Famed painters shed light on local artists
Post Independent Arts Writer
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado – It’s quiet in the figure drawing class at Colorado Mountain College. No art professor is standing in front of the class, barking out proclamations about proper artistic techniques.
About the only sound is the heater’s fan overhead – that, and the slight scratching noises of pencils on paper, as about a dozen students sketch out what they see – or more to the point, what they don’t see.
“You know it’s a good class when it’s quiet,” said instructor Dean Bowlby, smiling.
Together with Dan Sprick, Bowlby has been teaching the class for more than two decades.
“The skill set they need to know, they can learn in about a half an hour. Learning the basic skills is one thing. Learning to see takes a lot of careful observation. That takes about 10 years,” Bowlby said.
Bowlby works right alongside his students, all of them stationed behind so many easels, their eyes darting between the model in front of the class and their work.
Several students are gathered around Bowlby’s easel. They’re watching how he’s using shadows to create form, as they work on their own sketches.
The figure drawing class meets for four hours once a week for 16 weeks. Some of the students, such as Heather Davis, simply sign up for the next class when the current one is over.
“I’m on my fifth year,” said Davis.
Bowlby calls the class “atypical.” He starts each session off in a classroom where there can be a slide presentation of student work from as far away as Spain, or a lecture that is really an interactive discussion.
After that, it’s time to head to the studio for several hours using pencils, acrylics and computers – and everything in between. The class works with a live model, often nude, sometimes not.
“Clothing can get complicated,” Bowlby said. “Drapery is difficult.”
Bowlby splits his time between demonstrating and one-on-one coaching, walking through the class and whispering suggestions to students.
The dynamics of the class have begun to change this year. Sprick has moved to Denver, leaving Bowlby to teach the class on his own.
“He’ll be back over here a lot,” Bowlby said of his fellow instructor. “We’ve cleared out a little room for him at the house, and he’s got a lot of family here.”
Both Bowlby and Sprick are hometown boys. They grew up in Glenwood Springs, albeit 10 years apart. In the early 1980s, Sprick became a mentor to Bowlby. That association developed into a lifelong friendship.
After both artists left town for college and extensive travel, they returned home. Besides their work as artists, Bowlby embarked on a 13-year career as an art teacher in the Roaring Fork Re-1 School District. And he and Sprick began and maintained their Colorado Mountain College art-class collaboration.
Today, both Bowlby and Sprick’s work is widely collected, and they have well-deserved international reputations as top-notch professional artists. Subsequently, their CMC class has an enthusiastic following of successful commercial artists and those just “learning to see.”
This winter’s current class has a wide array of art experience. Lifelong professional painter Philip Hone Williams attends class using Corel’s Painter computer equipment to create “pencil” drawings, right alongside artists such as Lis Vath.
“I feel so very lucky to live in this valley and to have such wonderful artists here,” said Vath. “I feel so lucky they are here sharing their experience with us.”
And for an art student such as Tana Leonhart, having Bowlby as a teacher helps her excel.
“He’s so patient and encouraging,” she said, sitting in front of her portrait of model Tracy Conner.
Earlier, alongside Leonhart’s larger sketch, Bowlby had drawn a smaller version of Conner, showing his student different ways to use shading techniques.
“Here, the shape of the eye, the nose and the lips aren’t drawn,” Leonhart said. “They’re shaded in until the line gradually disappears. You shade under it to give it shape.”
Deb Korbel isn’t a professional artist. She owns a day spa in Glenwood, and has to fit in time to attend class. But she said it is important to her to develop this part of herself.
“I didn’t think I could do this,” Korbel said, sitting in front of her easel with her portrait of Conner. “But this class has given me confidence. This is my second semester and I’ve learned so much.”
Student Tony O’Rourke said his motivation for taking the class had to do with bringing out his creative side.
“I denied myself the experience [of practicing art] my whole life,” said O’Rourke, who is a father and husband. “I finally decided I better get on it. And Dean is an awesome teacher.”
“Tony is a sponge,” said Bowlby, later. “He’s discovering a new way of seeing things, and this class is showing him that without telling him. He may not expect to become a professional artist but he’s developing his creativity.”
When asked if the class would end the semester with a big test, Bowlby threw back his head and laughed.
“Yeah, right,” he said. “No, it’s not that kind of class.”
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