Gail Ishmael was new to Kansas, so she did what any sensible artist might do: She started a sketch group to get to know her new hometown.
Lead Image: Sketch of Eldridge Hotel by Jeanette Sclar
When she moved from Missouri to Lawrence, Kansas, Ishmael looked for a plein air group to join. When she discovered that there wasn’t one in her area, she sought help from the Midwest chapter of Urban Sketchers and put one together. “Cathy Johnson was very generous and let me start with some of the e-mails she had collected,” says Ishmael. “I picked a place and sent an e-mail out, and the first time, we had a good group show up.”
The first sketch group meet-up started at the Lawrence visitors center, an old railroad station. The interesting architecture and appealing opportunity drew 10 artists, including watercolorist John Hulsey. Ishmael now organizes a sketch group meet-up every month.
“Having a regular group and regular time to paint is so helpful to painters trying to stay at it,” says Hulsey. “As you know, plein air painting is challenging quite on its own, and getting motivated and disciplined enough to go it alone adds layers of roadblocks to this activity, especially for the beginner. There is also added personal security, especially for women, in having a group to work in. A regular date for accomplishing anything in life is helped by the peer pressure of knowing that the group is going to meet with or without one.
“Unlike the professional plein air competitions that have become so popular of late, the results of the urban sketchers’ activity can create long-lasting friendships among a diverse group of people from various backgrounds, who may not be professional artists at all. The group learns by doing, and from each other, and the dynamic of group work lifts everyone’s abilities incrementally. Because there is an absence of competition, it is a very honest process, and I enjoy the sincerity of effort and interest in the group. So I join in whenever I can.”
Ishmael says that new people show up each month, in part because the word spreads, and in part because people’s schedules change with the seasons. “Now we are in October, and people are finished with their summer plans,” she says. The second outing was to the Eldridge Hotel, a historic building — and a location that allowed all the right amenities for the various needs of the painters. “I am into comfort,” Ishmael explains. “I am a retired lady. At the Eldridge Hotel, you could sit around and sketch in the lounge in the air conditioning if you wanted to. Others sketched the outside of the building.”
In September, the group went to Marina Lake Clinton for picturesque scenes complete with sailboats. In October, the sketchers will climb a watchtower and tackle the panoramic view from above.
“There are a lot of interesting things here in Kansas,” Ishmael says about her new home. “Lawrence is a historic town, and there are a lot of interesting buildings. And there are hills and lakes to explore — it’s a beautiful part of the country. And with the sketch group, artists can go out and do what they love doing, while meeting other people who also love doing it. What could be better than that?”