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Positive benefits of having an 'artistic outlet'

By JUDY LINDER-ASHAKIH • Jun 7, 2018 at 12:00 PM

Art has been a way of life for Gail Hughes.

Both of her parents were artists, each in a different medium. Her father was self-taught and saved stacks of all his sketches. He loved to do very detailed pencil drawings of anatomy and Western scenes. Then there were the blueprints for houses which he drew, then built and moved into.

“I lived in 17 different houses by the time I left home,” Hughes said with laugh.

Her mother painted on glass.

“My dad enrolled my sisters and me in a correspondence art class where we would do drawings of a suggested subject, then return it for review advice. One of my sisters now quilts designs of her own with beautiful scenery. My other sister does ceramic painting (and) has her own business where she gives lessons.

"I was very shy in school though. Mrs. Whittacre, one of my teachers in Ravenna, pulled me out of it through art. I got a lot of prizes in high school and was chosen to teach art on Senior Teaching Day. Wow! But I don’t remember any of it now,” Hughes said, “except I would enter contests that came along and always get prizes of some kind. People would say, ‘Use your God-given talent,’ so I say ‘OK.’”

Hughes’ daughter is also an artist in her work for Sherwin-William paint where she gives color consultations to customers. She also has tried out every product the business has by painting her entire house with all their different products.

“She would be a great interior decorator. She loves to help others with their houses,” Hughes said proudly.

Hughes has been a member of the Firelands Area Art League since moving to Sandusky. She emphasized the group is good for her creativity and her psyche. She said she enjoys being around people and makes a lot of friends, she can enjoy the work others create and learn from them.

Very happily, Hughes added, since she doesn't have a studio, she can leave her work lay out and not worry about having to clean up all her supplies at home.

In high school, Hughes loved sketching portraits of people, cats and dogs. She loves realistic, exact reproductions and became very proficient in charcoal and pastels.

Her first portrait commission was in high school when the parents of a young boy who died wanted her to do a picture of him in his Cub Scout uniform.

“I was good at exact portraiture. I say I’m just a copyist. Why, I don’t know, but maybe I could have been a forger, like doing Rembrandts,” said Hughes, who laughed at that.

Aside from high school classes, Hughes has taken sporadic classes to learn watercolor and acrylic painting.

“We didn’t have the money for art school,” she said. “I did a lot of portraits on commission for people, always in my favorite pastels and charcoal or pencil. I can copy anything if I have something to look at. I can blend and rub and get detail with the pencils.”

Hughes tried learning oil with a few lessons with Bill Koefle, but found out she didn't like it. However, she said she loved Koefle’s portraits of famous people.

“I can't do it; I just get a block. The paint seems to jump on me and I’m always a mess after. It’s hard to wait for the face to dry,” she added.

After Hughes retired, she was invited to the Norwalk senior center to do watercolor, when Billie Smith was teaching. This was after almost 50 years of doing portraits. Hughes said she found watercolor was too loose and she couldn’t get the precision she could with pencils.

After a few lessons in acrylics with Jim Dickens she began to broaden out to landscapes, flowers and wild animals.

“I’m not good at impressionism. I can make things look ‘real,’ but now I can throw paint on paper and people look at it and say, ‘wow.’ So I’m still learning,” she said.

Hughes’ hardest commission ever was one in acrylics — a large field of daisies for a bathroom. She said it took four months to figure out how to position the flowers, get their size and structure perfect, create a background, because … she didn’t have something to copy.

Another tough request was for three copies of a man in a blue and white uniform, done in pastels. Each original was huge — 16 by 20 inches — and had to be as similar as possible, one for each of the man's children. Hughes said she thought “Oh, my God. Why did I take this on? It took a long time, but I got it done.”

Hughes recommends art classes for anyone, saying she goes to every class.

“You learn something every time. If you are retired, or lose a person close to you, it helps physically, calms people who are very depressed or in mourning. It can save you. Some people don’t even begin art until they are almost 60. Everyone should have an artistic outlet. My whole life is art.”

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