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Tiny artists mimic the masters at Coconut Grove Arts Festival

The paintbrush hovered for a moment, clutched firmly in the grasp of a tiny artist.

Then the boy slapped it down with a splat, and a bright blue splotch appeared on the white construction paper. He smiled with delight.

Brendan Brown, 2, was the first artist to visit Abrakadoodle, a mobile art program for children aged 20 months to 12 years. The program, which offers after-school programs and art camps at several elementary schools in Miami-Dade and Broward counties, has been around for 10 years, but this is its first year at the Coconut Grove Arts Festival.

Friday night rainstorms cleared up just in time for the Saturday morning opening of the festival, celebrating its 50th anniversary this President’s Day weekend. Almost 400 artists from around the world will show their wares, ranging from jewelry made of recycled items to massive steel animal sculptures.

Most of the featured artists have been perfecting their crafts for years; they’re masters in their field.

But under a white tent in the northeast corner of Peacock Park, just big enough to shelter a dozen people seated at a table, the kids who visit Abrakadoodle are taking their first steps into artistic expression.

During the festival, Abrakadoodle runs free hourly activities where children can learn about and mimic the work of masters such as Monet, Matisse and Miró.

Saturday morning’s activity aimed to teach children about Pablo Picasso’s cubist art.

Brendan, who ditched the paintbrush in favor of finger painting, nailed it. He added a few surrealist swirls to his Picasso-style portrait with a crayon.

“He likes to color,” said his mother, Michelle Brown.

For the final touch on his masterpiece, Abrakadoodle art instructor Marina Urban dipped Brendan’s left hand in the tempera paint and pressed it down gently at the edge of his painting. Brendan’s mom clapped and tried to snap a photo, but the toddler was already wriggling out of his red apron and out of his chair, on to the next adventure.

Each afternoon of the festival, Amanda Alders is leading art therapy sessions during Romero Britto-themed activities.

She asks the kids to think about what emotions they feel when they look at a brightly-colored Britto painting, then they assign those emotions to a color.

Being able to identify their emotions and having a creative outlet helps children develop and avoid behavioral problems, said Alders, president of the Florida Art Therapy Association.

It’s also a lot of fun for them.

Victoria and Mark Aleman’s mom and dad brought them to the art festival from Weston. The siblings made a beeline for the Abrakadoodle tent while their parents took in the sunshine at Peacock Park.

Ray by colorful ray, Mark, 6, carefully painted a wavy rainbow background for his Picasso portrait. Victoria, 8, favored robin’s egg and deep royal blues.

The pair stayed focused on their work as the table began to fill up with more children. One curly-haired blonde girl practically dragged her mother to the Abrakadoodle tent, insisting, “I want to make a rainbow!”

Finally finished, Victoria Aleman stepped back to admire her portrait. Two round eyes with blue eyelashes looked out from a green face. The two spots of pink rouge matched Victoria’s cheeks, flushed with pride.

Beaming at the painting, but shy, the girl shrugged.

“I just felt like it,” she said.