The gentle eyes of 81-year-old Billie Gillilan peer through her glasses as she studies two pictures. Sea lions are the focus of one of the pictures, while a rocky area is the subject of the second.
Gillilan's stare passes from the first to the second, then to the canvas in front of her. Her task at hand is to blend the aspects of the pictures onto her canvas.
Gillilan is one of more than 10 students who are part of the painting course offered at the Soldotna Senior Center called Art Adventures. The class meets the second and fourth Thursday of each month in the center's craft room.
The class is taught by Mieke Smith and Sharon Heselius, who are both area artists who share their techniques and advise with the participants.
Smith said the class started in mid-February and is the first of its kind. The idea to start the class was Heselius' idea.
"She said we ought to just do it for seniors and everyone else who wants to come," Smith said, adding that it keeps area artists in touch with others and keeps their spirits up.
"It has been great for everyone. People come early and stay late," she said.
Everyone brings in projects and both women rotate and attentively sit with each student to help them achieve the masterpiece they want.
For some, the class is a special time to work.
"I only paint when I am in class," said Linda Fox.
Fox, who recently joined the class, was the youngest face in the room of students. She said she has been painting since 1973 but did not have a place to get away and just paint.
As a homemaker, Fox said the class fits into her schedule, and she plans to take various other painting classes in the future.
The class gives Fox an opportunity to learn and improve.
She found a picture in a landscape book and, like Gillilan, wanted to omit certain features while adding others from another picture.
Fox brushed bright pastel colors onto her painting as the sun poured in from outside. While many were enjoying the bright early summer day, Fox enjoyed her painting passion and the instruction that was offered.
"It is a lot of fun," she said. They are very helpful."
A.C. Dabney has attended the painting class since it began. He also has taken other classes from the women, including a drawing and painting the portrait class.
Smith said his painting has drastically improved since he took that six-week class.
"It has completely opened his eyes to a whole new world," she said.
Dabney's experience has increased his enthusiasm about painting.
"He feels he has a new lease on life," Smith said. "This has just been a giant leap forward."
Dabney, who doesn't take much time out to talk when he is painting, said he got his start in painting a few
years back with Boyd Shaffer at Kenai Peninsula College.
As with many painters, Dabney found a subject he enjoyed and stuck with it.
"I found out I like flowers and bouquets the best," he said as he brushed paint onto his canvas.
Gillilan said she also had taken the class since it began earlier this year. She said the painting she was working on was for a doctor who recently helped her.
Gillilan, who has lived in Alaska for 50 years, said she walks to the senior center for the classes because she likes being shown the different techniques that the artists offer.
Showing off various books with beautiful scenery, Gillilan ponders what her next creation may be, while she explains that she also takes college classes every semester from KPC.
She said taking classes gives her something educational to do and she doesn't like the alternate.
"You don't sit in front of the TV with a bath robe all day," she said with a giggle.
Gillilan's friend and college pal Pearl Burton sits at the end of the table quietly painting away. She admits painting is not a life-long hobby for her.
"I never picked up a brush until I retired," she said. "I thought I was too young to retire and to old to go job hunting, so I went to college."
After retiring, Burton attained her associates of arts degree from KPC. She still takes art classes from the college.
"(Painting) is a learning experience. It is almost like starting over," she said.
Smith said the class keeps those involved in painting excited about the hobby.
"It's a 100 percent enjoyable thing," she said.
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