Instructor Carmel Clare, right, offers student artist Wendy Riley a few tips on her watercolour of a country garden during her lesson at the Neighbourhood Art Studios in Walnut Grove.

Instructor Carmel Clare, right, offers student artist Wendy Riley a few tips on her watercolour of a country garden during her lesson at the Neighbourhood Art Studios in Walnut Grove.

There’s more to art than meets the eye

Painting, sculpting and drawing offer their own unique form of therapy, says the owner of Neighbourhood Arts Studios

Sitting quietly in a corner of Studio B, Alan Gregson dips his paintbrush into a Mason jar of water before collecting a dab of pale green pigment on its tip and applying it to the leaf of a gladiolus on the paper in front of him.

Nearby, instructor Carmel Clare helps Wendy Riley make some decisions about her own floral watercolour — a country garden scene — while next to them, Riley’s sister Jill Richardson brushes oils onto her own painting of a woman in 1920s garb.

In all, there are seven adult students with nose to canvas inside the Neighbourhood Art Studios on this Thursday morning.

After opening the studio in Fort Langley in the early 1990s, owner Bob Barrett returned to the community a couple of years ago, following  a period of several years spent on the Surrey side of the border.

This time, he has opened his studio in a light industrial park in Walnut Grove. With two floors of classrooms, office space, a kitchen and indoor and outdoor studios, there is plenty of room for art Barrett’s students to create — whether their chosen medium is pottery, metal sculpture, drawing or painting,

Once each summer, Barrett hosts an outdoor show and sale in the studio’s parking lot and throughout the year and throughout the year, he offers art-themed birthday parties for kids.

Today’s students are a light-hearted group,  comprised mostly of retired teachers and actors. It’s an unusual combination, to be sure, but they have a common passion for paint and the ability to communicate through their art.

While five students paint in studio B, Glenda McDonald and Dave Williams are working quietly by themselves in adjoining studios A and C, respectively.

“I feel like a sponge. This is a total departure from what I would normally do,” said McDonald who took up a brush two years ago when she retired.

Once you start painting, “it’s like catnip to a cat — you can’t get enough,” she said.

McDonald sought out a group environment where she can get feedback on her artwork while still working fairly independently.

“It’s all about seeing,” she said. “I rely on other people’s vision as much as my own.”

Using her mother’s old cutting board as her easel and working in water-soluble oils, McDonald fills in the fine details on a Madonna and Child, while two studios away, Williams is working on a much broader scale — measuring out a grid on his three-foot by five-foot canvas.

He expects the large oil painting of aspens he has planned will take about 10 hours to complete.

“Large pieces (using) broad strokes is what I’m into right now,” says Williams as he works his way around the table using a T-ruler to ensure his grid is accurate.

He’s been coming to the studio for about seven years, and though he works fairly independently, he appreciates the space.

“I can’t do this at home. It’s too messy.”

Williams likes that while the atmosphere is supportive, the artists are left to do their own thing.

“It’s not a cooking cutter. Everyone gets to explore their own passions,” he said.

Clare, a former member of the Fort Langley Artists Group, who’s been teaching at the studio for about the past two years, has seen students come in for any number of reasons — whether it’s something they’ve always wanted to try or they’ve developed a need for an emotional outlet.

“In the evenings, we have some adults who’ve gone through hard times — a death in the family or illness. They’re able to express what they need to express,” she said.

“The ability to create, I think, personally, is very healing. It shifts the focus onto something positive. I think, personally, it’s very healing.

“It shifts your focus onto something positive. It just opens your heart,” she said.

“It’s almost like a doctor’s office here,” agreed Barrett.

There’s a lot of therapy packed into a little brush and a few splotches of paint or a slab of clay.

“We’ve had people who’ve lost spouses, people who got married and had children, but always in the back of their mind was (a desire to create) art,” he said.

Even children who might not be doing well academically can benefit from producing art, said Barrett.

Those who learn paint and draw in a social atmosphere frequently earn better grades and  are more focused, he said.

From his Art Angels — who range in age from four to seven — to retired seniors, the studio’s three instructors, helped out by a student assistant, offer weekly classes to about 160 students, every Monday to Saturday.

When it comes to the youngest artists, “The only criteria we ask is that the child wants to come,” said Barrett.

“We sit and chat with them — we can tell right away.”

What about the ones who want to come but can’t afford it?

Well, Barrett has thought about that, too.

“I was fortunate, my parents could afford to send me to art school,” he said.

But he is well aware that there are children who, because of financial limitations, will likely never get the opportunity to paint.

So he is offering four scholarships to students aged eight to 16 who have a passion for drawing and a natural talent and desire to learn.

Valued at $1,000 each, the scholarships consist of 48 two-hour sessions. Applicants are required to submit examples of their work, along with a short essay titled: “I would like to be an artist because…”

Forms are available at the Neighbourhood Art Studio, 20059 92A Ave.

Call 604-455-0344 for more information.

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