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Greenville & Hockessin Life

Teaching the joy of moving the paint

Dec 06, 2023 12:16PM ● By Tricia Hoadley
By Richard L. Gaw
Staff Writer

I have come to believe that a great teacher is a great artist and that there are as few as there are any other great artists. Teaching might even be the greatest of the arts since the medium is the human mind and spirit.                                                                                            John Steinbeck

In a video made by the Delaware Division of the Arts that profiled the work of Yorklyn-based artist Sarah Yeoman in 2017, three individual droplets of black watercolor suddenly and without warning began a race down the white paper that began to hold the crows Yeoman was painting.
A fourth drip joined the race, then a fifth and a sixth. It created a most spectacular effect – an accident of texture and beauty – and instead of panicking, the artist continued to apply her brush and work on, stepping back when the painting was completed.
“That’s how I do most of them,” she said to the camera. “I start at the top and work towards the bottom, connecting the shapes as I go, letting the colors mix and mingle. I actually love the drips, because they’re part of the painting process.”
The six-minute video served as a tutorial on Yeoman’s life as an artist and in a greater sense, the approach she brings to her long career as a teacher, both at the Center for Creative Arts just down the road from her home and at workshops and seminars in Delaware, throughout the country and around the world.

Start at the top and move your way down.
Get away from the pretty.
Embrace the imperfect.
Practice and play. 
Liberate yourself.
Trust your artistic instinct.

‘My work has always been about light’

In order to properly illuminate Yeoman’s work as a teacher, it is best to first reflect it through the prism of her artistic career. A signature member of the American Watercolor Society, her 40-year journey has been dotted with countless gallery shows and exhibitions around the globe that include Philadelphia, Santa Fe, Lake Placid, the Hudson Valley, New York City and as far away as China, South America, and Turkey. 
Working primarily out of her Yorklyn home and studio and her upstate New York State cabin in Indian Lake – whether in studio or in plein air form -- Yeoman’s paintings are infused with an appreciation for light, mood and place, from her crows and ravens series to her landscapes of the Brandywine Valley and the Adirondacks. 
“My work has always been about light, and it will always be about light,” Yeoman said. “It’s about finding form by gradually revealing light and shadows, as if I’m sneaking up on the shapes and the values and always remembering that it is not about the title or my feelings but about light and shadow which informs everything we look at.”
Whether it is through her in-person workshops, private tutorials or online Zoom sessions, Yeoman has encouraged her students to search for that same sense of emotion. As a teacher, she’s criss-crossed the country and the globe, from private instruction in her studio to seminars and workshops at the Abanakee Studios in Indian Lake, N.Y. – where she has a cabin -- and in several states and countries, including Italy and Canada. She recently returned from a seminar at the Southwestern Watercolor Society in Dallas, Texas.
From the first dip of a brush, Yeoman’s classes are about finding the wonders of what happens when paint meets water. Artistic freedom is encouraged; mastery of the medium is not.  
“I teach the joy of moving the paint,” she said. “I start each session by introducing them to three colors, teach them how to mix them and have them consider the ratio of pigment to water -- more water means the color is lighter and less water means the colors will have more weight to it.
“Then I watch them get the feel of painting – to pull the beads of water and paint down the page. It’s so exciting when they get the feeling of how that works.” 
When the onset of COVID-19 arrived in 2020, Yeoman saw her sold-out, in-person workshop in France postponed indefinitely, but rather than panic, she took her teaching online. She created an online teaching platform partnership with the Lake Placid Center for the Arts that converted her teaching to Zoom sessions that quickly drew nearly 100 participants from around the world. At a recent online session – using three cameras and microphones set up in her home studio -- Yeoman taught watercolor classes to 96 students from 30 states.
“People from all over the world have become a part of these online classes,” Yeoman said. “I had one woman who lived in the Arctic Circle who would join my classes. You would never otherwise get to speak with someone living in such a remote area of the world if it were not for these Zoom workshops.”

‘It’s about finding the jewels’

Since the time when cavemen scrawled images on stone, it has been the anthem call of every artist to say that their work is not hitting the mark, and it’s a frequently heard chorus in many of Yeoman’s in-person seminars. Her remedy for self-doubt is simple: Yeoman will casually stand behind a student, and while he or she laments their creative shortcomings, she will use a mat frame to center the focus on a small point in the painting.
“I will tell them, ‘You see that there? There’s a painting there, a painting in a painting,’” she said. “Too many times, someone who is new to art is afraid to make a mistake, and when they make a mistake, they think that there’s something wrong. 
“I really enjoy helping people let go of their fear enough to find their own voice. People are so afraid to say, ‘This is who I am, and this is my mark’ so by helping them begin to continue or renew that part of themselves is very rewarding. It’s about finding the jewels.”

The balancing act of teaching and the solitary need to create is often the necessary evil of any creative person. For Yeoman, there is a tiny crevice of a moment between her two passions that allows her to get her students’ paintings out of her head and reinvent her definition – the ‘Who am I?’ inner soundtrack that keeps repeating like a mantra in the mind of every artist.
“Teaching is an interruption of what I love the most, but teaching is how I make my living,” she said. “Every time I return to my art, it’s painful to get back to that space and then trust that what I have to say as an artist will continue to matter.”
An artist does not retire, and a teacher will always find a way to teach, Yeoman said from her Yorklyn home. She has fully committed herself to the continuing duality of purpose that serves the artist and the students. From April 3-5, 2024, Yeoman will return to the Center for Creative Arts, where she will teach a three-day workshop entitled, “The Light of Watercolor.” The class will focus on learning how to interpret that light and the mood and atmosphere that are created because of it. Yeoman will guide students through a series of imagined landscape exercises to familiarize them with how various pigments move and interact with paper and water and gradually reveal light and shadow.
“It’s all so intertwined, and I don’t know if I can truly separate one from the other,” Yeoman said. “Teaching has kept me curious because I am always experimenting and trying something new. I’ve had times when I have been teaching when I am talking and painting at the same time, and it’s where I have done some of my most interesting work.
“What I love most about teaching is sharing the truth that there is just so much joy in playing with paint, and you can’t make a mistake, because that particular painting they are working on has never existed before, so there is no expectation of the outcome. 
Becoming an artist, Yeoman said, is being willing to just let go.
“Every working artist is on the edge of control and the unknown, and that scares the hell out of people,” she said. “I teach my students to trust the watercolor. I teach them to paint outside the lines. I teach them to learn the materials, and then start to explore composition, abstraction, shapes and pigmentation, and not let their brush dictate the marks on the paper.” 
To learn more about Sarah Yeoman and her classes, workshops and private instruction, visit or email [email protected].
To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, email [email protected].

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