Traverse City Record-Eagle

Arts & Entertainment

March 14, 2014

Northern Expressions women bond over art

TRAVERSE CITY — Eyes squint over landscapes. Glasses slide over nose tips as pencils scratch out blue boats tethered in a marina. The scene is tranquil but batik watercoloring teems with tense, make-or-break moments.

Pulverizing your painting is one such moment. There’s a collective holding of breath as Sharma Zollinger smashes her painting — one she just worked seven hours on — into a ball and flattens it out again.

“What happens if we tear it?” A question in a small voice.

Another collective moment — a shared sigh of “we’ve been there, sister,” then helpful suggestions pour forth on masking the blip.

The women of Northern Expressions Decorative Artists are in their seventh hour of an eight-hour art class on batik watercoloring — a complex procedure involving colored pencils, watercolors, layers of wax, a blow dryer and an iron. Tomorrow they’ll tackle charcoal spilling for another eight hours.

Endurance art like this bonds the women together in the way only new challenges can. Sharing the journey from novice to mastery — with all of its frustrations and victories — creates friendship alongside the art.

“It’s more than art class — it’s art therapy,” said Tena Evans. The former Traverse City resident, art teacher and NEDA founding member commuted from Findlay, Ohio, for the weekend of art seminars, easy conversation and supportive atmosphere among the members, she said.

“These girls are worth the drive.”

NEDA’s monthly “paint-ins” — seminars tackling different media led by professional art teachers — are open to the public. Upcoming classes include basket weaving, acrylics, color theory and cement leaf casing. Specialized instructors come from all over the country to teach the classes and everyone makes the same project to learn the technique as a group.

“They show us what brushes to use, what colors to use and, if we head in the wrong direction, they get us back on track,” said Laura McLean, NEDA’s treasurer and education leader.

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