Teacher stalks the mysteries of art

July 13, 2008|By Cassandra A. Fortin | Cassandra A. Fortin,Special to The Sun

Since she was a young girl, Lesley Taylor has worked to solve the puzzles of art.

Before she started working on a piece, she said, she would look at a picture or photograph of a prospective subject and study it for the questions it begged to have answered.

"I was not interested in creating anything that wasn't challenging," said Taylor, who works as an art teacher at Aberdeen High School. "I wanted to figure out how to capture a certain light in a painting, or how to show texture."

Later this week, Taylor will use the technique when she gives a free demonstration in a program being started in Havre de Grace at The Art Rooms, co-owned by Liz Howshall and her husband, Paul Howshall.

The Art Rooms, opened for business in November 2007, is an art supply store that includes galleries, art shows, workshops, and a music room in which musician Paul Howshall plays his trumpet and offers music-related activities.

Throughout the year, The Art Rooms will offer programs for community members and students. In the fall, the store will start a program that gives schoolchildren a chance to show their work in a public venue.

"The student art shows will help the art educators, and it will help the students build their portfolios for art school," said Howshall, a self-taught artist who earned a degree in business administration from Strausberg University in 1998.

As part of a summer program, Taylor will give a demonstration called "The Upside-Down Drawings of Lesley Taylor" on Saturday from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m.

Although Taylor doesn't exhibit her own work, she saw the demonstration as a way to teach and build enthusiasm about art, she said.

"I'm all about teaching art," Taylor said. "I create art in almost every medium, but teaching art is my passion."

Taylor started when she was a young girl, and loved to draw people, houses and dogs, she said.

"The greatest gift I ever received was a box of 64 crayons with the sharpener," she said.

She took this love of doodling to the next level as a student at James I. O'Neill High School in Highland Falls, N.Y. Her teacher, Robert Gill, assigned the class a mechanical painting.

"I became very stressed about it because I didn't know what he meant by a mechanical painting," she said.

She painted a detailed copper screw that was about 10 by 14 inches.

"I made it look very real," she said. "I was very proud of it."

Taylor earned a degree in psychology in 1976, and then a master's in counseling in 1981. She went to work in special education at Sheppard Pratt.

Shortly after her children were born, she went back to school to take art classes, she said.

"I found great peace sitting in a studio working on art for five hours at a time," Taylor said. "It was a saving grace in my life. It was quiet and peaceful."

Although she has used watercolors, pencil, colored pencils and acrylics, she gravitated to watercolors, she said. When she took her first painting class, she used oil paints. She set up in the laundry room at her home, but that became troublesome because she had young children.

"Watercolors became my preferred medium," said Taylor, who uses a simple palette that contains basic colors such as yellow, burnt sienna, crimson, and blue that she mixes to make the colors she needs. "I could paint on my bed, in an armchair, on the floor, the dinner table, and nothing was toxic. I could paint any time, anywhere."

Taylor paints still-life pieces using photographs, her dogs and common items in unusual ways, she said. Once she painted apples still in the plastic bag she purchased them in. Another time she painted a series of dead leaves.

"The leaves became a problem I wanted to solve," she said. "I want to capture the emotion of my subject. First and foremost, I try to paint subjects that are challenging and puzzling."

The idea to teach came after she was asked by her children's school to do a lesson, she said.

After she earned a bachelor's degree in art education in 1994 from Towson University, she was hired at Aberdeen High School, where she has been teaching art ever since.

To introduce her new students to art, Taylor said she uses a technique called upside-down drawing. She discovered the technique in a book called Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain by Betty Edwards.

"The new students come into my class and they are so scared of drawing," she said. "The upside-down drawing lesson helps them overcome their fear."

The students use a drawing of Igor Stravinsky by Pablo Picasso. They turn it upside-down and focus on the lines, she said. The activity forces the cognitive shift from the left hemisphere of the brain to the right hemisphere, Taylor said.

"Typically when you draw a picture of a person, you say, 'Here are the eyes, and the nose,' " she said. "But when you turn it upside-down in this lesson, you say, 'Here's a diagonal line, and a curved line,' and you think very, very basic."

The budding artists are instructed to start anywhere they wish, though most people start at the top.

"Try not to figure out what you are looking at in the upside-down drawing. It's better not to know. Simply start copying the lines. But remember: don't turn the drawing right-side-up," Edwards wrote in her book.

When the students finish the drawing, which takes about two hours, they turn their finished piece right-side-up, Taylor said.

"Upside-down art gets people hooked on art," she said, "It builds their confidence from the start. This activity kick-started me, and it's a way to demystify drawing for new artists. They look at their finished product and see that they can do it."

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