Vickroy: In search of artistic inspiration in the woods
DONNA VICKROY firstname.lastname@example.org | (708) 633-5982 May 18, 2012 9:20PM
MVCC art teacher John Howard sets up his easel in a meadow of grass near a fallen tree to demonstrate to his students how to work on location at Hidden Pond Woods in Palos Hills, Illinois, Tuesday May 15, 2012. | Joseph P. Meier~Sun-Times Media
For more information on John Howard’s classes, call (708) 385-6797.
Updated: June 28, 2012 12:57PM
Light vs. dark.
Sharp edges vs. soft ones.
Perspective, balance and much talk of “saving the white.”
It’s just after 9 a.m. on a gorgeous morning near Hidden Pond in the Palos division of the Cook County Forest Preserve District.
Birds chirp. Lime green caterpillars hitch rides on pants legs. And for the 30 or so students gathered beneath a canopy of trees, right-brain activity is off the charts.
After weeks of bringing inspiration to his art classes, John Howard has brought his art classes to the inspiration.
“I want you to get out of your cars and look at nature. Stand on things, squat down,” he said. “Really see things.”
After all, nature is what van Gogh and Monet and Gauguin saw. Nature is what Howard would like his students to see, too.
They’re looking for shapes — strong triangles, harmonious ovals — and symmetry. And, of course, color. They’re told to take it all in and then paint what they feel. Almost all will tell you what they feel at this moment is freedom.
The students come from across the Southland. Some sign up for Howard’s classes at Moraine Valley Community College, others take them at McCord Gallery and Cultural Center in Palos Park or at the Beverly Arts Center in Chicago’s Beverly community. Some prefer oil, most opt for watercolor, a few dabble in acrylics or pastels. Some have been painting their whole lives; most gave it up years ago and only recently decided to take up a brush again.
Dorothy O’Rourke is among the latter.
“This is something I’ve wanted to do since high school,” said the 67-year-old Evergreen Park resident. But work and children got in the way.
Now that her children are grown and she’s retired from her teaching jobs at Queen of Peace High School and Daley College, she can concentrate on her art.
“While you’re painting, everything else goes away,” she said. “I enjoy the process and try not to worry about the end product. Kind of like golf.”
Pat Bock, of Hickory Hills, started taking art classes again in 1995 after a long hiatus.
“Art lets you escape to another world,” she said. “When I paint, I’m free.”
Her preferred medium is watercolor because of its forgiving nature.
“You have water, color, paper and a brush. That’s it,” she said. “It’s like going on a journey — you’ll see where you end up.”
And if you don’t exactly like the destination, you can always flip the page and start over, she said.
Howard stands before his French easel. The crowd gathers ’round. He explains that he chose the early morning because that was the time of day preferred by impressionist artists.
“They loved this light,” he said.
After a brief explanation of what certain shapes and directions mean — if you want to evoke calm, go with a horizontal line; if you want to show movement, include diagonal lines — Howard gets to work, transforming a dark green canvas into a breathtaking rendition of the tree that leans before him.
“This calls for diagonal lines,” he said.
“It’s a completely different dimension to see him demonstrate from the real thing rather than from a photograph,” said Pat Smith, of Orland Park. “It’s interesting to watch his process.”
Smith said she has made many friends in the class and loves the supportive environment in which the students learn.
“This is not just about drawing and painting, it’s the social aspect as well,” Smith said.
Rose Marie Meier, of Chicago, agreed.
“I’ve met so many nice, wonderful people through these classes,” she said. She’s also amassed quite a collection of paintings, including portraits of her husband and herself.
Through painting, Nan Brummerstedt, of Burbank, feels a kinship with her favorite artist, Vincent van Gogh.
“His life story really resonates with me. I understand his need to paint and how he felt sad when he couldn’t,” she said. “It’s a release. It’s something to show for my day. You can do the laundry and wash the dishes but then you can create art.”
For Monica Kotas, the opportunity to watch Howard work outside in a serene setting on a sunny, 70-degree morning made for a day about as perfect as could be.
“This is just lovely,” Kotas said.
And that pretty much summed up the group’s assessment of Howard’s finished painting.