There’s something about taking an art class that’s just appealing and, as my art teacher, Rena Warren, fully admits, incredibly intimidating.
Warren is what one might call a natural talent. While she does believe everyone needs the technical underpinnings to draw, she discloses on our first meeting that she was born pencil in hand and it sounds as though her own daughter is much the same.
By the time I make it into the drawing class she’s teaching at the Kelowna Art Gallery, she is telling stories of how she and her brother, raised in northern B.C., used to pick charcoal out of their campfires to sketch. A fellow student relays a tale of her architect daughter’s penchant for colouring on walls as a kid, and our teacher reveals an impervious appreciation for artistic spirit, suggesting a designated wall space might have stoked that flame.
My inner child is already begging to differ. Eyebrow duly cocked, I’m hoping no one has noticed the “yeah, and then mom kills me” look. It’s a little embarrassing to think one can still pull a face in their 30s, but creativity in my world is what Warren might call a little left-brained.
As inside-the-lines versus outside-the-lines people go, I would say my mother, like many a mother, fell squarely on the rule-following side of the fence. Nevertheless, drawing, colours and over-flowing bins of art supplies were inextricably tied to my childhood and it is kind of fun to revisit such thoughts as one first picks up the pencil.
There’s something freeing about a paper and a drawing implement and the thought of leaving your own mark that takes us all back to those moments where a circle on a page could be the chick you saw at the petting farm or the sun in the sky, depending on your vantage point.
Now that I have nieces, I’m growing accustomed to these conversations. “What are you drawing?” I’ll ask. “Green.” My oldest niece will answer as she masterfully scrawls a pink line across her page.
While clearly very skilled, Warren seems to embody a brilliant collaboration of technical prowess and appreciation for this beauty in the eye of the beholder side of life. The fleeting thought of a little charcoal-toting Rena confronting my mother’s anti-white tracksuit policies might be funny, but it’s comforting to know the woman at the front of the room poised to guide me through several weeks of possible gaffs and goofs is one of those talented few who know how to twist the willow charcoal to produce perfect thin and thick lines where needed—and all while preaching the value of knowledge.
Moving to Kelowna to earn a degree in fine art from Okanagan University College, she fully admits small town life was just too limiting for her. Multiple trips to India, some even with her daughter, have opened a door to a colourful world one instantly recognizes in the vibrant hues and unusual mix of colour and tone in her portrait work.
In addition to teaching children’s art classes through her business, Capricornucopia Artworks, her adult courses at the Kelowna Art Gallery and with Cool Arts, a non-profit organization using art to work with adults with developmental disabilities, Warren does commissioned portraits. It doesn’t sound like there’s significant time in her world past this, but she does show work in places like Kelowna Yoga House and has participated in shows at KAG too.
It all sounds fittingly colourful and Bohemian when we meet for coffee at the RCA and she’s soon telling me how even on your worst hair day, a good lipstick can fix all.
This is exactly the type of person you want teaching you Learning to Draw for the Absolute Beginner. The “for the absolute beginner” was her idea. She wanted to let people like me know that you really don’t need to know how to draw to take an art class.
This is where I’ve drawn the line. Even in school, you had to take this art class to get into that art class and somehow, despite a lifelong desire to figure out what goes on beyond the photo room and creative writing department, I’ve never made it into the world of paints and lead and acrylic mediums.
But you know something—and I think I might not be alone in this—I’ve also never stopped drawing. Whether you doodle on the phone or draw sketches of mangling your boss mid-meeting, most of us have a little sketch artist in us just waiting to break loose.
This winter Rena Warren teaches Jennifer Smith to draw in a special series highlighting the Kelowna Art Gallery’s adult classes.