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AMONG FRIENDS: Westville painters find support through art group

Members of the Westville Heritage Art Group spend a few hours a week sharing ideas and encouragement as they sketch and paint. From left, front, Pam Ferguson, Chris Lann and Carol MacDonald with Elaine Chabassol and Sheila Green in back.
Members of the Westville Heritage Art Group spend a few hours a week sharing ideas and encouragement as they sketch and paint. From left, front, Pam Ferguson, Chris Lann and Carol MacDonald with Elaine Chabassol and Sheila Green in back. - Rosalie MacEachern

Perfecting a stand of trees, ruffling a rooster’s feathers, sketching a portrait, introducing a sense of mystery to an abandoned house or mind drawing.

They do all that and more at the Westville Heritage Art Group.

Its numbers fluctuate from a handful to a dozen, meeting every Tuesday afternoon in a bright, spacious room in the Westville municipal complex where they spend a couple of hours drawing and painting or experimenting with new mediums and techniques. Their summer break is coming but come September, they will be back again and they are inviting others to join them.

Carol MacDonald has always been creative, whether it was drawing on scraps of paper, putting hours into tole painting projects or her current pastimes of painting and rug hooking.

“I was happy to come to this group and beyond that, my father, Harold Higgins, used to come here as one of the founding members of the Westville heritage group.”

She is currently working on a watercolour landscape, a scene from a magazine which she is trying to recreate. She shows it to other members, and in spite of their positive feedback, she is not quite satisfied.

“I don’t know, it was all going well and I have a lot of time into it but I’m just not happy about those trees. I might paint over the whole thing yet and start again,” she said.

Land and seascapes are among her favourite subjects and she has work on display at the Aberdeen Hospital.

“I enjoy seeing what I can do and what others can do. We learn from each other and enjoy the company as we work and have a cup of tea.”

Chris Lann’s background is in graphic design.

“I know it is all about presentation and I’m familiar with all the background mechanics but I enjoy all forms of art.”

He credits his parents with providing art and music lessons when he was young.

“I think I’ve always had a good imagination, a logical approach and a good sense of combining colours. I used to be in advertising graphic design in the days when the only computers were big typesetters, so we had to do a lot of physical mockups.”

He sometimes offers drawing lessons within the group.

“I consider myself an intentional artist and I put a lot of thought into what I am going to do. I may take two or three photos of something I like and build a different picture from those elements.”

He enjoys the sociability of the art group where he is currently working on an architectural style of drawing.

“I like being around like-minded people and I like to be the verb rather than the noun, the person who actually does art.”

Pam Ferguson is Lann’s sister and he brought her to the group.

“Chris gave me a gift of art lessons after I said I’d like to try painting. It was an hour lesson here and an hour lesson there and it was a great way to learn.”

Another former tole painter, she now considers that more craft than art.

“Once I retired I wanted to try something a little more artistic and I’ve really enjoyed being in a group. I think the group gives me discipline but I also enjoy listening to the conversation and learning from the others.”

She enjoys acrylic, coloured pencils, charcoal and pastel art and watches a lot of tutorials at home.

“I like the concentration with watching a video but I also like the sharing in a group.”

She particularly enjoys painting old houses.

“I live by the water and I like to have water in my paintings but when it comes to old houses, I like to think about the lives that may have unfolded within a house that now sits vacant with the grass growing up around it.”

Elaine Chabassol loved art as a child and the enjoyment of it has returned since she joined the group four years ago.

“My father painted and drew and there were other adults in the family with artistic ability who were always doodling, sketching and showing me pictures, but I got away from it as I got older and I don’t know why. This group has made me make time.”

She is quick to admit her first efforts were not all that pleasing.

“I’ve got quite a collection of works I didn’t like and they are all home behind the piano. I’d get a bit discouraged at times but I stayed with it because I like the group and I felt I was learning. By last winter I was doing work I was happy with.”

She has also figured out a few things about herself.

“I like to paint but I am a slow painter and that’s just the way it is. I’ll be a third of the way through when others are finished but I have to do it my way to be happy with it.”

She considers oil challenging but is enjoying working in other mediums. Spiderman and roosters are among her favourite subjects.

Sheila Green remembers the moment seven years ago when she told a friend she wanted to paint. She was advised to get some cheap supplies to experiment with.

“It was good advice and I found I loved working with paint. I’d watch a video and see what I could do. My husband and son were impressed so I decided I’d take lessons.”

After studying with Lyn-Sue Wice and Helen Boucher, Green wanted to try portraiture.

“I found an artist I really like on YouTube and took three years of online courses.”

She was still working at the time and would listen to lectures at night, then get up at 5 a.m. to do her painting homework.

“I could hardly sleep knowing what I was going to be doing in the morning. I’d jump out of bed, stay with it until the last minute and then fly out the door just in time to get to work.”

She turned her family room into a painting studio where she does a lot of oil and acrylics as well as charcoals and pastels.

“I’ve come to this late compared to many people and I want to try it all. Being in a group provides encouragement, support and honesty.”

Green frequently exhibits her works, her confidence having grown dramatically since her first solitary attempts.

“I love colour and variety. Sometimes I plan what I’m going to paint and sometimes I just put the brush down and hope for the best.”

As part of a federal grant to the heritage group, a variety of art supplies are available for people who may like to test their artistic skills.

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