Dana Ellyn's Painting Classes
Reviewed in the Weekend Section
March 2, 2007
By Michael O'Sullivan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 2, 2007
Maybe everyone is an artist, as Joseph Beuys said, but art school might not be for everyone.
Fortunately, there are alternatives to the traditional classroom, without the upfront expense and commitment of school. They go by different names: drop-in classes, open drawing sessions, walk-in ateliers. (Minnesotans, I'm told, call them co-ops.) But the idea behind them is pretty much the same -- a laid-back, flexible, pay-as-you-go setting in which to draw or paint with other like-minded individuals. Because they're often self-guided, or with instruction tailored to different levels of ability, they can be perfect for those who want to acquire the basics and for those looking to sharpen their skills -- skills that may or may not have lain dormant since college, high school or beyond.
In the past several weeks, I stopped by a few of them.
Dana Ellyn Studio
Dana Ellyn wants to teach the world to paint. In fact, after a mere half-hour of watching me take notes over her students' shoulders, three of whom have gathered in the D.C. painter's 860-square-foot studio/living space on this Tuesday evening, she has cajoled me into putting down my reporter's notebook and picking up a brush. Before long, I'm comfortable enough to ignore several of the painting tips she typically doles out to first-time students -- such as how it's better to paint the background first and the foreground last -- much to the detriment of the imaginary portrait before me (which is starting to look remarkably like "The Addams Family's" Uncle Fester).
"You're about to find out why I said that," says Ellyn, a George Washington University grad in fine arts and art history who quit her law-firm job five years ago to become a full-time artist. Too late. I've already realized my mistake, as the once-crisp outlines of Fester's bald head have become obscured by globs of encroaching acrylic sky.
The artist offers several painting classes a week at her live-work condo, where the walls are decorated floor to ceiling with her boldly graphic paintings. Although she prefers a six-session commitment, attendance is flexible. One student, who tonight is working on a design of his own creation that I'll call "Turkey in a Landscape," says he skipped the last couple of sessions due, in one instance, to illness and, in the other, to "ennui." Ellyn also runs a program called Art at Work, in which she takes her classes on the road to companies and their employees.
Tonight, in addition to the budding Audubon, two young women are copying art-book reproductions: a Gustav Klimt nude and Claude Monet's "Woman With a Parasol -- Madame Monet and Her Son." (Ellyn doesn't use models. Students can choose to work from photos, reproductions, still lifes or their own imaginations.) This being the night before Valentine's Day, a nearby table holds a basket of crusty bread, homemade hummus and a bowl of red, heart-shaped gumdrops. There's also a bottle of red wine -- only for students who are of age, of course, Ellyn laughs with a glance at the American University freshman at work on the Monet, which is now upside down to facilitate painting the blades of grass.
Despite the wine, Ellyn compares her classes to a health-club membership. No one wants to exercise at home, she notes, but people will work out in a gym "if you can just get them out of the house."
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