Saturday, October 17, 2009

Bonita Roberts - Workshop -Elk River Minnesota

Face time
Friday, 09 October 2009
Bonita Roberts gave advice to Tara Roth of Rogers. (Photos by Bruce Strand)
by Bruce Strand
Arts editor

Portrait prodigy Bonita Roberts, a special guest of the local arts community the past two weeks, is almost as shy and sensitive as she is talented. So much so that one unkind comment years ago almost waylaid her career.

Roberts, in Elk River to teach figure painting workshops at Schroeder Studio, related that while attending a four-year college at age 20, she took a painting class. Up until then she’d had nothing but good experiences in art and intended to make it her career.

Two of Bonita Roberts portraits.

“This was in the 1960s and in colleges, everything was modernism,” Roberts said. “And I just wanted to keep on painting realistically. The instructor said only one thing to me the whole semester. He said: ‘Miss Roberts, your work reeks of sentimentality.’ ”

Roberts was so crushed by the remark that she dropped out of art. She studied counseling instead, and got a job with Catholic Charities in St. Cloud working with emotionally disturbed kids. She stopped 10-10sonddra.jpgpainting, except for one portrait of her son, although she continued to read voraciously about painters and art history.

Sondra Schroeder-Davis of Elk River got some tips from Bonita Roberts (above). At left she made progress on her portrait of the model.
Fortunately, a new husband prodded her back into painting in 1981.

“He saw that one portrait I had done and told me to stop working and start painting,” said Roberts. “And he bought me a huge pastel set.”

Roberts, who lives in her hometown of Battle Lake, spent the 1980s doing commissioned portraits, mostly in charcoal at the time. Her burgeoning talents eventually landed her in gallery shows in Arizona, Washington and Wyoming. Now she just paints whatever she likes, and it sells.

Harvey Schroeder, local oil painting guru, is a big fan. It was Schroeder who convinced a reluctant Roberts to do her first workshop.
10-10mary.jpgThree of the students and their works in progress in the Bonita Roberts workshop were (from left) Frieda Bruck of Zimmerman, Linda Croutier of Otsego and Mary Olson of St. Francis.
“She came in here last year and wowed everyone,” said Schroeder, who asked her for a return engagement, to which she agreed more confidently this year

“Bonnie is a nationally known painter, and whenever you can bring someone like that to our community, it really helps the local painters. Elk River should know about it when such an extraordinary talent comes in.”

Roberts is very generous with her time and expertise with each student, Schroeder noted. Indeed, when we asked what’s her approach to teaching, she said: “Be kind, and be sensitive. Never do what was done to me.”

When as little her dad, who ran the local creamery, brought home big rolls of freezer paper for her to draw upon. She grew up doing portraits of family and friends. In high school, Roberts was always asked to do set design for the plays, and the drawings and cartoons for the school paper. At Fergus Falls Junior College she took her first art classes and had a fine teacher named Charlie Beck. Then came the rebuff at the four-year school she didn’t name.

10-10rose.jpgOnce she got back into art, Roberts displayed at a Battle Lake art gallery located at a lumber yard. She chuckles: “You could buy your lumber and your art work in one stop!” Not exactly the Louvre, but in that unlikely setting she got her first big break. A San Franciscan who owned a software company visited the area each year and was so smitten by Roberts’ work that he bought all 35 pieces in the show to decorate his office. She’s been going strong ever since.

Rose Moeckel of Shoreview (back) worked on her portrait while Linda Croutier admired a child's portrait being painted by Bonita Roberts.
This month, Roberts held two workshops of a dozen students each, starting with a four-hour photo session on Sunday working on posing and lighting with two young models. Monday through Wednesday, the students learned to paint portraits in Roberts’ style, one of the hallmarks of which is to start with the eyes and build from there.

Joan Ruprecht of Rogers, who paints extensively, got this from Roberts’ workshop: “To take your time when laying out the painting and make sure you get it right, and then enjoy the painting process and enjoy the colors ... Make sure the eyes are right, and make sure there’s one prominent eye, and capture the spirit of the person in that eye.”

Sondra Schroeder-Davis, who’s a regular in her dad’s studio but had painted just one previous portrait in her life, was turning out a remarkably well-composed rendition of the model.

“Bonnie says to go slow, very slow, because the accuracy of the drawing has a lot to do with (success),” said Schroeder-Davis. And stick to simple strokes: “She says it’s easy to lose a lot of the beauty of the painting by doing too much to it, so just put down a piece of paint, one brush stroke, and leave it alone!”

Rose Moeckel of Shoreview also heeded the maestro’s admonition to “put down a piece of paint, leave it alone, and go on to the next piece of paint.” Also, paint a “quiet” background with at least one color in the person’s face or clothes to tie it together. Viva towels, Moeckel said, was another helpful suggestion. Roberts likes to paint with that paper product and then touch up with a finger.

Tara Roth of Rogers was working from a nicely-lit photograph of the model that she took herself during the photo seminar. Like Sondra, Tara is a portrait rookie (one prior attempt) but the strong photo resource helped her assemble a promising effort. Getting the light just right, to clarify the face’s contours and colors, is crucial when painting from photos. “Bonnie is really good at placing models, right down to the position of their feet,” said Roth.

Roberts also preaches to “take care of your decision-making on your palette,” said Roth, meaning to take your time and mix the right colors, unified and harmonious and ready to for the canvas.

There were some nice portraits shaping up at the workshops. All 24 students will finish on their own and convene Oct. 24 with Roberts for a final critique.

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