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Moments of Reflection Post Star Article. Doug Gruse.Tuesday, June 9, 2009

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Betty O'BrienA mirror hangs over Betty O'Brien's head as she paints in her studio at the Troy Shirt Factory building in Glens Falls.

The device allows students in her Watermedia Academy classes to watch her every stroke as she offers advice drawn from four decades of making art.

"More than a picture of a pretty place, I want my paintings to represent feeling or a mood or an idea I had at the time," O'Brien said as she fluidly worked some watercolor paint across the paper on a recent afternoon.

O'Brien used a photograph as a guide for the scenery of her subject, an area near the Saratoga battlefield.

"I went into the computer and fooled around with color," she said of the printout she had in hand. "It was a spring-looking picture, but I turned it into fall."

O'Brien's continued to make artistic edits to the image as her brush stroked the surface of the paper.

"To me, it's the feeling of this time of year and the river," she said reflectively.

The artist finds herself drawn to the colors and mood of autumn.

"There's something about that time of year. Perhaps it's because I am getting toward that time in my life," she said with a hesitant smile.

"Natural Selections," an exhibit at the Widlund Gallery at Tannery Pond Community Center in North Creek, looks back through years of O'Brien's work. As an artist, the award-winning watercolorist is always looking ahead, but the retrospective exhibition offers a glimpse at the meandering path that has put her where she is today. The show, which runs through June 24, features nature-based images using water-based media, including watercolor, acrylic, mixed watermedia and "painterly prints" called monotypes.

"My style has changed. I tried to include pieces that were representative of those changes," O'Brien said of the exhibit.

"I get bored of doing the same thing. For me, a painting is a painting - it is either good or bad, no matter the medium."

O'Brien taught art for more than 30 years at Fort Edward High School. She describes herself as a natural teacher, but she admits it was a struggle to juggle a career, family obligations and a personal pursuit of art.

"I always worked on my work, but it was hard with a full-time teaching job and my family. I could do it in spurts. It was difficult to keep up the momentum," she said.

After retiring, O'Brien felt like she had a second chance to really make her mark.

"It was amazing to think about having all that time to develop ideas, dream and work," she said.

She opened her teaching studio in 2002 because she didn't want to work from home.

"I like coming here. Once I close the doors, I'm here to work. Even if I'm not inspired, I can get to work. And after a while, it kicks in," she said.

Like her career, O'Brien's paintings benefit from layers and layers of work.

"I layer one on top of the other," she said as she added more paint to the image. "I add things until it's where I want it to be."

The process is rarely linear.

"I have a tendency to put in and take out until I get what I want. I like to ruminate about things. It gives me a chance to change my mind," she said.

Although recognizable forms emerge from her paintings, the colorful works aren't meant to be mirror images.

A bird is rarely just a bird.

"I don't paint people, but I think the bird paintings are metaphors for people and situations," she said.

"Over Uncharted Territory" depicts a bird with bright blue-green plumage soaring above an Adirondack landscape.

"For me, it represents my own life and the uncharted territory of my retirement," she said.

Like a half-complete painting, O'Brien isn't sure exactly where her work is headed.

"It's more of a journey if I can keep playing with it," she said, looking down at her paper.

If you go

"Natural Selections," works by Betty O'Brien, is on display through June 24 at the Widlund Gallery at Tannery Pond Community Center, 228 Main St. in North Creek. A reception with the artist will be held from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday at the gallery.

The center is open 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Saturday and on Sundays when the "open" flag is out.

For information, call 251-2421 or go to www.tpcca.org.

The Watermedia Academy is in suite 204 of the Troy Shirt Makers Guild building, 21 Cooper St. in Glens Falls. For information, call 260-6764 or e-mail This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .