Kathleen Ducharme is creative, but she’s not a painter.
“I don’t even draw well,” says the Elk Rapids resident.
Yet she is surprising even herself: “I can’t believe what I could do after one hour of instruction.”
Ducharme and a dozen other students sit in the sunny Cottage Gallery at Twisted Fish, chatting, painting, listening and learning. They’re painting scenes of European villages based on black-and-white photocopies.
In just the second week of class, Ducharme has learned not only how to use tube paint, which she had never tried before, but how to mix it and which kinds work best for which effect. She’s learned how to look at a painting and gauge which direction to go in next. She’s even learned how to use cheesecloth.
The cheesecloth is a technique used by instructor Charles Murphy, a well-known painter and illustrator and longtime resident of the region. “It creates its own texture,” Murphy says, “so you don’t have to do it brushstroke by brushstroke. I call them ‘little victories’.”
Murphy calls the students into the Cottage Gallery’s kitchen for a brief lesson on pigment vs. dye. He tears them away from their work by assuring them they need to “get up and get away and let it settle.” The watercolors need to evaporate or absorb every once in a while, he tells them.
Murphy also urges the students to approach their paintings as either a reporter, a commentator or a creator. As a reporter, he explains, you’ll re-create the scene almost exactly. As a commentator, you modify the scene. As a creator, you do the whole thing on your own. Any of the three approaches is fine, he says, but it’s something you should think about while you’re painting.
Ducharme hopes to make watercolor Christmas cards this year with her newly acquired skills. She’s taking all five of Murphy’s classes, offered every Thursday in April. There are still a few openings in the remaining classes; call 264-0123 to register.