Back in 1994, after my husband and I relocated to New Hampshire, an artist friend invited me to join a group of painters and photographers who met every Wednesday morning at a quaint café in downtown Nashua. This group of about a dozen artists had been meeting for several years, and when I heard about these casual breakfasts, I couldn't wait to show up. I remember being impressed by the artwork of these then-unknown artists, and I wondered why their art hadn't been seen by anyone outside New England.
I got a chance to spread the word about this group during the summer of 1995, when I attended my first watercolor/composition workshop with Sondra Freckelton and Jack Beal, in upstate New York. I heard there was a possibility that Steve Doherty, the editor-in-chief American Artist magazine, might visit during the last two days of the workshop. A lightbulb went off in my head with an idea to present the work of three of my artist friends to Steve for possible publication in Watercolor magazine. A week before the workshop I asked each of them to give me a small portfolio just in case the opportunity should arise to show their artwork to Steve.
In those days, I was quite shy. I remember being afraid to talk to either Jack or Sondra for the first few days of the workshop, although the ice was broken when one evening I found myself singing "When I'm 64" with Jack at their dinner table. (Not only is Jack a master painter and talented teacher but he makes interesting and downright fun company. I've learned more about composition from him than from any other teacher, and his mentoring has changed my life and resulted in many successful paintings.) Nevertheless, I was afraid I wouldn’t have the guts to approach Steve about the article. I shared my plan with Irene Ingalls, a watercolorist who worked as Jack and Sondra’s workshop administrator. Steve arrived as expected, and Irene encouraged me to approach him. Steve was out painting by a barn, and it wasn't the best time to talk to him; he wanted to paint, not talk to me. However, he was gracious enough to listen and take the slides and portfolios.
The next day, Steve said that he was impressed by these artists' work but that his plate was full with having to write for new American Artist publications—Watercolor magazine has just increased from two issues a year to four. That's when I got a burst of courage, and I suddenly found myself saying, "Well … I received some awards in high school for my writing, would you mind if I tried writing this article myself? If you don't like it, you can chuck it." Steve said, "Yes, go ahead," and the rest is history.
I decided to write about the three artists in the context of how they met at the café every Wednesday morning. When the article was completed, I had not yet titled it, but the project manager for Watercolor helped out by dubbing the article "The Breakfast Club," and the name has stuck ever since.
Although some of the faces have changed over time, these artists have continued to meet on Wednesday mornings for more than 20 years. There are no dues, no business meetings, no officers, and no pressure to attend. There is lots of laughter and sharing of ideas. Artists have a psychological need to get out of their studios and meet face to face with other people, and these casual gatherings offer the perfect atmosphere for sharing and support. Many times the artists bring in their artwork for critique or for direction from the more experienced members of the group.
The icing on the cake is all the wonderful events and shows that have taken place as a result of this meeting of like-minded individuals. Much of the conversation revolves around business ideas, and these artists arrange group exhibitions, as well as painting excursions to scenic New England locations such as Lubec, Maine. At this time of year, the group often plans a voluntary gift swap—usually small unframed paintings.
Because this club is set up as a nonprofit, it is free of the administrative work that goes along with official organizations. There is no president, treasurer, or secretary. Any work that gets done is voluntary, and since there is no overhead for renting a facility, raising funds is never an issue. When the group decides to hold an exhibition, those who want to participate simply share the cost.
Groups like this can be formed anywhere at any time. It's a place where seasoned professional artists mentor beginners in a lighthearted atmosphere and, most importantly, where lasting friendships form.
Lori Woodward earned a bachelor’s degree in art education from University of Arizona. She has studied watercolor and composition extensively with Sondra Freckelton and Jack Beal. Simons’ work has appeared in several issues of Watercolor, and she is a co-author of the Walter Foster book Watercolor Step by Step. She is a member of The Putney Painters, an invitational group in Vermont. She resides in New Hampshire with her husband, Brian Simons, a software engineer. Visit her website at www.loriwords.com and follow her on Twitter here.