Arts & Entertainment

Explore these Forms of Hands-On Artistry

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Art isn’t so intimidating when you’re guided by experienced creative teachers. In these studios, you can get creative with paint, pottery, glass or even wood burning.

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Jean and Randy Schack work side-by-side on their wood burning projects at Rock Valley College’s Center for Learning in Retirement center, in Rockford. The space has several classrooms for arts, crafts and other courses.

Creativity is an essential element of human life. From the simpler arts and crafts we all enjoyed as children – think coloring, painting, working with clay – the hands-on joy of making something not only brings deep satisfaction but also validates our sense of beauty and value.

Too often, that appreciation evolves into visits to galleries and shows, while the desire to create gets left behind. For those who want to reconnect with the pleasure of doing it themselves, many art-based opportunities await.

Learn to Paint at 317 Studio

For anyone who wants to paint but doesn’t feel they have the skills or talent, Therese Rowinski and the staff at 317 Studio have a simple message: yes, you can.

They not only say it, but they have proven it through their Loaded Brush workshops and classes. Housed in a 120-year-old building at 317 Market St., in Rockford’s River District, 317 Studio carries on a tradition of inspiration and affirmation.

“The building itself has a history in the arts,” Rowinski says. “It began as the Rockford Illustrating Company and has continually been a site for the arts, as gallery, studio and now as a teaching and exhibiting venue. I personally feel it is a healing space. I felt that the moment I first walked into the building.”

In two classrooms surrounded by art, Rowinski and several art instructors bring the Loaded Brush concept to everyone, from first-time painters to experienced artists who want to expand their art in the company of like-minded colleagues. The studio provides canvas, paint, brushes – everything needed to complete a painting in about two hours. But not all classes take place in the studio. Rowinski has presented classes in churches, schools and other public places across the region, from Pecatonica, Ill., and Nicholas Conservatory to settings like Klehm Arboretum and D.C. Estates Winery, near South Beloit, Ill.

“The idea has been around for about 10 years,” Rowinski says. “Rockford has had bits and pieces of it but not the complete concept. Once we got it started, Loaded Brush went crazy. Eventually, I had to give up my full-time job to handle the growing number of classes and requests.”

The beauty of Loaded Brush workshops is that people who ordinarily don’t paint are encouraged to create a painting they can take home.

Rowinski says 317 Studio conducts an average of six public classes every week, in addition to three or four private classes. Artists of all levels are invited to come for open studio on Fridays and Saturdays, when they can work with other experienced artists step by step.

“We also help artists work in watercolors, pottery, caustics and wax, alcohol inks (which are becoming popular), drawing and designing wine glasses for personal or celebratory purposes,” Rowinski adds.

For class and workshop information, visit 317 Studio’s website at 317studiogallelry.com or call (815) 315-7000.

Play with Pottery at R&L Ceramics

Painting on canvas is just one of the possibilities. Among the most popular leisure arts around, ceramics continues to appeal to a growing number of men and women. For Linda Littlejohn, owner, operator and instructor of R&L Ceramics, 10697 Main St., in downtown Roscoe, Ill., the continuous interest is no surprise.

“I have taught ceramics to people from age 6 to 103,” says Littlejohn, who’s been in the business for more than 36 years. “R&L not only offers several classes each week but we also host parties for birthdays, Red Hat Society chapters, Boy and Girl Scouts, ladies’ nights out and more. They not only take something lovely home but they have a lot of fun doing it.”

Classes are $7 for a three-hour session in which participants work on whatever they choose, from whimsical characters to vases, pottery pieces, holiday decor, dishware and more. Littlejohn points out that ceramics can be one of the most economical hobbies available. All that’s needed is a few basic paintbrushes, a cleaning tool for the greenware (unfired ceramic clay), a towel and small sponges. The cost of paints, glazes and the number of times a piece is fired depends on what an artist creates.

“People work at their own pace,” Littlejohn says. “Some projects can be done in a single session, after firing, while others might take a month of classes or longer, depending on how large and complex the piece is. A ceramic item can cost from as little as $1 to as much as $50.”

The pleasure in ceramics is about more than the satisfaction derived from creating, says Littlejohn. She believes ceramics can be therapeutic.

“Part of it is the camaraderie,” she says. “Whether it’s the buddy system of two or more, family members including parent and child, or just being with a bunch of creative people happily working on something they love, we end up laughing a lot.”

Littlejohn offers instruction, including suggestions for color and design, during classes. In addition, she fills custom orders, often spending hours each day working on special pieces for businesses. R&L also has finished ceramic items for sale.

For more information on classes and parties, visit R&L Ceramics at randlceramics.com or call (815) 623-6633.

Blowing Glass at The Glass Garden

So delicate, so exquisite… glass is an artistic medium that both inspires and intimidates. But Judy and Dale Shumway will tell you, and show you, that working with glass is not only rewarding but a lot of fun.

For more than 18 years, the Shumways have owned and operated The Glass Garden LLC in downtown Janesville’s river district. In their shop and studio at 25 W. Milwaukee Street, they stock hundreds of types of exquisite glass, plus all the tools needed to create pretty much anything an artist could imagine. And, The Glass Garden has finished glass pieces for sale. For those who want to learn how to work with glass, the roomy, well-equipped studio is a major draw.

“We are a full-service glass studio, providing supplies, glass repair, etching and custom orders as well as classes for beginners and those with advanced skills,” Judy Shumway says. “We offer classes in traditional stained glass, leaded glass, mosaics, fusing and torch glass blowing.”

The blowing technique involves putting colored glass chips into a glass balloon and using a torch to heat the glass to exactly the right temperature. An artist can then blow the melting glass into elegant small globes, Shumway explains.

“Glass is not as difficult as people imagine,” she says. “I’ve taught different techniques to students aged 11 to 91. As is true of all arts, it takes practice under expert instruction. Most of our students tell us they didn’t know it would be so easy.”

Classes can focus on dozens of possible creations, from garden stakes to stained glass windows, lamp shades, plates and bowls, vases, wall hangings, stepping stones and home decor such as picture frames and candle holders. Shumway says the expense of glass crafting falls closer to needlework than woodworking.

“Once they get started here, they can work on glass projects at home,” Shumway says. “Our students can also come in at set times and work with our instructors on perfecting new skills. These sessions don’t take the place of regular classes.”

For information on glass supplies and classes, visit The Glass Garden’s website at eglassgarden.com or call (608) 754-3718.

Learn at Rock Valley College

Seniors with more leisure time are finding ways to explore many of those arts and crafts techniques they’ve admired. They have an easy resource with Rock Valley College’s Center for Learning in Retirement (CLR), 3350 Bell School Road, in Rockford.

Down a hallway lined with busy classrooms, more than a dozen men and women are learning or perfecting the art of wood burning under the watchful eye of volunteer instructor Gordon Moscinski. This isn’t like the exciting, but often disappointing, experience you may have had with wood burning kits in your childhood. This is the real deal.

The class reflects a growing arts curriculum that’s quickly becoming the dominant component of CLR’s roster. Arts classes are so highly appreciated that most art classes fill quickly, says CLR program director Tammy Lewis.

“CLR started out nearly 24 years ago with predominately academic subjects, but now we offer more and different classes in the arts every semester,” Lewis says. “We’ve had success with watercolor and acrylic painting, pastels, photography, basket weaving, wood burning and carving, photography, calligraphy, pottery and more. Limited-participation classes fill up quickly.”

Lewis describes CLR’s classes as an opportunity for seniors to “get a taste” of a wide variety of arts and crafts – enough to whet their interest and encourage them to take their interest further. From one-day workshops to weekly series that last up to eight weeks, CLR classes are led by experienced, knowledgeable instructors who enjoy sharing their skills. Class costs vary and sometimes include the materials needed – a bonus for beginners who aren’t yet sure of their commitment.

“They can try it out before they buy expensive supplies,” Lewis says. CLR relies on artisan networks to find willing instructors, a connection that helps the center to find a wide variety of classes to offer.

“We are planning to schedule a class in abstract painting this spring because members have asked about the possibility,” Lewis says. “Plus, we have open artists’ studio from 9 to 11:30 a.m. on Fridays during which artists can come in and work on their projects. A few of our instructors do attend these, on occasion.”

Located in a repurposed former elementary school at the intersection of Bell School and Spring Brook roads, CLR continues to be a welcoming, inspiring place for seniors to learn new skills while finding like-minded colleagues.

For class and enrollment information, visit CLR’s website at rockvalleycollege.edu/community/clr or call (815) 921-3933.

While art and craft shows, galleries and museum exhibits fulfill our basic human joy in appreciating beauty and expression, it’s vital to learn or reacquaint ourselves with the joy of creating something beautiful that expresses our unique vision.

Hands-on crafting or artistry is also part of a healthy lifestyle, promoting confidence, self-esteem, and often relieving the stress of everyday life. Having something lovely to show for it doesn’t hurt, either.

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