Watercolor classes

Artist Sherry Byant, right, shades an iris with her hand to give shadow definition to the object as her students get to work with watercolors. On the table's left, front to back, are, Ruthie Neilan, Jan Wilder, Beth Crowley, Kathy Godkin and (obscured) Teresa Biggs.

Alan Petrillo/Special to The Explorer

Sherry Bryant looks at objects in life through eyes that see things which don’t register with most people — gradations of light, shadow and form that embody an object itself. As an accomplished award-winning artist, and one especially skilled in watercolors, Bryant is helping others see those variations in life and interpret them onto paper through watercolor painting.

For the past five years Bryant has taught interested Tucsonans the intricacies of watercolor art through the Outreach Art Tutoring for Seniors (OATS) program, which she conducts weekly on Thursdays at 9:30 am in the Picture Rocks Community Center, 5615 N. Sanders Road. The program is sponsored by the Drawing Studio at 33 S. 6th Ave. in Tucson.

“The OATS program and particularly this class is meant for people over 50 and designed to get them out with others who share an interest in art,” Bryant said. “It’s also meant to develop a sense of community where people meet others who have a similar interest they can follow together.”

Bryant said she has all levels of students in the program, and one day recently was instructing them on the intricacies of painting a still life — vases of irises.

“I might give directions on how to perform a certain technique they might not have experienced before,” she said, “and as they do the technique, it might open up a different thought process in how to approach the work. Often we will incorporate what they learn by experimenting into other classes.”

Bryant’s students pay a fee of $60 for the eight-week course, which goes to the Drawing Studio to cover the costs of paper, paint, brushes and Bryant’s instruction.

Vicki Flemm, a retired elementary school teacher, has taken Bryant’s watercolor class for two years and said she builds on her crafts and quilting experience.

“I’ve learned a lot from Sherry,” Flemm said. “She’s introduced us to different artistic styles and encourages us to develop our own style of work. I tend toward the anthropomorphic and impressionistic styles in my watercolors.”

Beth Crowley, a retired hair stylist, is more of a newbie in the class, having started with Bryant last October.

“I always wanted to learn to paint in watercolors and have come a long way in learning the proper strokes,” Crowley said. “Sherry has

taught us about style and form, and I’ve developed a passion for painting. This is my new career.”

Teresa Biggs has spent four years in the OATS program and “loves the way Sherry is so very patient with each of us. Under her guidance, I’ve developed a huge amount in terms of my painting, mostly because she guides us to let us express ourselves.”

Jan Wilder, a Raytheon retiree, has been painting under Bryant for three years, building on an early art training background.

“Watercolors are fascinating to see how the paint reacts to different media that you paint on,” Wilder pointed out.

Ruthie Neilan is the newest member of Bryant’s group, having joined a month ago. Forty years ago she was trained in acrylic painting.

“I’ve always wanted to try watercolors, but they caused me anxiety when I put the paint onto the paper,” Neilan said, “but not now because Sherry has shown me how I can do everything I need to in three basic colors.”

Bryant smiles and addresses the class again.

“Remember to pay attention to the form and your values,” she tells them. “And don’t forget to be aware of the light on your subject.”

Gayle Ruther had not had any prior art training when she joined the program three-plus years ago.

“Painting in watercolors was on my bucket list,” Ruther said. “I also plan to write a book and see the Great Wall of China.”

Sue Sherell is a four-year veteran of the watercolor class.

“I started painting in oils, but like working in watercolors because the paint dries so fast and the process is a lot looser in creating,” Sherell said. “I love the fact that watercolors give me more latitude in the work than oils would.”

Claire Bray has been in Bryant’s class for five years, first coming into the program when she accompanied a neighbor who didn’t want to attend alone. Bray was hooked from the first day.

“I immediately fell in love with watercolors,” Bray said. “It’s so challenging and beautiful when it works, and Sherry is a wonderful teacher, so patient and knowledgeable.”

Kathy Bodkin is another five-year participant in the watercolor class.

“Sherry teaches you to paint yourself,” Bodkin observed. “You need to develop your drawing ability, then apply color, value and form to your work. I’ve been able to sell a few of my pieces and my goal is to get better and better.”

Pat Dolan, director of senior art outreach programs for the Drawing Studio, said that Bryant’s program is unique in that it began under a grant and continued due to its popularity.

“The students loved her and her watercolor instruction so much that we continued the program through the community center,” Dolan said. “She’s a wonderful instructor and a marvelous teacher. Sherry has a very encouraging way of teaching watercolors where she simplifies it and makes it and fun. People really blossom with her teaching them.”

More OATS classes — such as acrylics, oils and pastels — are taught by other painting instructors through the Drawing Studio, Dolan added.

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