With a skilled hand and precise stroke, photographs and paintings can be indistinguishable from one another. A reflection here, a shadow there, and rendition is mistaken for rendition. Beth Woessner captures real life in the blurred edges of watercolor painting. The scenes constructed on her canvases can make viewers wonder if they are actually looking through a camera lens, but it’s all in the art.
Woessner believes art has been an interest her entire life. Even if she wasn’t creating images on canvas, art was always present. “[Art] has always been that thing about me, watercolor especially. I didn’t learn until I took a class at the community college about fifteen years ago. I was going for a graphic design degree and chose [watercolor] as an elective and just really fell so in love with the medium. It’s just so spontaneous and transparent. I loved the surprise and just took off painting on my own and some things for friends. I was having fun and my friends encouraged me to go all the way with it,” shares Woessner.
Taking that leap has paid off. There is rarely a time when Woessner isn’t painting still-lifes or portraits of people, houses and captured memories. “Slowly over time, just word of mouth, this has turned into a business where I started teaching watercolor painting and I sell my work online and at the farmer’s market,” Woessner says. She has been an artist vendor for over a decade and runs her studio from her home where she teaches in-person and virtual classes.
Woessner has dabbled in different painting styles, but watercolor is undoubtedly her specialty. “The great thing about watercolor is that you can get very realistic if you want,” Woessner says. She paints custom work for customers based on photos they give her. “I work with the client to try to find a good photo that I feel comfortable using to turn into a watercolor.” She took a portrait workshop around five years ago where she learned to paint people with watercolor and fell in love with the process and results. “I love getting lost in the technical part of that. I get charged in the challenge and testing myself to see if I can accomplish it. I feel the most challenged by faces because it’s so important that it looks like the person,” she laughs. “That challenge is exciting to me, I love spending time with facial features, and I feel like I get to know that person I’m painting by the end of it because I’ve studied every little dip and crease in their face. It’s a really intimate moment that I feel honored to be able to do.” Woessner shares that the honor she feels comes from the trust that the client has placed in her hands with every brushstroke. “A lot of the time, there’s a story with it like that was their grandparent and they had an apple farm that they used to visit, and, I don’t know, just being added to people’s stories like that is kind of special.”
Much like painting faces, Woessner develops a sentimental attachment to the homes she paints and the memories she imagines were made behind the doors she shapes and colors. “So many memories are in those homes for people. I often get custom orders for homes when they’re moving away and they want that memory to take with them. When they look at that house, they see all the memories that were inside that house whereas someone who had never been there, it’s just a house,” Woessner says. Although her portraits can sometimes be confused with photographs by their likeness, she emphasizes the intention of a painting compared to a photo. “I think painting is more of a poetic statement to that memory as opposed to just a photograph. There are a lot of artists that won’t do the custom portraits because of the pressure to live up to the expectation of the client, but I enjoy it.”
Woessner’s passion is shared in the classes she teaches, in person and online. Prior to the pandemic, Woessner would open up her studio to people interested in dipping their brush in some watercolor and learning from the woman who devotes almost all of her time to the art form. “I get really excited when people sign up for my class because if you have that desire to be creative, then there’s a reason why. You need to honor that and you’re denying yourself if you don’t. There’s so many barriers for people – they think they don’t have time or that they shouldn’t do it because they don’t think they would be good at it,” Woessner explains. “I love teaching because of that and I also like taking the mystery out of watercolor. There is this misconception with watercolor that you can’t fix things or you can’t control it. It is a medium that has a journey of its own like it wants to swim and play around and I think the secret to watercolor is to not try to control it, let it be a surprise.”
The classes Woessner taught can be unconventional at times, but only to allow the students to understand what it’s like to capture life as it is in its purest form. A friend of Woessner would bring insect specimens in glass cases for the students to paint directly from. “I did a lot of classes on painting butterflies, so she would come in with the glass cases and talk about butterflies, and sometimes there would be plants. So, we would spend our time painting butterflies and plants. My father is part of the Fayetteville Farmers Market and he’s passionate about tomatoes. He’ll bring in all different types and we’ll cut them up and have students paint the different colors and sizes, ” she says. For these classes, Woesser would start her students out on notecards so as to not intimidate them away from watercolor. “My goal is to just give people permission to try their hand and find their comfort level. It’s a vulnerable thing to take that step and take an art class because you feel fully exposed.”
Although the in-person classes were put on pause the past year, she discovered that virtual classes were just as rewarding for everyone involved. “I taught virtual classes on Zoom. I was able to record the classes so if a student missed a step they could go back and rewatch it,” says Woessner. The virtual classes were especially helpful in reaching a wider audience. “People that wanted to take the classes but didn’t live nearby are able to participate now. I loved when families would sign up for the virtual classes because often one would live here and another would live in another state but they could take the class together and chat to each other.” Woessner plans on continuing using virtual classes in the future because of the opportunities the platform has provided in bringing people together.
There is no question that Woessner devotes a great amount of time to watercolor art be that painting or teaching. When asked how long a piece takes her to make, she’ll say that it first depends on the size and whether or not it’s a portrait, and she’ll also share some artist wisdom. “I heard an artist say one time his style was very simple and loose, like a flower might be six brushstrokes and very, very simple. Someone had asked him, “How long did it take you to paint that?” and he replied, “Forty years.” Those six brushstrokes can be credited to all those years of practicing and becoming confident,” Woessner shares.
The attention to every minute detail and vision for the perfect image is Woessner’s six brushstrokes. She has spent years practicing and becoming confident in her skills, and she’s more than happy to share them.
Enjoy more of Beth Woessner’s work on her website.