When local artist Zina Poliszuk started getting headaches, an allergist recommended that she throw away her oil paints. With the oils gone, the headaches went away.
Poliszuk shifted her work to watercolors, and the change has been a successful one. Not only does Poliszuk show her art professionally, for nearly 20 years she has been teaching a popular watercolor course for area seniors.
"She's very creative, and she's very solid herself as a painter," said Janet Epstein, 60, a veteran of Poliszuk's class.
Poliszuk has lived in Howard County for 26 years. Her Marriottsville home features a studio for herself and a teaching studio, where she offers private lessons for children.
Art is a family affair for Poliszuk, 58. Her husband, John, builds sculpture pedestals and designs crates for artwork owned by collectors and galleries. Her son, Jonathan, a graduate of the Maryland Institute College of Art, is a printmaker and helps in his father's business.
Not only did Poliszuk draw as a child, she "was always playing teacher," she said. Her combined loves led her to pursue a bachelor's degree in art education at Towson University. Poliszuk taught in Baltimore County elementary schools for five years before going back to Towson for a master's degree in art education. During that time, she began teaching children's art classes in her home. She hasn't stopped.
From that first class, Poliszuk has developed a loyal following of students - most of them retirees painting for the first time.
"Now that they're retired, they have the time [to paint], and they're thrilled to be doing it," she said. This fall, Howard County Department of Recreation and Parks is offering two classes of Poliszuk's watercolor painting for seniors. The 14-week sessions will run again in the spring, but they will move from Kiwanis-Wallis Recreation Center to Glenwood Community Center.
In the five years since he began studying with Poliszuk, John Green, 67, of Ellicott City has gone from beginner to selling his paintings.
Green, a former metallurgy researcher, said that his wife signed him up for his first watercolor class. "I was a little apprehensive at first, but I'm glad she did," he said. "It's a very congenial group. I've been able to keep on learning. ... The quality of [my] pictures has continued to improve."
Although Green considers painting a hobby, he said, "We've run out of wall space at home. I've managed to sell a few [paintings], so that's very gratifying."
Poliszuk has a piece of artwork on display at Howard County Arts Council's Art HoCo 2007. She also exhibits her work with the Baltimore Watercolor Society.
Because so many students have been with her for several years, Poliszuk's biggest challenge is coming up with new lessons. She follows trends in art instruction and looks for ideas in museums. "If I see something there that's really interesting or innovative, I'll use it," she said.
The combination of beginners and advanced painters in the class also keeps Poliszuk busy. During her class last week, she worked with new student Hedy Bookin-Weiner on shading techniques, then shifted her attention to the 12 advanced students, who were working on a still life with glass objects.
Bookin-Weiner, 59, heard about Poliszuk's class from a friend. The Columbia handwriting analyst is learning to draw before she starts using color. Poliszuk encouraged her to practice seeing shapes, rather than objects. "You're thinking about [faces] as shapes and shadows and lights and darks," Bookin-Weiner said.
Poliszuk said that it is hard work "to get to a proficient level [as an artist], and once you're there you keep challenging yourself. ... I always tell students to keep their work so they can see that progress."
Progress isn't the only thing that keeps students coming back. After painting together for years, classmates consider one another friends. Epstein met her best friend, Glenwood resident Laura Kelley, in the class three years ago. The pair sit at a table in one corner of the room, giggling as they work on their paintings.
"This is a terrific group. ... It's very cohesive," Epstein said.
With so many longtime students, Poliszuk gives the seniors a lot of freedom. Epstein chose to forgo the glass still life assignment, instead painting a study of her crinkled, colorful watercolor tubes. She said that Poliszuk is "very gentle on your soul. ... She respects creativity."
"If I see someone who's taken an individual leaning toward a different mode of expression, I encourage it," Poliszuk said. "I'm there to give them critiques and to encourage them in their personal direction."