Revisiting the heyday of department stores and five-and-dimes

Catonsville artist teaches students to paint with watercolor

With quiet focus, six students dip their paintbrushes in water, dab the saturated brushes in cobalt blue paint and gently run them across a sheet of paper.

They are learning the delicate art of watercolor painting.

The group is part of an introductory six-week watercolor class for ages 12 and over, taught by Catonsville resident Nina Lagervall.

The class meets Thursdays from 7:30 to 9 p.m. at Westchester Elementary School. Offered through the Catonsville Parks and Recreation Council, the class will run until June 19.

Lagervall also teaches a watercolor class for children on Saturdays from 10 to 11:30 a.m.

Tonight she is teaching her students about values, transparency and building layers.

The week before they learned about materials and washes. Next week, they will paint a landscape and still life, Lagervall said.

Lagervall, who has a bachelor's degree in sculpture and a master's degree in art history, said the class is a good way to take a break from the fast pace of everyday life.

"I think we live in a really fast-paced world and so with something like watercolor and painting, you have to take the time to look at whatever your subject is — to study it, look at it and then to create your painting," Lagervall said.

"It's easy to just stay home and watch television, so I think it's wonderful to get away from that," Lagervall said. "I think it's great that people are taking the class and getting away from their computers."

Lagervall begins the class with a demonstration of painting with values, or the relative lightness or darkness of a color, for her students.

"The first thing I want you to do is wet your paper with a brush," Lagervall said to the group. "You're going to wet your surface to make sure your paper is working."

The students follow Lagervall's instruction, then add blue strokes that range from light to dark, filling up the wet blank sheet of paper.

Lagervall walks around the table where the students sit, offering them encouragement and tips for improvement.

JoAnn Hixson, of Catonsville, was one of the students.

"This is such a way to play and have fun. Adults don't get to do that so often," Hixson said, between brush strokes.

Maria Frantz, a 49-year-old Catonsville resident, said this is her first time taking an art class.

"It's relaxing, and I like to call it 'Ladies night out,' " said Frantz, referring to the group of five women and two girls.

Lagervall said after assessing her students' experience with watercolor painting, she decided to start with the basics.

"They didn't know the basics, and I wanted to give them a good foundation to build on," Lagervall said. "I think it's important to have that."

Lagervall, 52, lives in Catonsville with her husband, Drew, and their two children, Erin, 10, who attends Westchester Elementary, and James, 13, who attends Catonsville Middle.

"[Art] is definitely a part of our life at home," said Lagervall, whose children both paint. For Lagervall, her interest in the arts began at a young age.

"I always liked art. As a kid, I was always drawing and people noticed my artwork as a kid," Lagervall said of her time in Pennsylvania, where she grew up.

Lagervall said she began taking art classes from a neighbor at age 11. The neighbor would take the class to the Poconos Mountains, where they would paint still lifes, she remembered.

"After I did that, I was pretty sure I wanted to study art," Lagervall said.

Lagervall earned her degrees from Virginia Commonwealth University then

worked as a curator for Martha's Vineyard Museum from 1988 to 1990, in collections management at the Smithsonian Museum in Washington, D.C., from 1990 to 1994 and as a graphic designer from 1995 to 2002.

Now she makes watercolor paintings and mixed-media pieces and teaches two watercolor classes through the Catonsville Parks and Recreation Council. She plans on teaching a summer sculpture camp at Straub Art Studio on Edmondson Avenue.

She began a small art gallery at the Catonsville Presbyterian Church on Melvin Avenue, where she used to curate small exhibitions, she said.

Lagervall has witnessed a growing support for the arts in the community.

"There are a lot of artists here," she said. "I think that there's been more interest developing over the last couple of years."

Lagervall said she would like to continue teaching the group by offering a more advanced class in the summer or fall.

"I was thinking with this group, I'd like to continue, have them bring their work in and I will give them some direction," Lagervall said.

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