Longtime WBCA teacher Sylvia Benson began her watercolor career with another familiar WBCA face, Frank Zeller. Frank taught a watercolor class out of his garage, working on plywood saw horses and traveling around the cities for painting locations. When Sylvia joined his class she was looking forward to learning more about the medium, having only dabbled in watercolor before. “He started right with the basics of mixing colors, and value and texture,” she said, and from his class she started building a foundation that would last a lifetime. While she works in other mediums, watercolor has always held a special place for Sylvia. “It’s the translucency, the lightness of it,” she said. “You can control it, or just let it go wild.”
While Sylvia is mostly self-taught, she continued searching for classes that would expose her not only to new watercolor techniques, but also the broader world. She travelled to Giverny in France to paint with an art study group in Monet’s Garden. “To think that you were standing in the very same place as he was when he was painting,” she said, was inspirational.
Sylvia travelled to Greece where she painted watercolor and learned screen printing on the island of Paros; to Big Sky Montana where she painted on top of a mountain at a ski resort; to Ghost Ranch in New Mexico, painting in the hills where Georgia O’ Keeffe lived. She drew inspiration not only from the classes, but from the land and culture around her. “You saw things that you just wouldn’t see here,” she said. In Giverny, her class was occasionally held out in a cow field, with cows wandering up to them to investigate their work. She remembers her teacher, and how he would always tell the class, “stitch and go,” when talking about impressionist brush strokes.
Sylvia tapped into these techniques, both as an artist and an instructor, as she began teaching art classes at Concordia College, and later WBCA. “I love teaching because I can feel the excitement of the students, young and old, when they create their work of art,” she said, especially when “they start seeing successes, and then they start to really enjoy it.”
During the pandemic, Sylvia has continued teaching at WBCA, teaching both live Zoom classes and pre-recorded lessons. She loves having something to fill her time during the pandemic, and finds joy connecting with others, even if it is virtual. But, “I do miss getting to be with all the wonderful people at WBCA,” she said, “because it’s almost like a second family, a second home.”