The Art of Mentorship
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The Art of Mentorship

While an apprentice (think Michaelangelo and DaVinci) is someone “learning a trade from a skilled employer, having agreed to work for a fixed period at low wages,” I revere the people who are not paying my kid to learn their trade — conversely, we pay them to learn skills — and celebrate them for being more than basic instructors, teachers or coaches. They are all of those things, plus mentors.

True masters.

I’ve come to learn that part of fulfilling my duties as parent to an artist is finding the right mentors to nurture her creative passions. That means their personalities also have to click.

Brevard County is rich with amazing masters across the arts. And Ella has been well served with a multidisciplinary team of them. I’ve joked that she is enrolled in the Helton Academy of the Arts. But it’s less a joke and more a way to sum up her education and enrichment. Without an arts school here that gels with the schedule of working artist students (Ella has been a traveling child actress for five years and is a member of the SAG-AFTRA union), we’ve had to create our own educational setup that suits her needs.

That means homeschool, but many educators are involved. I’m ecstatic to celebrate the artists who share their gifts with Ella and nurture her creative journey.

Unleashing the Visual Artist

Ella, 9, recently started selling her original pastel artwork at farmers markets, alongside her five-year established Ella Bella Beads jewelry creations. We also are grateful to Eau Gallery in Melbourne, which invited her to sell her notecards. The “Ella Grace Helton, Child Artist” sign at the markets triggers a consistent level of incredulousness.

It’s refreshing to see Ella interact with those intrigued how she could make such drawings. I was in as much disbelief. Except I’ve seen the beautiful relationship she’s developed with her art mentor, award-winning international selling artist Debi Pettigrew. I witness what happens when a talented, patient soul demonstrates techniques to use the right materials. Debi says Ella has a knack for color and recognizing proportion, for details, textures and how to turn her work.

But Ella wouldn’t have known which brand pastel sticks or pencils to use. She wouldn’t have known how those pastels layer, build and blend or about negative painting or foreshortening without Debi showing her. Ella and Debi sit side-by-side each week, the master sharing and showing, the student absorbing and implementing.

Ella used to mimic various videos on YouTube showing how to draw flat characters. Then she took classes through a kids fine-art program, starting in person then switching to virtual during the pandemic. Ella’s early pastel style was satisfyingly more “kid.”

Then Ella met Debi, and everything elevated.

Kids have much potential. It can be sports, academics, engineering, visual art, music, performance arts — or any combination. Two truths about that potential:

  1. We are wired better for some skills than others. 
  2. Talent has a better chance to thrive when nurtured. But some degree of it can be taught. 

I make timelapse videos showing Ella’s drawings coming to life. This documents the process, reduces the incredulousness and also celebrates the mentor.

Debi, whose students range from kids to seniors, starts not with technique.

“At a fundamental level, I teach people how to see, how to study things,” she said. “Artistic talent is not in the hand that guides the brush, but in the ability to see things in a new way.”

The result of this acceleration of Ella’s visual art skills is her online art store that launched in May. The reception has been beautiful. Check out her work at and stay tuned as she plans to use her art for giving back, like she does with her beads.

Cha Cha Cha

Like many kids, Ella tried various dance classes. Then she tried ballroom and a love affair ensued. Within three months of her trial class, Ella danced in her first competition. She did another two months later and is always looking ahead to the next.

It was beautiful to see her embrace Latin ballroom, which suits her performer personality to a tee. Even more inspiring was seeing her eager to attend multiple private lessons each week and put in the hard work to attain her vision.

And wow are we blessed to have the highest level ballroom dancers here in Brevard. Thank you to the amazing team at WeDance Ballet & Ballroom Academies.

Ella’s instructor extraordinaire – and her dance partner at the Pro-Am competitions – is the tireless Nadezhda Rudovich, known to Ella as Ms. Nadia. Ella’s ballroom journey might not have been as smooth or swift without the right personality holding her hand. I’m grateful that Nadia’s secret sauce recipe of motivation, discipline and fun pushes Ella to want to be her best.

Nadia brings the highest level of professional ballroom and latin experience, a decorated competitor in national and international competitions throughout Europe, including the World and European Championships. 

WeDance co-owner Ekaterina Vaganova is a three-time world champion ballroom dancer, WDC European champion, and multiple champion of Russia, Italy, Ukraine and Spain. She was a pro teacher on “Dancing With The Stars” in Italy for five seasons and choreographer on “So You Think You Can Dance” in Russia. 

A Musical Life

Ella’s life is a musical. She’s been singing since before she turned 2 (there’s YouTube video to prove it!) She tried violin at age 3, but it didn’t resonate (can’t sing with it). Then she enjoyed ukulele for a bit, but now amplifies her musical voice through singing, piano and guitar. Also doing those in combinations — singing with guitar or piano.

Thank you, Wickham Road Music Academy. Ella started virtual lessons with world-renowned opera singer Amy Cofield — who performs locally with Brevard Symphony Orchestra, Space Coast Symphony Orchestra and with orchestras and opera companies all over the world — during the pandemic. When we returned to in-studio lessons, Ella added piano with Javier Tolzano (who also works with her on voice) and guitar with Sonny Matta.

I can’t celebrate enough how all three of them work with Ella in a theoretical approach, catering to her learning style.

More Languages 

Through Ella’s student membership in Women in Film and Television (WIFT), she connected with Jacono Studios in Satellite Beach. Thank you for welcoming Ella to filmmaking camp in June.

We’re also grateful to have connected with great mentors online.

  • Ms. Michelle from Wierman Study Center in Texas infuses her American Sign Language courses with fun and personality. 
  • Ms. Robyn creates interactive and game-based Spanish lessons from Las Vegas. 
  • Ms. Jacqueline in Chicago connects each week to guide Ella through making her own games in Codeverse.

Thank you all for mentoring this creative soul.



Ella’s online art store: 

Instagram: @adventuresofellagrace

Facebook: /adventuresofellagrace

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