PENN YAN — Students at St. Michael’s School recently cast aside their pencils and erasers for the day and replaced them with brushes and watercolor paints. On May 18, they left their normal classrooms to spend a few hours in St. Michael’s church hall, learning the basics of watercolor painting from local artist Fran Bliek.
At 9:15 a.m., 15 children from the third, fourth and fifth grades sat around three long tables, watching Bliek demonstrate basic watercolor techniques, such as the gradated wash, in which the color gradually goes from light to dark. She encouraged the students to move outside their comfort zone and showed them how to make objects and scenes look three-dimensional.
“Try not to paint like you did in kindergarten, with just a row of this and a row of that. Don’t be afraid of making a mistake. There’s no such thing as making a mistake,” Bliek said, noting that watercolor paintings are supposed to have a somewhat transparent look, so students shouldn’t be afraid of using too much water.
Fifth-grader Katie Carpenter’s paper shone with wet, vibrant color. The 11-year-old’s landscape — which included sky, a meadow and a tree — filled the whole page and achieved some of the transparent look Bliek had referred to.
Third-grader Alana Brand, 8, also decided to paint a landscape scene, this one with grass and an orange-red morning sky that filled half the page.
“I like the colors of the morning sky,” said Alana, who said she sometimes does a little bit of painting at home.
Alana’s 11-year-old sister, Francesca, created a watercolor depicting two trees. Francesca, who is in fifth grade, said she chose to add the trees because she has two trees in her yard that she often climbs and swings on.
Third-grader Kevin McMahon, 9, made his landscape bright and colorful, painting yellow land, green grass and a yellow sun with orange rays before adding a clear, blue sky. Fifth-grader Chelsea Travis, 11, took the inspiration for her landscape from a magazine clipping Bliek had brought in for just that purpose. Chelsea used a yellow wash for the background of her painting, which, when completed, showed a river curving through a forest.
After about an hour, the students in third, fourth and fifth grades returned to school and another group of students made the short trek over to the church hall. Bliek worked with all of the school’s students before she left for the day, and although she only had a short time with each group, she said the students seemed to be catching on.
“It’s challenging for them, but … we’re going to make it work. It’s fun to work with kids, and they’re so uninhibited. Most kids love art,” Bliek said.
In late April, another artist visited the school and presented a ceramics workshop for the students. Both artist visits were made possible by a 2004 Community Arts Grant from the Yates County Arts Center. Representatives from the St. Michael’s School Advancement Committee applied for and received a grant for $200, which was used to purchase supplies for the two workshops and help bring in local artists.