It was an Iris – purple tinged on the petals’ edges, and what looked like a sun in the center – that changed the way Deliah Albee approached art.
“That was the painting that kind of shifted everything for me,” Albee said. From then on, she realized she could work as an artist for a living.
On a recent afternoon, Albee drove to Bigfork Elementary School to pick up a group of seventh- and eighth-grade girls, as well as a lone junior in high school.
It was the final class in a six-week course on watercolor painting techniques. Albee teaches several different age groups three times a week on six-week rotations.
When the students arrived back at Deliah Albee’s Studio and Gallery north of downtown Bigfork, the girls dropped their backpacks and coats in the hallway and picked out their places at the tables.
The students were using different techniques they had learned over the past several weeks. Each one got a small roll of watercolor paper. They taped it to a board so it lied flat and picked out the tubes of colors they wanted to use.
Albee had a pile of “projects:” different watercolor paintings using different techniques and styles. One project was a nighttime winter scene; dark mountains in the background with pines in the foreground speckled with snow. Painting snow involves holding the brush, dipped in white, over the paper and tapping droplets gently onto the surface.
The trick is to not overdo it.
“Watercolor is just basically tricks,” Albee said. “If you learn all the tricks, then you can incorporate them into a picture.”
Albee originally shied away from a career in art, but it was an everyday activity in her family. Her mother taught art camps in the summer, and her grandmother painted.
“My grandmother is a watercolorist, and I liked the way they looked, and she gave me a couple lessons,” Albee said. “I did nothing artistic my whole childhood. I was one of those people who said ‘I can’t draw a stick figure,’ but you can’t fight your genetics, I guess.”
Albee was 21, in college, and going through a divorce when she started painting. Eighteen years later she has perfected her watercolor technique, and passes on her knowledge to others in the classes she teaches. Her signature pieces are flowers, like the the Iris.
“I love flowers more than anything,” Albee said. She worked as a landscape gardener for several years before painting. Recently, however, she has branched out into abstract landscapes and a type of sumi-e painting using similar, minimalist brush strokes – like the Japanese discipline, but with watercolors.
Albee says watercolor painting is a series of layers. Some techniques can be very controlled, but that’s not her style.
“That’s what I love about watercolors – what I call happy accidents.” Albee showed her students a “wet-on-wet” technique.
“I love the effect because the water blends the colors with each other,” Albee says. As the paintbrushes press color onto the paper, the water helps it blend, and the students are working on the technique.
“Because the water is so ‘unexact’ they won’t know exactly how it comes out,” Albee said. The “happy accidents” are seamlessly blended into trees, flowers and birds as the students perfect their pictures.
Albee shares gallery space with jewelry artist Signe Ensign in the Jewel Basin Building in Bigfork. She is in her studio/gallery from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays and by appointment. Call 250-7135 for more information.
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