers, adults, parents, and social workers alike, to learn or teach drawing and all its benefits.