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Creative collaboration

Wauwatosa Artists Workshop a forum for sharing ideas, growing through critique

March 10, 2010

They walk briskly into the Muellner Building at Hart Park toting their sketchpads, palettes, brushes and pens. Among them are a chemist, a clerk, an engineer and a retired parole officer. And they all have one thing in mind on this Monday night: creating art for the sheer joy of it.

Each of the 45 members of the Wauwatosa Artists Workshop has a story to tell through the work they place on the table.

Betty Jo McLeod pops lids off her boxes of well-worn pastels, getting ready to work on a portrait of a woman drawn from life. The group brings in live models on occasion, she explains, and this one was skilled at holding a pose.

McLeod, of Wauwatosa, says she joined the Workshop, which has a juried membership, about 11 years ago because she wanted to be challenged and inspired by other artists: "I saw an exhibit that this group put on at the library and I thought, 'This is the group I want to paint with.' "

Critiques, demos helpful

Just across the table, Mike Andrysczyk of Milwaukee is working on one of his many intricate pen and ink drawings of Wisconsin's deep forests. Andrysczyk, the Workshop's president, got started in his avocation in the 1960s when he owned a print shop. He had to learn calligraphy to serve a big segment of his client base - churches and funeral homes.

A chemist by day, Andrysczyk pursues his passion for drawing in his spare time. His landscapes, portraits and "critters" are drawn from memory. He finds them by sitting up in a tree in the great North Woods and letting the view "burn" into his mind, he says, "like a screensaver."

"We're a couple of ink-slingers over here," says Larry Vande Zande of Milwaukee, working next to Andrysczyk.

Vande Zande is preparing to sling ink on a piece requested by his cousin. It's a panoramic view of the Luck, Wis., farm where she grew up. Vande Zande says participating in the Workshop has helped him learn the finer points of composition.

"And you always come away with something from the critiques," he noted.

The group offers regularly scheduled critiques, where members show their work to the Workshop's official mentor, Chris Sommerfelt of Wauwatosa, and one or two professional artists.

"Everybody brings two pieces," Sommerfelt says, "and we talk about the things that are done well and the things that need improvement."

Sommerfelt, a watercolor artist, teaches classes at the Wauwatosa Recreation Department and Hart Park.

"It really helps to have a mentor," says Melanie Weston of Wauwatosa, even though she studied art at Mount Mary College and has been painting her entire life. Weston paints impressionistic watercolors of local scenes, such as seasonal landscapes of the County Grounds.

"You learn a lot from everybody," says Bill Krueger of Milwaukee. "We all do."

Group helps artists grow

Krueger, a member for 20 years, says he has seen the work of participants improve as they practice week after week and pick up tips during demonstrations by professional artists.

Dick Johnson of Germantown says his greatest challenge is learning to mix colors to get just the perfect hue in his landscapes. That's a skill that can take years to perfect, he notes, but the pros seem to do it effortlessly.

Johnson, who is working on a watercolor painting of the harbor at Muskegon, Mich., has the technique down more than well enough to sell some of his originals and prints.

Members of the group not only share techniques, but also encouragement and motivation, says Bill Thompson of Milwaukee, one of the Workshop's newest participants.

Thompson paints realistic landscapes and portraits in oil. Four of his pieces were recently on exhibit at the Reuss Federal Building in downtown Milwaukee as part of a show organized by the Workshop.

"That's another thing I like about this," Thompson says. "You can get some exposure."

Paul Madura of Wauwatosa, a 25-year Workshop veteran who specializes in trompe l'oeil painting, organizes the group's exhibits well in advance. The next show is scheduled for the Greenfield Library in September, but Madura also has booked the group's work into the Alfons Gallery and Clement Manor in 2011 and the Wauwatosa library in 2013. He's still working on venues for 2012.

At a glance

WHAT: Wauwatosa Artists Workshop, founded in 1980

WHEN: meets 7 to 9 p.m., on the second, third and fourth Mondays of the month

WHERE: Muellner Building at Hart Park

DUES: $35 per year

TO JOIN: prospective members must submit work samples to be juried; artists from all communities are welcome

COMING UP: free open house from 7 to 9 p.m. Monday, featuring a critique by Michael Foster, portrait artist

CONTACT: Chris Sommerfelt at (414) 259-0056, Paul Madura at (414) 771-6979

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