News Column

Visual arts classes inspire adults to be creative

August 22, 2014

By Lindsey Ziliak, Kokomo Tribune, Ind.

Aug. 22--Editor's note: This is one of several stories that will be published Sunday about how various groups are sharing their artistic talents with others.

Eighty-six-year-old Dixie Bennett walked around her makeshift classroom inside Artworks Gallery Thursday afternoon, offering tips to her pupils as they painted.

She stopped at Sherry Denison's work station for a moment. Denison painted a classmate's house and the landscaping and trees growing outside of it.

Bennett encouraged her to develop the details in the trees a little more.

"Remember the leaves and limbs in the tree?" she asked Denison. "You don't have any of that here. You need to add that in there."

Denison is among a handful of students in Bennett's adult watercolor painting class that meets weekly at the Kokomo Art Association's downtown gallery.

Artworks offers nine different art classes for adults, including pottery, porcelain painting, photography and a form of drawing called Zentangle. And, of course, there's Bennett's watercolor class.

Denison had never dabbled in watercolors before and only signed up for the class because her friend convinced her to. Bennett's helping her find her skills, she said.

"I'm amazed at what I can do," she said. "You think, 'I'm just a beginner.'"

She talked excitedly about learning to paint a bird's feathers. Bennett taught them to use a knife to do the feathering work.

"I went wild with that one," Denison said. "It was fun."

Steve Eckart has painted with oils for 30 years but always wanted to learn how to use watercolors, too. He signed up for a class 10 years ago, but it didn't work out, he said. Bennett, though, has engaged him in a way his last teacher couldn't.

He said he has really responded to Bennett's hands-on approach. He's learning a lot.

Wednesday he painted a tree. While he did, he talked about how different it is from the painting he's used to.

"This is the opposite of oils," he said. "In oils you start with the background and work your way up. In watercolor you start with the foreground and work your way back."

Bennett has been teaching art classes for more than 50 years.

But she's been painting since she was 5 years old. Her parents taught her to read and write early, so when she got bored in class, her teacher would pull her to the side and let her paint birds.

She's loved the art ever since. She remembers painting with watercolors while she hid in the bushes during a deer hunt.

Bennett stopped hunting at 72, but she'll never give up painting. She said she enjoys passing her techniques and knowledge on to others.

"We have fun in this class," she said. "Some of them are just starting out. Some of them have painted before, but they're all quite good if you ask me."

Don Wilka teaches Zentangle classes on Saturdays at Artworks. It's a little different than watercolor painting. Zentangle is a form of drawing that uses structured patterns to create images.

It's great for amateur artists or doodlers like Wilka, he said.

"I've always been what people would call a doodler," he said. "It wasn't really focused on anything. I started experimenting with Zentangle and really kind of got into it. It was fun and relaxing. It's a little more abstract."

You're working on relatively small canvases called tiles, Wilka said. You use a pen to draw and graphite pencil to shade.

Wilka has created more than 200 tiles since he picked up the art form a few years ago. Some he's turned into coasters or has used on mugs. Some he just frames and hangs up.

Now he's trying to spread his love for the art of Zentangle on to others. He likes to encourage everyone to try it, he said. It's really something anyone can do.

"A lot of people will look at art and say, 'I can't do it because I can't draw,'" he said. "This isn't drawing. You use some basic elemental strokes to create patterns."

It's easy, and it's therapeutic. You can pull out a tile and start working on it while you're waiting in the doctor's office or waiting for an oil change, he said.

In fact, Wilka is a licensed social worker by day. He introduces the art to some of his clients as a kind of therapy.

"People get caught up in, 'Am I doing this correct?'" he said. "There are no mistakes in Zentangle. There are unplanned opportunities. It's a metaphor for what we sometimes have to do in life. I've used it in my practice. Mistakes are OK. Mistakes don't have to be devastating."

Lindsey Ziliak, Tribune Life & Style editor, can be reached at 765-454-8585, at or on Twitter @LindseyZiliak.

Be sure to read the other stories in this project on or in the Sunday print edition.


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Source: Kokomo Tribune (IN)

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