Under flowering trees, serenaded by conversing ducks and harmonizing pollinators, Peg Sheridan often teaches watercolor to exploring artists in the making.
For nearly 40 years, Sheridan has honed her craft of gliding and guiding translucent nature scenes onto canvas. At plein air art classes through Larkin Arts, inspired participants can retreat from the mundane at the peaceful lakeside at Edith J. Carrier Arboretum.
Sheridan’s classes can span six weeks or be confined to single, all-day courses. On Wednesday at 9:30 a.m., two pupils abandoned conventional studio spaces and gathered at the garden to learn more about the seemingly elusive art form. Throughout the day, the class transitioned from sitting beside the water, beaming with activity to the secluded visitors center table for discussion.
“They’re looking to paint and for social interaction, so I try to foster that, too,” Sheridan said. “I try to foster those relationships because that’s what some of my students are looking for. It’s not just an art class. It’s meeting people and being a part of a community.”
Each class begins the same: homework review. Looking back at what students practiced and discover what works and what doesn’t, Sheridan provides tools like a color handout before walking artists step by step with a demonstration.
Bridgewater resident Lois Kauffman has taken classes from Sheridan for over two years and already sold two paintings. Kauffman said against the beautiful backdrop of the arboretum and under Sheridan’s patient guidance, she has steadily, comfortably discovered her artistic direction and rhythm.
“She makes the climate so pleasant, we can learn,” Kauffman said. “Peg’s teaching style is very conducive to learning.”
At each class, Sheridan covers various tools and techniques in demonstrations but encourages each artist to choose what inspires them and take their painting in independent directions.
“I’m a big believer in you should paint what inspires you to paint, and I’ll give you the tools to do that,” Sheridan said. “I give them free range; do what inspires you.”
Elaine Dunaway of Harrisonburg began more recently learning from Sheridan and said the gentle guidance of an experienced artist goes a long way for a beginning painter.
“If you practice on your own, you’re kind of in the ocean. … Watercolor is complicated. The colors run together and there are techniques to conquer,” she said. “For me, it made a world of difference to go to a class.”
Dunaway said creativity is one thing but skill itself is something anyone can develop given time, so curious individuals should take the dive.
“I’m someone who has absolutely no natural talent with it but if you do it over and over, you get good at it,” she said.
Sheridan was awarded Best Watercolor for Plein Air magazine’s 10th annual August salon competition. The selected painting, “Evening on the Cowpasture River, Virginia,” is a soft scene of western Virginia’s glassy waterway reflecting the warm hues of trees draping overhead. The work is owned by Blue Ridge Community College and hangs in the student union building.
“It’s a frustrating medium if you don’t know what you’re doing, but I love watercolor because I love watching the paint flow and the unexpected things that happen,” Sheridan said.
Sheridan is leading a sold-out, six-week fall plein air watercolor class from last Monday through Oct. 19 with Beverley Street Studio School in Staunton and another all-day class at Ridgeview Park with Shenandoah Valley Art Center in Waynesboro on Oct. 7. For more class information and the full schedule, visit pegsheridan.com.