And some of them had never picked up a brush before.
Following the guidance of Shawna Burkhart, a certified Bob Ross instructor, the women met Saturday at Dilworth Middle School for the Bob Ross Oil Painting Workshop as part of the Washoe County School District Community Education program.
Standing at the front of the room, Burkhart demonstrated the painting technique she had come to love when she was 17 years old. When she saw it for the first time, Burkhart said she immediately recognized it.
“I said, ‘I know this, I know how to do this,’ ” Burkhart said. “I loved his technique. You can have a complete painting in 30 minutes where traditional paintings take days and weeks because you’re waiting for the paint to dry.”
But with the Bob Ross wet-on-wet painting method, there’s no waiting. After one coat of paint is added, painters can throw on one layer right after another, and using oils makes the process even quicker and easier.
“Usually oils are always so forgiving that you can wipe out anything you don’t like and put it back in,” Burkhart said.
The six women in Burkhart’s class on Saturday took kindly to the method. With a pile of paper towels in front of them, any touch of paint that wasn’t to their liking was wiped away and a new one was added.
Teaching floral, Burkhart stood at the front of the room with her canvas instructing the women on everything from how to hold a paintbrush – at the end, not like a pencil, so the painter gets more free-flowing strokes – to how to paint a flower and leaves and fill in a background.
“In floral, you have to make an ugly flower before you can make a beautiful flower,” Burkhart said kicking off the class.
After outlining six pink flowers on their canvases, the women painted the rest of their white canvases with white paint.
“There is a method to this madness,” Burkhart assured them.
They then pressed their index fingers on the canvas.
“If you can’t see the lines in your fingerprint, you used too much paint,” Burkhart said. “If you have a nice fingerprint, you’re OK.”
Those who used too much paint pulled out their handy paper towels and dabbed away at their canvases. Now that the white coating was done, the real background was painted.
“You can do anything with your background colors,” Burkhart said. “There’s no certain way, shade or color. It can be whatever you want it to be.”
While some variations did occur, for the most part the women mimicked the colors Burkhart splashed on her canvas: turquoise, purple, blue.
Next, Burkhart added leaves to the flower outlines. She pressed her brush in, turned it then lifted it off the canvas. Another type of leaf started with a diamond shape. By the time it was complete no diamonds could be made out.
She also showed the women how to gradually make the leaves fade out.
“You have leaves back there but you can’t really see them,” she said. “It’s magic.”
The women watched Burkhart intently before attempting to mimic her brush movements on their own canvases. When they did, they found that their leaves were not turning out how they had hoped. But this was easily fixed. Just pick up that paper towel, wipe, and try again.
“This is much harder than landscapes,” said student Catherine DeLaHunt of Sparks. “Landscapes can be more natural but flowers are so precise.”
Fellow student Judi Fernandez echoed DeLaHunt’s sentiment.
“Landscapes are easier because there’s nothing really definite about them,” she said. “But with the floral you do have to be precise.”
Then it was time to change what Burkhart called an ugly flower into a beautiful one. The precision was really starting to come out, particularly in the petals.
After imitating how Burkhart painted her petals, Fernandez stared at her canvas unsatisfied. Unable to figure out what was wrong, she called Burkhart over, who immediately found the problem: Fernandez had simply started her petals in the wrong spot. With a wipe of a paper towel she started anew, this time satisfied.
“That makes all the difference,” Fernandez said. “Now the petals stand up.”
Having taken a few of these community education classes, Fernandez is a big proponent, and people like Burkhart are the reason.
“It’s a great way to learn something because you have help and everything is provided,” Fernandez said. “They offer you a taste of something new and if you like it you can get really into it. But if you don’t, you didn’t spend a lot of time and money learning it so it doesn’t feel like a waste.”
Just as much as Fernandez enjoys coming to the classes, Burkhart enjoys teaching them.
“I loved art and wanted to be happy with my career and do what I love,” Burkhart said. “I didn’t get into it for the money. I got into it for the passion.”
Although she knew she wanted to get into it and teach it since she was 17, it took her years to finally make the move. She’s now been Bob Ross certified since 2004 and teaches classes for the Sparks and Reno Parks and Recreation departments, Truckee Meadows Community College and the WCSD Community Education program.
In addition to floral, Burkhart teaches patrons how to paint landscapes, seascapes and wildlife.
“Seascapes are my favorite,” Burkhart said. “I love the ocean. I have a passion for the ocean.”
But her real passion is for the art in general, which stems from the satisfaction she gets once each class is over.
“I like the expression on their faces when they leave,” Burkhart said after all the women had departed with their floral canvases. “That’s the best part of this job.”