MPA art instruction explores new opportunities online

Barbara Januszkiewicz, who recently finished teaching an online watercolor painting course for the McLean Project for the Arts, said working with students remotely has proved a success.

McLean Project for the Arts’ (MPA) put its classes online during the public-health pandemic this spring, but the excitement of students’ creating artworks together has not been diminished.

Barbara Januszkiewicz, who recently wrapped up her final “Freedom of Watercolor” class of the spring, said that apart from mastering a few technical functions with the set-up, instruction via the Web has been “a breeze.”

She has enjoyed being able to dress more casually, drink coffee, skip the drive to the classroom area and avoid carting around heavy reference books and sample art.

At the end of each three-hour class, which features the same lecture material as classroom instruction, students share their works and learn from each other.

“It’s a shared experience,” Januszkiewicz said. “What we have in common for the three hours is a sanctuary of creative thinking, a creative spa for your mind and spirit. The physical location is not all that important.”

The Sun Gazette logged in for part of her final class, which began like seemingly every other human interaction of the past three months: Participants checked in online, announced themselves and ironed out problems with their cameras and mute buttons.

Januszkiewicz complimented the students on their progress and acknowledged that having one’s works viewed by others can be nerve-racking.

“Your insecurity and your pride come out,” she said. “The hardest thing is to take that ego and put it aside.”

Watercolor, which Januszkiewicz called the “wild child of the art world,” is an especially challenging medium because of its immediacy, fluidity and difficulty of correcting mistakes.

Januszkiewicz that day had students working on abstract representations, from landscapes to still-lifes, while she did the same. She urged the artists to simplify their subject matter, bring out just the essence of its shape and heighten contrasts.

“If I do a lot of white, I just need a little dark,” she said, adding that the opposite also was true.

Januszkiewicz showed the pupils that the color black often is built up and enhanced by other shades, such as red and purple. She encouraged the artists to block off several rectangular sections on their sheets of watercolor paper so that they could conduct a series of small studies using a variety of colors.

“It’s about color relationships,” she said. “I want you to find the color combinations that sing for you.”

(One thing she advised against: blotting up excess paint with a paper towel, which can remove too much of the color.)

Throughout the class, Januszkiewicz made use of a tool she does not regularly use for in-person sessions: an overhead camera showing a close-up of her hands and brushes at work. One of her own studies depicted a silhouetted horizon and trees against a purple sky.

“Now, that feels like a sunset in Maine,” she said.

Above all, Januszkiewicz urged the students to paint in a bold, uninhibited way.

“I started looking at my reference material, but I’m not a slave to it,” she said. “The more mistakes you make, the more you will learn.”

Januszkiewicz plunged into the art world decades ago. Earlier in her career, she was mentored by Washington Color School artist Paul Reed, and in the 1970s trained under Chinese master Mun Quan at Jacksonville University in Florida.

In her early 20s, Januszkiewicz met famed inventor and futurist R. Buckminster Fuller, who advocated solving complex global problems via design.

“I believe that the arts enriches humanity and it is necessary not just to do excellent art, but to give back, to educate, to nourish and to sustain an environment that would encourage creative vision in all of us,” Januszkiewicz said. “My work and life are all about this.”

Januszkiewicz loves teaching online, and said she plans to continue until doctors come up with a cure for COVID-19.

“It has been a crazy time, but it would’ve been unbearable for most of us if we didn’t have the availability of the Internet and [the capacity for] sharing our thoughts and feelings this way,” she said.

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To learn more about MPA’s art classes, visit

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