Pat Brookes is sketching the sketchers.
Peering down from the Bayview Cash Store’s second floor, she looks down at her fellow Whidbey Island Sketchers, dabs at her paints and touches up a few areas.
“I always prefer to sit off by myself,” Brookes said. “I came up here, looked down and thought, ‘There’s my sketch.’”
Below are four women sitting at one table, each absorbed in her own work. They’ve chosen different scenes to sketch. Some make art from other art, studying works of Gina Michel’s three-dimensional glass on display for the show, “Glassical Gas.”
Others are sketching the intricate lines of wood carvings; still others have wandered into the store, Side Market, an artist’s co-op. There, they sit and stare, sit and sketch funky handmade dolls made by local artist and costume designer Valerie Johnson.
“We sketch libraries, thrift stores, nurseries,” said Barbara Barry, who’s been with Whidbey Island Sketchers about five years. “We’ve even gone to WAIF and we sketched costumes in storage at Whidbey Island Center for the Arts.”
The group’s been around since 2009 and meets at 1 p.m. every Friday. During winter and into rainy spring season, they meet at indoor venues that have been consulted in advance and given permission for the sketchers to roam and draw.
Whidbey Island Sketchers is mostly female but not by design (so to speak). On this particular Friday, Declai Wynne stood out as the only male among 14 women.
“There should be more than one man,” he declared in his distinct Irish accent. “There must be more male painters on this island.”
The group is divided into teams and each month a new team finds new venues. It’s loosely organized with a few dozen members and a Facebook page that announces where to meet.
How many show up each Friday varies from eight to 20. Once the sun comes out, so do more sketchers as the group moves outside to paint Whidbey’s natural beauty, beaches and bays. And barns, boats, lighthouses, lavender fields, farms, churches, outdoor markets, gardens, nurseries, concerts, wildlife, chickens, goats.
Have brushes, will travel.
“But it’s a struggle to find indoor places all winter long,” admits longtime member and founder Sue Van Etten. “Sometimes we end up and people’s homes and gardens.”
One time they visited a cannabis store. To sketch, that’s all, they swear.
Annual field trips have included going to Everett to draw during a roller derby match and to the Seattle Art Museum for the Andrew Wyeth exhibit.
No matter where they land, happy hour follows.
“Sketchers love to drink,” joked Debbie Hayes as the group wandered into Blooms Winery to chat over glasses of wine. “It’s a good way to meet people and other artists.”
Many in the group say they’ve formed close friendships and that they appreciate the relaxed ‘do your own thing’ atmosphere.
Barry said she started as a novice and got an art education by watching others and their respective styles.
“You learn by osmosis and copying,” she said, “only we call it stealing like an artist.”
After a little lubrication, a “throwdown” is announced. One by one, sketchers place their latest work on a table forming a mosaic of colors and craft.
“It’s not mandatory,” Van Etten says, “but it’s a way of seeing what others have done. Sometimes we’re sketching the exact same thing so it’s fun to see the different interpretations.”
All levels of sketchers are welcome — from those who don’t to those who teach those who say they don’t.
Tell one of the Whidbey Island Sketchers you don’t sketch and they’ll add the word ‘yet’ to the end of your sentence.
“I didn’t know how to sketch at all when I started,” said Brookes, who now loves to sketch in a journal when she travels. “It’s so much more meaningful than snapping away on a camera.”
Liesel Lund, who teaches drawing, said adults need lots of encouragement to pick up where they left off as kids.
“Every child draws with enthusiasm,” she said. “But then in school they may have been told they’re drawing outside the lines and they stop.”
Faye Castle, who’s taught for many years, including at Whidbey workshops and the Art Institute of Seattle, takes the ‘Just Do It’ approach.
“I know the fear people bring with them,” she said. “I give them the tools to get rid of that fear. My best advice: Dive in and make a mess.”
• View art and get information on Whidbey Island Sketchers: www. whidbeyislandsketchers.blogspot.com