Arts and Entertainment

Seniors Making Art

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The 15 women seated at the table were totally absorbed in their projects.

The only sound was the scratching of pencils on paper.

Then Pat Gordon’s voice sounded softly, encouraging and offering suggestions as the women drew. They were working from a picture that had grid lines drawn on it, carefully copying it onto similarly lined watercolor paper, reproducing one small square at a time.

This technique makes drawing easier, Gordon explained, because the artists focus on just what is in each square rather than the whole picture at once.

Started by Chihuly
These women are part of a project called Seniors Making Art, a program started by Northwest glass artist Dale Chihuly as an outlet for seniors’ artistic creativity.

Chihuly, world renowned for his glass creations, saw how art classes had helped his mother and he knew art could help others.

He believes anyone can make art if they have imagination and life experiences to draw on. Art uses feelings and memories.

The programs are designed to develop confidence. The nonprofit program provides art supplies and an instructor to teach basic techniques. In 2009, Seniors Making Art was in 337 locations in 13 states and reached 18,400 seniors.

Classes at MAC
Seniors Making Art is as much about socializing and getting seniors to connect with their peers as it is about art because many seniors are isolated.

In Gordon’s class, after the women had sketched the picture, they added water to their paint and mixed it until they had a blue they liked for the sky.

They took a large brush to put water onto the paper and wiped it gently with a tissue. This works the water into the paper to keep the color more uniform. Then they brushed the blue onto the sky.

Creative freedom
Gordon stressed that the pictures belong to the artists and they are free to change colors or details of their pictures as they like.

At that point, the women used hair dryers to dry the sky so the paint would not bleed onto the next area. The hair dryers were used often as the pictures progressed.

As she worked, Donna Mensing said of the art program, “This is really fun.”

Melissa Vemi, who is physically challenged, added that she finds it very relaxing. She can’t afford to pay for classes at Peninsula College or for private lessons, but this program offers her the opportunity to try something new. She said one of her neighbors liked a previous picture so much that she asked if she could have it.

First try at painting
Several women said they never had tried painting before and they are greatly enjoying the opportunity.

They then mixed ochre and water to make a light color to cover the rest of the paper. This gives a warm glow to the other colors as they are added. Slowly other colors fill in the details.

The barn was painted anything from a light pink to a bright red depending on the effect the artist wanted. Trees and bushes were added. Tree trunks, grasses and boards for the barn took shape with a fine brush.

And in the silence, the plain white papers became works of art.

Reach Dana Casey at

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