Artist Judy McNamara wasn’t meant to be a typist

Sebastian Art Club President Judy McNamara’s parents wanted their daughter to develop practical skills in high school, to prepare herself for adult responsibilities. At the time, such skills included typing classes and others of a similar ilk, but did not include art classes.

But strong creative tendencies will out, and the young McNamara, interested in art for as long as she can remember, obediently learned to type, but also “doodled” her way through school, and never took a formal art class until she became an adult.

McNamara and her husband, Richard, moved to Grant 30 years ago, and it was Richard who first nurtured her artistic tendencies and encouraged his obviously creative wife to take some long-delayed art classes. McNamara laughs as she remembers: “We’d go to art shows and I’d look at the art work and say, ‘I can do that!’

“We bought a couch back in the ‘70’s and, in the furniture store, there was a big painting hanging over it, an abstract. I said (of course), ‘I can do that!’ So I went and bought four tubes of oil paint, a palette knife and a big canvas – and made my own painting.

“Well, I’d never had lessons and didn’t know that it takes a long time for oil paint to dry. I put it on so thick it took 15 years to dry. We got fingerprints all over it every time we moved. I called it the Big Chicken because that’s what I thought it looked like.”

McNamara had always been drawn to watercolor, loving the freedom and flow, so she took a couple of classes. “But I became disillusioned. It was not what I wanted to do with watercolors. My husband saw art teacher Terry Madden’s watercolor workshop on PBS and said to me, ‘You’ve gotta see this guy.’ I watched a show and loved it. He did in a half hour what I had been trying to do my whole life. At the end of the program he invited viewers to attend one of his classes in Orlando. My husband said, ‘Go!’ And I did.”

The students painted two pictures in class. One of McNamara’s was a New England beach scene. “That was in 1994 and my mom still has it. I liked what I did, but I didn’t care for the pale colors. So my second painting was a hummingbird and a hibiscus. Very bright. Terry said I painted ‘Jamaican.’ So, I went Jamaican. I attended a lot of his classes and became certified. Richard and I became friends with Terry and his wife.”

Wanting to be in the company of fellow artists and to have a venue in which to teach and to show her work, McNamara joined the Sebastian Art Club eight years ago. The first time she showed a collection of her big, bright, “loose” works at one of the Club’s Riverview Park shows, “I sold two paintings. At that time they were very different.”

Today McNamara paints BIG, still loves the freedom and flow of watercolor and teaches classes at the Sebastian Art Club. She finds that it is often a challenge for painters accustomed to a very detailed, close-up, brush-clutching technique to loosen up. “I love to teach watercolor,” she says. “You have to stand and just throw down the color. Let it do its own thing! Don’t try to control it.”

She stands, grabs a big brush and demonstrates, holding it by its very tip and brandishing it like an orchestra conductor’s baton. In spite of the widespread belief that watercolor is unforgiving and difficult to master, McNamara says, “You can change it. Just use water – I often use a spray bottle – and the colors just run off.” The way the watercolor behaves also depends on the texture and thickness of the paper. McNamara frequently uses a 300-pound cold press and keeps it very wet.

Today, watercolors are joined on her creative palette by oils and acrylics. (She learned acrylic painting from “great teacher, mentor and friend, Frits van Eeden.”) McNamara produces and teaches textural techniques, using gesso mixed with sand to carve and deepen shapes before painting.

She has recently begun teaching a style she calls “negative painting.” It involves laying the paint down on the paper then, while it is still wet, placing saran wrap over it, allowing it to dry completely, then removing it and discovering various shapes or puddles of color. The artist then completes the work by painting in the “negative spaces.” She shows several examples of her and of her students’ efforts using this technique, which, regardless of the subject, are loose, effortless, unforced.

McNamara is also skilled with an airbrush and has airbrush-painted cars, motorcycles, bodies (at Key West’s Fantasy Fest), and fingernail art. “I had a nail salon for a while. I could paint a beach scene on a nail. I like to try different things.”

She won a top prize for airbrushed nail art two years in a row in the International Air Brush Magazine competition. One of her most unusual commissions was painting a large California Raisin for a special function at Holmes Regional Medical Center.

Mural painting is another of McNamara’s interests, a good match for her love of BIG works. The front façade of Sebastian River Moose Lodge #1767, at 9250 U.S. 1 in Micco, and a huge Sebastian river scene on the north interior wall of the Sebastian Community Center are among the Club’s recent murals, and McNamara says the team effort, closeness and camaraderie developed through sharing mural work are a wonderful benefit of the community outreach projects.

She is also delighted that both her daughters and her grandchildren love to paint, and happily encourages their creativity, just as she does with her Art Club classes. She often serves as a judge for the Brevard County school district student art shows. “It’s amazing what they can do. They are not afraid. They take chances.”

Over the years, McNamara has been the club’s treasurer and vice-president and is now serving her first two-year term as president. “The Club has grown so much,” she says with pride. “We have 160-plus member artists now.”

Sebastian Art Club classes at the Art Center, 1245 Main St., include:

Teacher Judy McNamara:

  • Watercolor: 1st & 3rd Tues. of each month, 9-11:30 a.m.
  • Acrylic: 2nd & 4th Thurs., 9-11:30 a.m.

Teacher Judy Burgarella:

  • Oil and Acrylic: 1st & 3rd Thurs., 9-11:30 a.m.

Teacher Richard Gillmor:

  • Drawing – on request, 321-258-0987

Van Eeden will give a workshop at the Art Center, July 29 and 30, everyone is welcome.

A live model sketching workshop is also planned, time to be determined.

Anyone interested in taking classes on Saturdays or evenings may contact McNamara at 321-258-0987.

On July 26, between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m., a show of about 25 of McNamara’s works will take place at the Moose Lodge, 9250 U.S. 1, Micco, free to the public.

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