Donna Marsh of Cortland has found an oasis in the middle of Cortland, nestled in a little art shop with a handful of watercolor painters.
“The class gives me a place of peace and quiet during the week that I really look forward to,” said the busy retiree. She is a regular in one of David Beale’s watercolor classes, which meet weekly.
The Cortlandville artist teaches a session on Wednesday in his Picture House frame shop and another on Thursday at the McLean Community Church Hall.
With the coronavirus pandemic in play, Beale has nixed face-to-face instruction since the beginning of March and has doubled his watercolor instruction via email.
People get a painting assignment, inspiration from artists, tips from Beale and show off their completed works.
Marsh, who has been taking the class for 10 years, said they are a welcome relief.
“They are my people. I just love the people that are in these classes,” she said. “In class it was easier. (Beale) would give us an assignment and you had an hour and a half to plan it and do it.”
Now that she’s home all the time, yes there is peace and quiet.
“It’s more challenging in some ways because you are on you own. You have to ask yourself questions, instead of asking David. It puts more responsibility on you.”
“All right, I have to remember contrast and hard edges and soft edges and lost edges,” Marsh said. “I think it’s making me better on some things.”
Beale organizes watercolor workshops to the Catskills, to Sedona, Arizona, Ireland and Spain.
“I have gone on so many of his trips now,” Marsh said. “I have interacted with so many people. It’s like a big family. To see each other’s work: it’s wonderful.”
Beale used to put out one email a week to get people in the class painting. Now he is doing two.
Photos provided by David Bealet
Tom Steger of Moravia’s Ford truck
“It’s grown the audience,” he said. “Fifteen is a large class.”
The McLean class draws about 20 and the Cortland, four to six. He sends out 150 emails. About 75 are opening them and he’ll hear back from about 40.
“It’s kind of interesting. They don’t have to make the effort to get out and go to class. For some, it’s hard to get to class,” he said.
A couple have cancer and one is in the middle of chemotherapy. “They seem to respond better to virtual class than the physical class, as far as making an attempt to make a painting,” Beale said.
“Some go off on their own. Some are very religious about doing the assignment,” Beale said.
“Whatever works, I am willing to share.”
His emails are getting longer. It takes him about half a day to put them together.
“They send images of all sizes. All kinds of resolution. I crop them I size them,” Beale said. “I know all of them just about,” Beale said. “Just to keep them so they hear from each other… The ones that paint daily I try to give them some instruction. A lot of it is networking. But if you continue to paint, you will get better.”
“It’s been interesting and some of the paintings are pretty good,” Beale said.
Denise Knight of Cortlandville, a student, said Beale put out a call to write a sentence about how people were feeling, since the weekly painting group had been dispersed for self-quarantining.
“I had just found out about the deaths of two of my colleagues — including one who died of complications from COVID 19 in New York City,” she said.
“Grief, like a lead apron, threatens to smother my troubled heart, even as a troupe of daffodils stands gaily in the wings, getting ready to don their sunny bonnets for their annual recital.”
It resulted in a painting of several daffodils bobbing in the wind under a blue sky.
Photo provided by David Bealet
Denise Knight’s daffodil painting, a response to a watercolor class assignment.
“We have to accept that life and death is part of the natural cycle, and even in the face of grief … life is starting to emerge all around us,” she said in an email.
“I don’t know how I ended up on David’s watercolor email list,” said Jim Weiss of Freetown, a nature photographer. “But I started reading the posts and gradually became more and more interested in this art form.”
Beale asked him about the difference in the two media.
Weiss said: “If you asked 10 photographers to take an image of the same landscape at exactly the same time, you would probably end up with 10 very similar images. I doubt that could happen with 10 watercolor artists.”
“There is so much more individual interpretation and expression (and skill) in the process of creating the final image with watercolor,” Weiss said.
Marian Davie of Groton has been in Beale’s class for 10 years. She is in Florida right now and wants to return.
“We are trying to wait until things calm down up North,” Davie said. “New York has been hit hard. The city especially.”
Plus the weather is a factor. She can do her daily walks in the warmer Florida weather.
During a physical class: “Part of what we do when we get together, we listen to comments from other people about our paintings. We can take in advice from each other,” Davie said.
“Being separated from those people is difficult. David keeps up the spirit of it with those emails. I am so grateful,” Davie said.
“I am determined to try and stay as healthy as I can and try to be productive every day,” Davie said. “Part of the productivity is my painting. What am I doing today? What am I working on?”
Marsh also likes the assignments.
“I have something to do for the next couple of days, if I want to do it,” Marsh said.
Some subjects, like a skunk cabbage floral, do not appeal. “I had no desire,” Marsh said. “They are so ugly.”
And the plant smells horrible. Like its namesake.
She enjoyed the overlook photo Beale provided recently, toward Skaneateles Lake on Route 41, as well as the view of Tompkins Cortland Community College.
“I love going to Skaneateles, up that road. That view of the lake is wonderful,” Marsh said. “I always said, ‘I should stop and take a photo of it.’ He gave us that assignment.”
“It was fun. I am not as happy with Skaneateles as I was the one from Lansing (TC3.),” she said. “Some days it comes out the way you want it. Some days it doesn’t.”
Marian Strang of McLean has been a watercolor student of Beale’s for 24 years, attending the McLean group.
She enjoyed painting the skunk cabbage plant.
Photo provided by David Beale
Marian Strang of McLean’s painting of skunk cabbage, her response to a class project. She said its inner parts look just like coronavirus.
“That darn thing looked like the COVID-19 thing on TV that they are always flashing,” she said. “I learned a lot from that.”
“I never looked at the flower of a skunk cabbage before. There it is, it’s the purple thing before the green leaves,” Strang said.
“Then it opens up into a globe. The globe is the flower it produces its flower parts from, the stamen and pistols. It’s usually pollinated by insects. I looked it up and got a little botany class going.”
“I just appreciate David so much, his attempt to keep us together and keep up our painting,” Strang said.
Photo provided by David Beale
Karen Atkins’ painting of spring bunnies.