by Lou Mancinelli
For the past 30 years a group of artists has met every Wednesday night at the home of a husband and wife in the group in Fort Washington. The artists are university professors, botany teachers, a NASA artist, portrait artists, etc.
The meeting is a place of camaraderie and a place of influence. Often someone will see a way one of his/her friends has decided to draw or paint a person and decide he/she would also like to try to do it that way.
Each week the artists hire a live model, sometimes nude, sometimes in character, like a belly dancer, and over the years the artists have created pieces and experimented across different mediums ranging from pencil to water colors to silverpoint, a technique where a piece of metal, be it silver, copper, or gold, is applied to the painting layer by layer.
“The Artist’s Model” was an exhibit featuring the work of these 10 professional artists, hosted this summer at Montgomery County Community College.
“Drawing and painting a person is the hardest subject,” said Betz Green, 55, who curated the show and is the newest member of the group. The group started as a way to refine the basic skills demanded of one when painting the human form.
Why is it the most difficult? “The human form is considered the most difficult subject because since we are human and so used to seeing ourselves and others, we immediately know when looking at a picture or sculpture of a figure when something is off-kilter. Maybe we can’t voice why something is not right, but we can intuit wrong proportions, positions or actions…”
Betz, a resident of Flourtown, was raised in rural Berks County next to a chicken farm. Her earliest work was inspired by the pastoral landscape of the surrounding countryside.
She attended Tyler School of Art for two years and left in 1979, the same year she was married. She became a mother — she has two children and one grandchild —and started to work in the arts and continued studying fine art outside of school.
“I guess I wasn’t getting out of it what I thought I should,” said Green, who insists she could kick herself now for leaving.
At the time, Betz was drawing with pencil and charcoal. That led to watercolors. Next she was earning money painting children’s portraits, her name spreading by word of mouth. Most recently, Green has worked in silverpoint. To see silverpoint you have to be right up close. It’s lighter than pencil. “They don’t shout at you,” she said, about works done in silverpoint.
The art of silverpoint, or more inclusively “metalpoint,” is a permanent drawing technique using, most commonly, gold, silver or copper wire inserted into a stylus to inscribe fine lines on a specially prepared, lightly abrasive surface. The marks made by the metals are very faint and must be built up in layers to produce differing values, resulting in a delicate intimate image.
This technique requires a steady hand and much patience since it is very difficult to erase silverpoint. You can erase pencil and paint over watercolors, but if watercolor is immediate, silverpoint is an investment. “I’m kind of slow and methodical anyway,” Green said.
Silverpoint was first used by medieval scribes on manuscripts. DaVinci used it, for example, but watercolor or pastel applied at the end enhances the piece.
Green first started working with silverpoint when she joined the group five years ago. It’s the technique used by her former teacher at Tyler, Charles Schmidt, who has a national reputation and who hosts the group at his home with his wife, Nancy, also an artist.
Throughout her career, Green has leaned towards the community aspect of art. She co-founded the Montgomery County Guild of Professional Artists in 1998. She was the original artist-in-residence for Montgomery County Town and Country Magazine. She has won numerous awards like the silver medal in 2013 at the Audubon Artists Inc. juried show in New York (gold in 2010), and other shows like Philadelphia Watercolor Society, and her work has been exhibited at numerous galleries.
Today, Green is adjusting to life as an artist in a world where people have less disposable income to spend on things like portraits of their children. For 13 years she has lived in a Flourtown home with numerous vegetable gardens, as well as chickens that provide her fresh eggs, humor and a reminder of the rural Pennsylvania she grew up in.
“It was very easy to be an artist,” she said about the ’70s and ’80s. But today, Green has found there are fewer galleries in Montgomery County, and it has become more difficult to find places to exhibit. This summer’s group exhibition was a way to address that need.
“We have to think about other ways of being an artist now,” Green said. Though many of the artists she knows still don’t have websites, the internet has been a force connecting artists with buyers.
For more information visit betzgreen.com.