Artist has warm spot for scenes of winter

Inspiration: When self-taught watercolorist David C. Drown, a Board of Education employee, sees snow, he is moved to "grab the brushes and start painting."

February 20, 2003|By Laura Shovan | Laura Shovan,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Everyone else may be tired of looking at walls of snow, but winter scenes - especially in Howard County - are a source of inspiration for local artist David C. Drown.

"Whenever it snows, I'm in a favorite place. I love to paint in the snow," he said.

Drown, a self-taught watercolor painter who works for the Howard County Board of Education, had done little more than doodle at meetings since he was in junior high school.

"What got me started was an ice storm in 1987, when we couldn't get out of the house for days on end. I picked up the brushes and really haven't put them down since," he said.

This month, 45 of his paintings are on display at the Board of Education's main hall gallery in Ellicott City. The snowy weather delayed the show's official opening early this month. A reception Feb. 28 will mark the closing of Drown's show.

"Painting helps me relax," Drown said. "It also improves my focus. My job involves a lot of number crunching. ... This is a way I can balance myself."

Drown is coordinator of geographical information systems for the school board. He works on redistricting and enrollment projections, and he helps develop capital improvement plans for the system's budget.

The 49-year-old Ellicott City resident has worked for local public schools for more than 20 years. His wife, Deborah Drown, is principal of Gorman Crossing Elementary in North Laurel.

When co-workers realize that the landscapes and architectural scenes on display were painted by Drown, "first and foremost they're shocked that it's me. I don't come across as a sensitive, artistic type," he said. "I'm down here crunching numbers. ... They're kind of incredulous that it's the same guy. Most of them have been very positive. They've enjoyed the shows."

"His art is a pleasant surprise," said Phyllis Parker, administrative assistant to the schools' public information officer. "You don't think of him in that capacity, and some of his work is really lovely."

The display, Drown's second solo show at the Board of Education, is called My Favorite Places.

"Essentially, I do building-scapes and landscapes," Drown said. "My work is very easy to understand and relate to. I'm really after developing my own style. I do take a lot of my inspiration from works of other artists," such as Winslow Homer, Edward Hopper, the Wyeths and John Singer Sargent.

"I think he's real responsive to his surroundings," said Mark Coates, a longtime friend and fellow painter who is the schools' instructional facilitator for visual arts. "I think that's part of the aura of working on location, when you're sitting in front of a subject for hours on end ... very tuned in to your surroundings."

"I like old things," Drown said. He lives in a contemporary house but likes "the quaint, rustic architecture. It's old barns and stuff that's really falling down" that he paints.

"He has an awful lot of local scenes, which I find particularly attractive," such as St. Paul's Church in Ellicott City, said Parker, a seven-year county resident. "They're very restful."

Each summer, Drown spends time in New England. One of his paintings is Portland Head Lighthouse, a scene also painted by Hopper.

Drown said the light in New England, which inspired his favorite artists, is different from that in any other place. "It's crisper than it is down here," he said. "The blues are deeper, especially in the summer."

Because watercolors are portable and dry fairly quickly, Drown also paints when he vacations. The show includes paintings of scenes in California, Jamaica and Costa Rica.

Of this week's snow, he said, "For my taste, it does not snow enough in Maryland. But when we are blessed with a blanket of white ... the contrast that snow presents, from the brightest of whites to the deepest of blues ... always inspires me to grab the brushes and start painting."

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