Watercolour exhibit features new technique

Matt Gardner
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The preferred painting method of students in the W.I.L.O.W. group is right in their name -- Women In Love Over Watercolour.

Traditionally watercolour paintings have been displayed behind glass. But an exhibit and sale of the group’s artwork this month includes pieces created using a cutting-edge new technique.

“You have to gesso (the canvas) and then you have to treat it with a compound that can absorb the water, and so once it’s prepared -- it has to be perfectly dry -- then you can go ahead and paint on it,” instructor Joyce Middlebrook said.

“Once it’s painted, then you can take a lacquer and spray a lacquer on there so that you never have to use the glass when you’re framing … It’s kind of an exciting new way of doing it and I think it’s going to be something that’s really going to flourish as time goes on. The girls … seem to (have) really accepted it and really like doing it.”

Called Silent Poetry after an observation by the Greek poet Simonides that “painting is silent poetry,” the W.I.L.O.W. watercolour show and sale runs from March 28 to April 29 in the Grace Campbell Gallery at the John M. Cuelenaere Public Library.

The exhibit features work from the last year by eight different artists. Aside from Middlebrook, all are students in the W.I.L.O.W. group.

Each artist has attended the class for a varying amount of time, and each artist’s unique style and sensibilities was fully on display as the exhibit kicked off on Saturday afternoon.

“One of my students here, Gloria Maier, she’s always done the style where everything is just the way you find it in nature,” Middlebrook said.

“This year she’s stepped over the bounds and she’s now gone into impressionistic type of work, and it’s just beautiful. It’s just taken her into a whole new realm of painting.”

A student in the W.I.L.O.W. group for several years, Maier had originally painted with oils many years before but is now a firm convert to watercolours.

Given her focus on detail, she noted that trying a more abstract approach allowed her to experiment and loosen up with the colours while still painting recognizable objects, as in her painting Winter Berries.

“When Joyce first talked about abstract, to me abstract was a bunch of shapes and colours … Then she did a class in it and … brought one of strawberries that we all did,” Maier said.

“Then I realized there’s a different form of abstract … So now I’ve been tackling more abstract on my own, like the leaves and the berries.”

It’s kind of an exciting new way of doing it and I think it’s going to be something that’s really going to flourish as time goes on. Joyce Middlebrook

Maier’s painting subjects include natural subjects such as animals, flowers and landscapes. The exhibit also features her first portrait, a painting of her granddaughter.

Varied themes are present in the work of fellow W.I.L.O.W. artist Joan Ryan, whose featured paintings at the exhibit include a depiction of boots, a grizzly bear and a pair of horses.

A self-described “horse nut,” Ryan explained how her interest inspired the paintings Blondie (Haflinger) and Sunny (Thoroughbred).

“I don’t own one because basically I’m afraid of heights, so I’d never get on it,” she said. “It would have to be a pet, and when you live in the city you can’t have a horse as a pet. But my house is full of horse statues, horse pictures.”

Prior to turning her attention to watercolours in October 2005, Ryan had dabbled in oil painting, coloured pencil and pen and ink drawings.

“As a teenager and in my early 20s I did oil, back in the days when it was real stinky and you had to use turpentine and it took forever to dry,” she recalled.

An avid photographer, many of Ryan’s paintings are based off of her own photos, particularly those involving flowers.

She noted her appreciation for using different media and materials in her work, such as recently experimenting with watercolour canvas rather than paper.

“Of course each different material that you use, you have to alter your technique a little bit, just because it doesn’t accept the paint the same way and things don’t blend quite the same way,” Ryan said.

“But it makes it a challenge … It also makes it interesting.”

Other featured artists at the Silent Poetry exhibit include Jeanette Brackhan, Ruth Hugo, Karen Stacey, Tryntje Roy and Katherine Sutton.

The price of each painting for those who would like to purchase one is available on an adjacent card, along with contact information for the artist.

Paintings that have already been sold are identifiable by a round red sticker on the card, but will remain on display through the month of April.

Organizations: John M. Cuelenaere Public Library

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