Arts and Entertainment

Whidbey Island art group embraces camaraderie through craft

Sue Van Etten sketches some chickens that live at Island Recycling Center in Freeland. - Patricia Duff / The Record
Sue Van Etten sketches some chickens that live at Island Recycling Center in Freeland.
— image credit: Patricia Duff / The Record

The Whidbey Island Sketchers hung out in the junkyard the other day and pencils flew across clean white pages with abandon.

The sun cast shadows on the piles of rusted metal parts, stacks of plastic buckets, the nude sunbathing Barbie dolls, the odd torso statue, chickens, and the hipster-pink flower-power book-mobile bus.

“We’re lucky today because the sun is putting these dark and light values on everything,” sketcher Julie Pittis said as she looked across the yard at Island Recycling Center in Freeland.

Pittis is one of about

15 artistically inclined women (and one guy) who meet every Wednesday between 2 and

4 p.m. to sit and draw. They use mainly pencil, pen and watercolors and focus on the people and places around the South End of Whidbey.

It started about a year ago after students in a drawing class, taught by artist and sketcher Faye Castle, suggested they would get together regularly to draw, chat and help each other with the craft. Now they will present the first group show of the Whidbey Island Sketchers through October at the Whidbey Pies Café in Greenbank. The show opens Monday, Oct. 4 and runs from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day until Halloween.

“It’s just a group of people on Whidbey Island who love to draw,” said Sue Van Etten, one of the movers and shakers of the group, along with organizers Castle and Sherryl Goldfinger. Van Etten put together the Sketchers’ blog — click here — where the artists are welcome to post their sketches and talk about the day.

“We provide a really safe environment for beginners,” Van Etten said. “We’re all very relaxed and don’t take ourselves too seriously.”

Van Etten and others noted that drawing in public is not so easy for some artists.

“This helps you get over your fear of drawing while someone is looking over your shoulder,” she said.

Not all of the sketchers are beginners, and in fact some are quite accomplished and can provide a third eye to those who might need it.

Van Etten said at one point in her youth she would have loved to have become an artist, but life just got in the way. After 35 years of not doing much drawing, she’s back with a vengeance.

“I took the class with Faye Castle last October, started this group in November and now I’m just a maniac,” she said.

The group explores various locations on the island to draw from Coupeville southward, and takes advantage of the summer months to get outside. This summer, they found themselves at the Raven and the Spade, Camille LaTray’s spectacular French country garden in Freeland; the Whidbey Institute grounds at Chinook in Clinton; and the Cultus Bay Nursery.

“A lot of us are going to places we’ve never been before,” Van Etten said.

They also enjoy sketching events such as the musicians playing at cafés during DjangoFest and the Soup Box Derby in Langley, and an open house at Hedgebrook, the pastoral writers’ retreat.

In winter, they’re forced to huddle indoors and often find themselves at cafés and restaurants — the Captain Whidbey Inn is a favorite — where the sessions tend to roll into happy hour quite swimmingly.

“We all enjoy each other a lot,” sketcher Wendy Shearer said.

Kris Wiltse, one of the professional artists of the group, laughed at the mention of happy hours.

“Yes, if you look closely at the blog, you’ll see plenty of pictures that include wine,” she said.

Whidbey Island wineries are a favorite sketching place in winter for the group, she explained.

Lisbeth Cort said her husband made her laugh when he questioned her about the sketching location that day.

“‘You’re going to the dump?’ he asked me.”

But then Cort’s husband decided it made sense to go there because the group is documenting the people and places of Whidbey Island.

“The dump tells a lot about people,” Cort added.

Well, it’s not really a dump. Island Recycling Center is a treasure trove for the artistically inclined. What followed was an in-depth discussion about the dangers of letting artists loose in an acre full of discarded materials.

“Now I understand why my husband doesn’t ever bring me here,” Pittis said.

The idea, they said, is to try to capture the character (and characters) of Whidbey Island. Anyone can join, and all levels are welcome.

“Another nice thing about sketching in public is how many people are into it,” Van Etten said.

“I’ve had a lot of people say, ‘You’ve inspired me to draw again,’” she said.

Whidbey Pies will show the work of 13 sketchers including Catherine Hess, Diana Carter, Lois Mathews, Pat Brookes, Gene Berg, Virginia Fink, Pittis, Wiltse, Cort, Goldfinger, Shearer, Castle and Van Etten. During the run of the show, the group will sketch in and around the café every Wednesday in October from 2 to 5 p.m. They will also have some sketchbooks on hand to share with the public during the sketching sessions.

“It’s going to be a good show,” Goldfinger said.

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