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Think You Can’t Paint? AVA Art Gallery and Art Center Brings Out the Artist in Everyone

Jul 18, 2013 01:13AM ● By Victoria Pipas

There aren’t many Da Vincis among us, and Picasso was unique. Monet’s talents, too, were rare. But every day, AVA Art Gallery and Art Center is proving that you don’t have to be a prodigy to revel in the arts. AVA, or Alliance for the Visual Arts, is just off the square in Lebanon, New Hampshire. Even from a distance, it’s clear that this is a place where creativity abounds. In the summer, the heavily vined porch is dotted with sunflowers, paint splatters, and happily shrieking children. AVA offers classes year-round to those seeking to hone their artistic skills, as well as to those seeking to discover such skills.

Last summer, I classified myself in the latter category. My sister is an avid artist, but I simply couldn’t muster up the creative powers to sit down and actually create something from sheer imagination. However, when Stephi signed up for an oil painting camp for teens at AVA, I followed suit, figuring that even if I were to embarrass myself horribly, I could always blame it on my left-brained-ness. I had taken other classes at AVA, including polymer clay work, and had been very pleased with the tangible outcomes. So that’s how I came to find myself standing in front of a large, blank canvas, nursing a muddy pallet in my left hand and trying to fathom how one would go about beginning a painting of a petrified scorpion. Because that was the object sitting in front of me. What ever happened to color-by-numbers? At least with those, the steps to success were succinct. Here, how would I ever know if I had been successful?

Around me, my fellow students, five other teenagers, were already mixing shades of brown into new shades of brown. So I attempted to do the same, mixing together my best estimate of a scorpion color. I then proceeded to pencil onto my canvas a rough sketch of a scorpion shape, as I had been instructed to do. Unfortunately—or maybe not—I hadn’t had enough contact with scorpions to be familiar with their shape, so my sketch turned out less realistic than one might hope. Why was this happening to me? How could one possibly get good at painting if one had little to no creativity? Luckily, my teacher, Derek, knew the answer. He stood over my shoulder and regarded my very un-scorpion-like scorpion. “Well,” he finally said, “you moved the edge of the table. And the scorpion’s not facing that direction at all.” I was dumbfounded. What did it matter where the edge of the table was? I wanted advice on how to make my painting as realistic as possible! “Just paint exactly what you see,” he would say. “Right now, you are just trying to fill the canvas. Save the details for later.” It surprised me when he swept up a huge glob of greenish paint and swiped it across a quarter of my canvas. “There you go. See? Just paint the colors that you see, and it will fall into place.” I stared in bewilderment; this wasn’t logical at all! I should be trying to paint a scorpion exactly as a scorpion should look, as it appears in any accurate Google image. But as Derek explained the process of oil painting, I began to understand. Oil painting succeeds when the painter simply looks at her subject and paints what she sees. When I saw a blue gleam along the ridge of the scorpion’s tail, I added a blue streak. When the scorpion’s head appeared as little more than a brown mass with black spots, that’s what it became on my canvas. Even the glass bell jar, which should have been clear, actually harbored large patches of black reflection. So, on went the black. Derek kept reminding me to step back and look at my painting from a distance. This would help me accurately paint my subject as it appeared on the stand, and not as I imagined it should look in a painting. Oil painting taught me that the most realistic art is that modeled directly from life.

AVA’s summer camps for kids and teens are top notch. Few other places offer children the opportunity to learn such advanced skills under the nurturing guidance of professionals. But don’t think that just because you’re not a young grasshopper you can’t pick up a few new tricks or revive some old ones. For adults and older teens, AVA offers classes with any number of sessions, from one-day workshops to eight-session courses; the key is flexibility. Some courses meet over the course of several consecutive days, while others meet once a week for several months. When you sign up for one of these courses, you have the opportunity to spice up your life with a night or two of art every week. Choose from such abstract courses as 3D bookbinding, or a one-day intensive workshop on glass fusing. Or perhaps you are interested in developing more practical skills, such as digital photography and gardening. Exciting to me was the “Summer Plein Air Painting” course, a series of seven sessions in which students travel to and paint various outdoor landscapes in the Upper Valley. Whatever your interests and your skill level, there is a class for you at AVA. Classes require no previous knowledge of the skill at hand unless specified. Don’t worry if you have no idea how to fuse glass in a kiln; that’s why you should take the class!

To find out more about art education at AVA, visit the site.

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