It’s Never Too Late to Take an Art Class

"The Maiden" by Inga Marie Carlsen
"The Maiden" by Inga Marie Carlsen

Free art classes are offered periodically at local libraries and churches all over the Island.

I joined such a class in watercolor at my church recently. Barely able to draw stick figures at the time, I watched as our teacher, Tom Schiavone, effortlessly painted the still life before us. He demonstrated how shading and light gave dimension to the wine bottle and the bowl of fruit. Most astonishing to me was when he pointed out that there was actually blue light being reflected off that orange and purple light off that apple. How could I have looked at oranges all my life and not noticed that before! He used the tip of his brush and the base of his brush to achieve different effects. The final touch was when he placed a white matt frame around it. In what seemed like a matter of minutes, he created a picture worthy of display in any gallery.

Now it was our turn. How painstakingly I drew that wine bottle, sketching ever so lightly to allow for repeated erasures. Standing back to admire what had escaped the eraser, I thought I had finally mastered it. Schiavone came over and drew a faint line down the middle of my wine bottle. The neck seemed okay, but the poor bottle appeared to have a dislocated shoulder. And so, I learned about symmetry. On closer examination, the neck seemed a bit too long; and so, I was learning about proportion.

Armed with all of this newfound knowledge, and feeling slightly more confident, I drew my orange, apple and grapes. (Sadly, there was still a lot of erasing.) The concentration on the fruit and bowl was so intense that I forgot about the wine bottle. Standing back for a look revealed the bottle’s distance from the bowl to be … not good. If only I could cut the bottle out with a pair of scissors and just move it over, I thought. Frustrated, I had to erase my bottle and redo it, this time to the left and slightly in front of the bowl. Schiavone explained how placement of objects in relation to each other could be challenging—like driving a car, you learn to judge the distances between all the cars and objects around you until it becomes second nature. He was patient and encouraging as he went from person to person making friendly suggestions.

My tendency to daydream must have obliterated the lesson on perspective, because my objects looked decidedly one-dimensional. Their placement on the table was well suited for a cartoon. With Schiavone’s help there was some improvement as I drew in the stripes and folds in the tablecloth.

When it was time to paint with watercolors, the instructor told us to always note the direction the light is coming from, and to paint from light to dark.

My green wine bottle turned out amazingly well! It appeared translucent, the light coming from the left. I was the envy of all my fellow art students. No such luck with the orange and apple, which looked like tudballs. Instead of looking like they were splayed with light, my purple grapes looked like they had been sprayed with white shoe polish.

My luck was even worse the next week, painting pumpkins. There are no fewer than 30 paintings of pumpkins in my portfolio—all of them total disasters. I just couldn’t master the light, airy blending of colors and shading that Schiavone demonstrated. Angry and frustrated, I decided to
give up.

A week passed and I went back to class. Something must have clicked, because in the next few weeks, under Schiavone’s guidance, I painted a picture of a vase filled with flowers, another of two ladies by the sea, one of two ladies at a train station—and my best yet, a picture of a sailboat in the sunset!

My classmates had progressed as well.

Schiavone said, “It’s all a matter of eye-hand coordination—training the hand to reproduce what the eye sees. The more you practice, the better you get at it.”

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