Broadening the Palat(t)e AT NEWBERRY ARTS CENTER
Google defines art as
“the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, typically in a visual form such as painting or sculpture, producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power.”
Because the spectrum of art is so broad, everyone knows at least one artist. Surely, there’s someone in everyone’s life that is able to effortlessly doodle perfect portraits in a matter of minutes; or someone who can make something frame-worthy out of a remnant of fabric, five bottle caps and a piece of reclaimed wood; or someone whose outfit not only epitomizes the style of the season, but also the ease with which it was seemingly thrown together. I won’t lie. I envy these people.
Like many, I love the idea of being creative, but I fall quite short on execution. More often, I stare longingly at other people’s artwork and wish I could create something remotely similar to it. I have grand artistic ideas, but absolutely no means through which to express them. Visual art has always been the itch in my brain that I don’t quite know how to scratch, and I’m sure I am not alone.
But I haven’t just wished to become an artist; I have actually tried. While living in NYC, I got a job as a Manager at a graphic design school for the sole purpose of taking the all-inclusive course as a perk. While I learned quite a bit of graphic design along the way, I am no designer. I took a beginner’s drawing class at NYC’s Fashion Institute of Technology where I was mortified on the very first day of class by a tidy display of spot-lighted fruit in the center of the room and The Shortest Art Lesson Ever, which started and ended with one word: “Begin.” Sheepishly, I raised my hand, beckoned the teacher to me and whispered, “Um, I don’t know how to draw. That’s why I signed up for this class.” He cocked his head to one side and coolly replied, “Try.”
When the Newberry Arts Center opened on Main Street in 2014, it was exciting to have an(other) opportunity where I might, again, try to become the artist I have always wanted to be, or at least find a way to finally satisfy the persistent craving to draw/paint something beyond stick figures. With the broad mission of
• providing quality art experiences to all interested citizens
• increasing support for working artists
• creating appreciative current and future art patrons
• involving a diverse population
• fostering local economic growth
• enhancing the quality of life for all residents
the Newberry Arts Center has some very lofty goals. Perhaps they could help me take a step or two toward becoming an artist.
A friend and I signed up for the spring beginner’s acrylic painting class taught by working artist Peggy Thomas. With over 40 years of experience and many awards including First Place in the Festival of Masters in Vista FL, and Best in Show in Dahlonega, GA, Peggy’s paintings often have at least 20 layers of paint, but rarely does she use white paint. Instead, she allows the white of the canvas to show through, giving her work great depth. In addition to painting, Peggy is also a specialty framer, who chooses the perfect frame to enhance any style of artwork. Above all, she is extremely knowledgeable, kind and patient; three essential characteristics of any good teacher.
Upon registration, we were instructed to come to the first class with an image of what we hoped to paint, a canvas, brushes and a set of acrylic paints, (all totaling about $30.) I brought a photo of my dog and an open mind.
Over the course of the next five Thursdays, from 10am – 1pm, we were introduced to the concept of composition as a means of drawing the viewers’ eyes to the focal point of a piece of art. We learned color values and how they affect the balance of a painting. We were taught how to mix colors to the exact shade we wanted, to blend enough water with the paint to have the intended consistency, and how to hold and use the brushes properly in order to create crisp, blended, flowing or hard or soft lines and shapes. We learned some tricks of the trade, like using a dry brush to pull mistakes right off the canvas. (Yes, you can erase a painting if you move swiftly.) We were also regularly reminded of some easy-to-forget rules of perception, such as, things that are far away are blurry. Things that are close up are crisp. Obvious? Yes, but how does one blur a painted image? We learned how to do that, too.
By the third class, we had a routine: show up and start painting; have a short lesson, a snack and a bit of small talk, and continue on with our paintings. We would study our own work and each others’ works, each of us learning vicariously through our neighbors’ subtle victories (the perfect shadow under a growing sunflower) and minor defeats (black should just about always be mixed with some other color and quite a bit of water if it is to have any depth at all.) But the most important lesson, in my case, was not how to mix, or apply paint, or even create realistic proportions on canvas. It was how to relax yet still be present and focused.
While at class, I uncharacteristically did not check email, news notifications, Facebook, Instagram or even text messages. In fact, I completely silenced my phone. I wasn’t concerned with deadlines, bills, grocery lists, or my endless dog walk schedule. I was just painting, relaxing, and often, laughing with our teacher and the others in the class about what we did well, and also what we did not. Along the way, there was improvement; there was self-acceptance, and there was improvement at self-acceptance.
With the goal of learning how to create different textures through different painting techniques—not necessarily creating a masterpiece—my friend opted to create several paintings (each with a little more ease and a bit less detail) over the 5-week period. Once she fully understood one technique or style, she’d move on to the next. Together, she and I became fairly well versed in which brushes produce what looks, how to blend colors to achieve the correct shade, (when in doubt, add water) how to create dimension, add interest and ultimately, how to paint. By the end of the 5 weeks, we both left NAC with a love for our new hobby, a deep respect for professional artists, and a new, go-to stress reliever.
As it turns out, my drawing teacher back in NYC was right: the first step that any aspiring artist must take is simple. Try. I’ll probably never be the next Picasso, but because Peggy Thomas and the Newberry Arts Center staff fostered an environment wherein a person with zero artistic talent feels welcome, safe and free enough to take the joyful journey that only the creation of art offers, I no longer gaze wistfully at others’ work. Instead, I just settle down and try.
Like many achievements in life, the joy that art brings can be correlated with the effort involved in its creation. I still haven’t completed my dog painting. I’m slowly ambling along, just as I might linger toward the close of a favorite book, not wanting it to end. In its definition, Google mentioned that the purpose of creating art is to appreciate its beauty and emotional power. That definition neglects to mention that the artist himself may very well be the biggest beneficiary of his work.
Find Newberry Arts Center on
Instagram @newberryarts & facebook
1200 Main St, Downtown Newberry