Taking An Art Class

 Leaving the fabric store with 24 yards of heavy material in my arms, I saw a signboard on the sidewalk. It advertised art classes and gallery space in the adjacent building.

I’d been feeling stuck and frustrated with my painting lately. I wanted to meet other painters, I wanted some constructive criticism, and most of all I didn’t feel I was growing anymore. I wanted to get better and try new things, but doing it all solo with my iPad wasn’t satisfying.

What harm in asking for information about classes, right? The lower floor, a large gallery space for exhibitions, was empty. Voices upstairs drew me up to the second floor studio. Joe Simone, the artist-in-residence and lead instructor for the Virginia Beach School of Art and Gallery (VBSAG), was supervising several painters at their easels. He stepped aside and explained that the lessons are in the French “atelier” style, meaning that he gives an art history or technique lesson at the beginning of each three hour class, and then we work on our assigned pieces with his help and supervision.

The gallery space, displaying artwork by students. Photo Credit: VBSAG

And so on the first Wednesday in February I climbed the stairs with my arms full of paints, canvases, and brushes.  How to transport all this stuff? Well, I still have the giant canvas bag I used as a teacher to schlep papers and books, and canvas wine totes with 6 pockets are perfect for paper towels, bottles of turpenoid, and jars of brushes. I was nervous and arrived early. Mr. Simone asked if I had any previous work to show him. Fortunately I had my iPad with me and hastily found a few things on Instagram.

This first lesson was on the different kinds of brushes and their uses. Mr. Simone demonstrated while sharing his favorite brushes, some of which were thirty years old! Then it was time to paint. Do I just pick one of my photos to use as a reference? Ha, no. Once he knew I’d never painted a human I was assigned a Ron Hicks to copy. The goal isn’t an exact copy of course but hopefully there will be things to learn along the way. Oh boy, there’s an understatement.

My first obstacle was proportions. Mr. Simone finally grabbed my brush and smooshed a blue circle for the head, “here’s where the knee is, look at the angle with the corner, here’s the foot..” My poor woman would have looked like she was from Alpha Centauri without his help! The first attempt created an anorexic, sad lady, still out of proportion but at least with skin and hair.

The next class gave me the feedback I needed to give her some health and bring her knees into proportion. Several more hours of work, and she turned out like this:


Next I was assigned a Carol Marine painting of two lilies in a jar. I’ve painted flowers and felt confident about them, but the glass jar was something new. I thought it would be very difficult but the real trouble I had was, again, the proportions. Mr. Simone broke out the yardstick and chalk to demonstrate angles, heights, widths of the different elements, and at last it was right. Once that was settled the painting went quickly. Doing it alla prima, all in one go with no drying, caused the second problem. The yellow petals turned green as they mixed with the blue paint in the background.

I had to let it all dry, add some Hansa yellow, dry again, and add more yellow and highlights before finally yesterday it reached the “good enough” stage.

Mr. Simone told me, “Bring an 18×24 canvas next time.” It’s the biggest canvas I’ve bought and I’ve no idea what he’s going to want me to try. But it’s sure to be something new and challenging! And while I’m neglecting my blogs and nature art temporarily, it’s worth it to feel reinvigorated and spend time with others who love to paint.



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