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FWAC grant funds painting mentorship

Sue Rocheford listens intently to David Rickert's instructions on watercolors.

"I would like to begin honing my artistic skills by taking watercolor classes with accomplished watercolorist David Rickert," said Sue Rocheford, of Verndale, in her grant application to the Five Wings Arts Council (FWAC). With approval of her proposal, Rocheford and David have begun weekly sessions in his Staples studio.

Rocheford studied fine art some years ago at Winona State University and media communication art and design at Central Lakes College.

I had my own crafts business for twenty years and was part owner of Media Pro-Sign Company in Brainerd," she said as she sat surrounded by David's finished canvases and a wall shelf filled with music albums and CDs.

Rickert, who appreciates music of all kinds but has a special affinity for jazz, is a full time visual artist having retired from a career in graphic design. He's a member and past president of the Minnesota Watercolor Society and has displayed his work in galleries and shows throughout the United States. Several are in the collection of the Lakewood Health Center. He works in oil, acrylics, watercolor and pastel.

Rocheford first noticed Rickert's work on display in the Lakewood Hospital therapy department. She was drawn to his bold use of color. She was told that her oil paintings were reminiscent of his watercolors which planted the seed of a desire to learn from him.

Since Rocheford already has knowledge of oil brush techniques and color manipulation, her goal is to learn to work with a new (to her) medium.

"Because I've only worked in oil, I have to relearn," she said as she laid in a wash of pigment on a piece of 140 pound rough watercolor paper, noticing that watercolor flows unlike oils which need to be pushed around.

"We're eliminating the drawing part for now," Rickert said, indicating a traced line drawing reproduced from one of his finished paintings. "We're looking at values and blocks of color, taking it step by step."

He pointed out that training the eye to see and knowing how to draw are crucial to creating successful paintings. He uses Winsor & Newton or Grumbacher watercolors for his own work and usually relies on Yarka watercolor pans for students. They're using Robert Simmons white sable brushes, synthetic bristles which function like authentic red sable but at a fraction of the cost.

The FWAC grant, with funding from the McKnight Foundation and supplemented with Legacy dollars from the Land, Water and Legacy Amendment, is covering Rickert's teaching fee and half of the cost of a table easel that Rocheford needed to accomplish her personal goal of honing her skills.

Rickert continues to display his work and seek opportunities to teach. Rocheford is his second student by way of the FWAC. He has taught for many years at the Edina Art Center as well as various venues in Hopkins, Bloomington, Minnetonka and this five county area. He'll be offering workshops this summer, most likely at the Franklin Arts Center in Brainerd, and in other summer programs. He continues to hone his own skill and maintain his Twin Cities connection as a member of Critical Thumb, a group of metro area artists who meet monthly to critique, encourage and challenge each other.

"The success of a painting isn't about how much work or detail you put into it but how successful you are in expressing an idea and connecting with viewers," said Rickert, who often intensifies the strength and visual impact of colors. A good example of his work is on the cover of the current issue of the Lake Country Journal and on the Web site As with many artists, Rickert said he hopes that sales of his work picks up with the return of a healthy economy. His large bold images appeal to corporate and commercial display as well as wall enhancements for homes and offices. Like many former graphic artists turned painter, he credits his commercial career for developing his skill in drawing, design and understanding color.

Of Rocheford's work, Rickert said, "Sue is a fairly accomplished oil painter but now wants to learn watercolor. I can make her a better painter in both mediums."