Painters learn tips from watercolor artist

Posted: Thursday, August 15, 2002

"Art has no right or wrong. In art, you really can't make mistakes, there are many ways to do it."

This bit of sage advice is just one gem of information imparted to watercolor painting workshop participants last week by nationally renowned artist Judi Betts of Louisiana.

The workshop, put on by the Peninsula Art Guild, was held Monday through Friday at the Kenai Fine Arts Center for beginning to advanced watercolor artists.

Participants from the central peninsula and visitors from Cooper Landing, Anchorage, Nome and as far away as Washington and Texas spent six hours a day soaking up instruction from Betts about techniques, use of color, design, creativity and other concepts that benefit watercolor painters as well as artists in other mediums.

"We've covered ground in one week that would be covered in a semester (class)," said Rube Tikka of Kenai, one of the workshop participants."

Each session began with a lecture and demonstration from Betts outlining what the group would be working on that day. The workshop took participants back to basics, with Betts focusing on the fundamental elements of painting, color and design. Hues and values of colors, for instance, were discussed, as was using white space (areas intentionally left blank) in a painting.


A painting done by Judi Betts demonstrates the use of complementary colors and underpainting that she teaches in her watercolor workshops.

Photo by Jenny Neyman

Early in the week, the group spent an entire day working with just black and white. On another day they painted with only one color. By mid-week the group was painting with two colors and by Friday participants had a full palate of colors to work with.

The workshop covered so much ground there wasn't much time for participants to polish the new skills they acquired. They got the hang of a concept or technique and moved on to something else.

"We're not here to make beautiful paintings, we're here to learn the stuff," said Dottie Sanders, who teaches art, jewelry-making and language arts at Nikiski Middle-High School. "We haven't had time to practice. ... It's an underpinning for all of us to go out and paint our own way. Application comes later."

Although the instruction started simple, the workshop was designed to challenge both beginning and advanced artists. Beginning painters were exposed to new concepts, while more advanced artists had a chance to polish their skills and expand their personal potential.

"Sometimes there are some very basic things that someone who's painted a long time doesn't realize," Betts said.

Sanders said the workshop gave her a wealth of information to take back to her students.

"I thought it was fun for me to go back and do the basics." she said. "I don't usually take time to (do that), but it's very valuable. You concentrate on the really important things."

One of the concepts Betts had the class work on was complementary colors, through a technique called underpainting.

Betts painted a rectangle of four blocks -- yellow, blue, orange and pink. Then she painted a design on top. Any part of the design in the blue block was painted with a complimentary color, like orange. Similarly, the part of the design in the orange block was painted in blue, the yellow block was painted in pink and the pink block in yellow.

She suggested her students think of complementary colors in terms of their wardrobe.

"I would ask someone, 'if you had a jacket that color, what would you wear with it?'" she said.

Another basic concept Betts advocated was observation.

"I talk about how to see this world," Betts said. "After the week, you look at the world differently."

Fireweed was used as an example. Giving it a quick glance gives the impression that it is only pink. Whereas a longer, more detailed inspection, will reveal colors like orange, red, yellow and green, Betts said.

"Looking at it fast wouldn't be as effective as studying nature and really looking at it."

Workshop participants were encouraged to use a sketch book to capture the details of the subjects they wanted to paint. Vases of flowers were placed on tables during classes so the students could get an accurate impression of form and color.

If there were any questions, Betts was there to help. After the introductory lecture and example, she circulated around the room, offering suggestions, demonstrating techniques and imparting wisdom to the painter.

"Betts is an internationally known artist," said Jan Sherwood of Anchorage, who came down to Kenai for the workshop. "It was a golden opportunity to be able to get this valuable instruction. It has been an invaluable week in my life."

Betts, 66, has been painting for most of her life, and teaching for the last 44 years of it, including 25 years teaching in public schools in Louisiana. Now she travels the country and world giving workshops in painting and drawing.

"There are some things from which people don't want to retire," she said. "The word 'retire' is not in my vocabulary."

She's written two award-winning books, "Watercolor ... Let's Think About It!" and "Painting ... A Quest Toward Xtraord!nary." Her paintings have won over 100 awards in competitions such as the National Academy of Design, American Watercolor Society and National Watercolor Society. She has received the Louisiana governor's award for professional artist and the Midwest Watercolor Society award for Master of Watercolor. She's judged about 80 national, international and regional art competitions and she is a contributor to several prominent art magazines.

Betts has taught workshops in Alaska before, but this was her first visit to the Kenai Peninsula.

"I've never seen such big, rich fireweed," she said of the peninsula. "(And) mountains are very exciting to me, so any time I see mountains I'm in awe."

The workshop gave participants an opportunity to learn from each other as well as Betts.

"The sharing and watching one another have success brings us closer," Sanders said. "It's a renewal coming together with artists to be in this environment -- it's is not something we do very often."

According to Betts, the desire to paint or be artistic is contagious so it is often more fun to paint with family and friends. It is not uncommon to have families enroll in her workshops, she said.

The give and take between her and her students is another valuable component to Betts' workshops.

"Any new experience that we have enriches our lives," she said. "I bring to them a touch of Louisiana, and they bring a vast experience of living here, so it's very exciting."

Anyone interested in obtaining a schedule of Betts' future workshops can contact the Peninsula Art Guild at the Kenai Fine Arts Center at 283-7040. The art guild offers a watercolor group in the central peninsula that meets a few times a month. For more information about the group, or the guild, contact the fine arts center.

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