ST. ALBANS TOWN – It was Memorial Day, and along the shores of St. Albans Bay, brushes dipped into watercolors and splashed and swirled across paper, shading bushels of trees and mixing the light currents swirling in the bay.
A “classroom” of artists and artists-in-training spread out across a section of the St. Albans Bay Park as their teacher, local watercolor artist and Artist-in-Residence Gallery president Paule Gingras, floated between to advise where needed.
Typically confining her classes to the indoors, Gingras brought her watercolor class, sponsored by the Artist-in-Residence Gallery, to the shores of Lake Champlain Monday for a different setting and approach to work.
Painters were tasked with quick sketching their surroundings, briskly outlining features of the shoreline that might inform a more detailed painting when done. Or the paintings might stay as is, capturing enough of the moment to feel like a full work and inspiring their teacher, Gingras, to exclaim “that’s good enough to frame!”
This act of impromptu outdoor painting has a formal name in the art world. En plein air, literally “outdoors” in French, refers to painting outdoors, often to emphasize the more natural elements and real-time elements of the artist’s surroundings.
“It’s to learn how to just do it, just get out there and do it,” Gingras said.
As for setting her students on St. Albans Bay, Gingras said it provided a perfect model for this work, with “both a waterscape and landscape” to pull inspiration from.
“I live here and I love it here,” Gingras said. “I think it’s just good to be outside. I go out and walk, and that’s what inspires my paintings.”
Gingras has a lot of paintings, too. Painting since she was eight, Gingras guessed she painted around 1,000 different watercolor paintings since she first started. “I really like the flow and the translucency,” Gingras said of watercolor. “It’s a more difficult medium, but it’s also simple.”
She brushed out a quick demonstration, drawing almost fluently a snapshot of St. Albans Bay with a quick flush of blues and greens that very quickly took the shape of a bay with mountains on the opposite shore. “I like the way the watercolor flows on the paper,” she said, brushing the paper to reflect currents in the nearby bay.
She talked about leaving white space to represent the light reflecting off the water, something she reminded her surrounding students of more than once over the course of the afternoon. It was also important, one of her more experienced students noted, simply because there typically just wasn’t a white watercolor paint.
Set up on a mobile easel a short walk away, consultant Philippe Trotin brushed out a horizon of purple hues to represent the Adirondacks in the distance. “I’ve always loved watercolor,” said Trotin. “The idea is to put some paint down and just get going. I want to try to do it, but it’s not easy.”
To his left, local jeweler Rochelle Wallace spread her tools out on one of the Bay Park’s benches. She held a painting up toward St. Albans Bay to compare the two. “I’ve always just enjoyed art,” Wallace said. “I can take my time to see things people just don’t normally see.”
Behind them, retiring school teacher Susan Ruprecht, who’s been taking classes with Gingras since last year, had finished another quick painting, this time with a pair of houses sketched into an otherwise cloudier take on the bay.
“I’ve always had an interest in art, but I never had any formal training,” Ruprecht said. “We didn’t have an elementary art teacher… for a number of years, so we teachers had to do our own thing.
“I’ve always just loved art and the importance of art,” Ruprecht continued. “When I was doing my masters, that was actually my thesis – the importance of art in elementary education. The arts need to be valued, and for a lot of kids, that’s where they shine.”
The artists stayed by the bay for several hours, braving what appeared to be rougher weather behind them and the occasional breeze off the bay that occasionally grabbed a loose piece of paper. The weather, joked St. Albans Bay resident and student Steve Nasuta, was the “hardest part.”
Asked about whether or not he’s tried watercolors before Gingras’s class, Nasuta replied sharply, “I have unsuccessfully!”
“This time,” he said with a smile, “I’m actually able to paint a picture.”
Nasuta, who previously learned to paint with acrylics, said watercolors was more “spontaneous.”
“You let the watercolor make the shapes,” Nasuta said. “It’s all about how it’s spontaneous… and not to worry too much about what you want the painting to look like.”
All the while, Gingras continued passing between the students, assisting whenever asked and regularly making offhand suggestions about how much movement to try and mimic in the water, what shades to blend and how much white should be left for the light.
“I love teaching it,” Gingras said, taking a break to speak with the Messenger. “Having painted that long, I learned so much and I like sharing that knowledge.
“When you have to learn on your own, it’s so much harder.”
Gingras is based out of St. Albans, where her work can be found at the Artist-in-Residence Gallery, the Village Frame Shoppe gallery and in her salon in the city’s downtown. She also features work online through social media.
Her classes are sponsored by the Artist-in-Residence Gallery, a nonprofit.
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