It’s a Thursday afternoon, just hours after torrential rains have flooded Covington, and overcast skies are pouring filtered natural light through the three skylights in the studio’s vaulted ceiling.
A thin paintbrush in her hand, Ella Locke, a seventh grader with freckles and rust-colored braids, pushes a tiny bit of teal paint into a glob of yellow green, then swirls the two together on a styrofoam plate palette.
She tilts her head in silent judgment of the new color, then adds a little more teal and a little bit of black from a second palette, and swirls the brush around again.
“Wait, are you mixing my colors?!” asks Georgia Tedford before she bursts into another giggle.
If there’s anything Barbara Flowers McBride’s upstairs studio lacks, color is not it.
On both ends of the beadboarded walls hang paintings. A vase of flowers with its calming golds, yellows, creams and greens is displayed on the southwest wall, near the entrance, and various works by students are hung opposite it on the northeast wall. Here there are canvases of different sizes and in various stages of progress – a giraffe with its blue background only half-completed, a bold orange carrot against another blue background, a portrait of Mexican artist Frida Kahlo with a violet floral headband against shades of yellow green, a white rabbit against red orange, a brown pit bull with flowers covering the left side of its face.
Around the room various supplies are on credenzas and in vertical plastic bins and organizers with drawers – hundreds of paintbrushes in different sizes, bins of canvases, watercolor paper, Mod Podge, rolling pins, paint markers and more bottles and tubes of paint than can be counted.
Simply put, it’s where inspiration can meet action without hindrance.
And it’s where McBride, a Covington artist, has led dozens of students to discover and improve their talents for nearly a decade.
“I can’t teach people to paint or draw,” she says, a hammer in one hand and an eye hook in the other. “I try to teach them to see. Once you see it, it’s just basically shapes.”
The two girls put finishing touches on their work while McBride prepares other paintings for the upcoming gallery featuring the work of her young students at Dyersburg State Community College’s Jimmy Naifeh Center.
Ella dips her brush into the newly-mixed teal paint and adds small dabs of color to a heifer. There are also spots of crimson, gold and light blue around her left eye, an unexpected mix of colors against the cow’s brown hide.
“It’s supposed to be a deer, but everybody calls it a cow, so now it’s a deer-cow,” she says, eliciting laughter from Georgia and a newspaper editor who thought it was a cow, too.
“I love your deer-cow,” her friend says with a smile, offering up support.
Georgia, a tall blonde with multi-colored fingernails and teal tipped-hair, says she started taking art classes because it gave her something to do.
“I’m not into sports, like at all, and I knew that Ella and Aubrey took it … and it was actually pretty cool,” she says, noting watercolor is her favorite medium.
McBride’s classes, say the girls, are different from other instructors because she has a hands-on approach without being too hands-on, she explains concepts and the reasons for them “elaborately,” and she gives them the space to not only make their own mistakes but learn from them.
“Well, we’re here to develop your talent, not mine,” McBride responds.
“And you’re not like other teachers, who can be so annoying because they tell you how to do things,” Geogia says. “Instead, you let us do our own things and you just kinda guide us, which is useful.”
“That’s a good point,” McBride jokingly suggests.
Georgia, who smiles a lot when she talks, tells McBride she’s continued taking classes not only because it’s an outlet for her and is therapeutic but because it is there where she can be herself.
“We can be dramatic with you,” Georgia says aloud in her list of reasons.
Ella agrees and the sentiment becomes a theme during the afternoon.
It’s clear, in a teenaged world where metaphoric and electronic filters are mainstream, they feel comfortable enough to just be themselves in the studio.
If art class were Prince Edward Island, McBride is the Mrs. Allan to their collective Anne. They’re kindred spirits and they feel supported by her outside of the studio as well.
“Another thing you do is that when we have something at our school that happens, you’ll come visit us. And it feels good, because my mom usually is at work and my dad is doing something –“ says Georgia.
“She comes to choir things even though she doesn’t even know who anyone is,” Ella adds.
“Yeah, like, you involve yourself,” Georgia continues.
Across the table, McBride smiles bashfully as the girls talk, then says, “That makes me feel good.”
“I love her, she knows that,” finishes Ella.
Art classes in and of themselves aren’t unique, however it is the opportunities extended to teenagers and the bond they share with their instructor that make them so.
Thunder rumbles overhead and the light begins to change. The girls are growing restless and have moved from adding colorful highlights to bovines to experimenting with mixing paint.
The art exhibit comes up in conversation and Georgia says though she’s naturally socially anxious and excluded, she feels included by having her art on display.
“They’re looking at my work and not me,” she says, going back to feeling uncomfortable outside the studio.
McBride, who has been an artist for as long as she can remember, loves teaching her students.
She also teaches an adult class on Wednesdays.
“It’s just fun,” she says, folding her hands and putting them in her lap. “I love them. You can tell I love art and I love those kids.”
On Tuesday night, from 6:30-8, a reception will be held to honor the young artists in the Ripley Power and Light Company Lobby of the Learning Resource Center. The public is invited to attend and view the pieces McBride’s students have worked on through summer art camps.
McBride is accepting new students in her Tuesday and Thursday art classes and is opening up her monthly Saturday class as well. Call 901-237-4006 for more information.