Lillian Kennedy hosts series for ‘staycation art’
When the coronavirus hit, Lillian Kennedy knew she wanted to help. But how?
“I didn’t want to sew masks, and I’m not a healthcare professional,” she said over a video interview last week. “So I started the Staycation Art Lessons series as my way of volunteering during the crisis.”
Kennedy is posting weekly art lessons every Friday on her blog weeklyartlesson.com.
“Refresh your spirit with fearless drawing and painting” is Kennedy’s tagline for the series because, well, she believes that.
“The very simple act of drawing is a gift to give yourself,” she said. “Join in, build your skills and end up at the end of this knowing how to draw. The lessons are designed for people with no previous experience, but I have lots of participants who are very skilled — it works at any level.”
Now the concept of hosting weekly lessons isn’t new for Kennedy. She’s been doing this since 2010. But the idea to specialize a new series (the Staycation Series) came to her as a directive.
“It came to me like a bolt of lightning,” she said. “When I started it, my target audience was isolated, older adults who really are at risk from the coronavirus. Of course, anyone is welcome. But when I make the posts, I think of somebody who is home, isolated and scared.”
Kennedy considers herself to be in the category of folks who should stay isolated particularly.
“After my strokes, I couldn’t talk in a way people could understand me,” the 67-year-old explained, referencing two strokes she suffered in her late 40s. “I also had retinal detachments when I was in my 20s and was legally blind.”
In both cases, Kennedy turned to art as her solace.
“I still got pleasure from drawing and painting,” she said, remembering back to when she lost her vision. “I could see, but really blurrily… I really didn’t know what I had painted. I remember at one show, asking a friend how a painting looked and he said ‘oh, wonderful,’ but I knew I couldn’t trust him… That’s when I learned it didn’t matter. No one else could answer the ‘how is it’ question.”
When surgeries fixed her vision impairment, Kennedy admitted the piece was actually “pretty good.”
The Bristol native earned her master’s degree in painting from Parsons School of Design in New York City and taught at Burlington College when it first came into existence. She moved to New York City in 1980 and had a studio on Union Square where she focused on mural and corporate art.
“My kind of art was very out of fashion when I was in New York,” she said. “I went though a lot of phases with my work. But poetic realism best describes what I do… My pieces are luminous and show a love of nature, spirituality and psychology all working together. Nothing about my work was ‘ironic’ — it was what they called “retarder” or old fashioned. I was always a fish out of water there.”
In 1990, she, her husband and their daughter moved to Boulder, Colo., and Kennedy appreciated the change in aesthetic.
“It isn’t a simplistic thing to show beauty and look for harmony in things,” she said. “I was just separate from what the trend was in New York City at the time.”
After suffering the strokes, Kennedy developed serious altitude sickness and couldn’t even visit her major gallery in Vail, Colo. That’s when her husband got his hankering to buy a run-down, ol’ mill building and move to Vermont. So that’s just what they did. The Kennedys moved here six years ago and now own the Kennedy Brothers building in Vergennes.
After spending her second full winter in their new home in Ferrisbugh, Kennedy — who paints in her laundry room studio — is happy to be going almost nowhere.
“I stayed in my mudroom all winter and every day I saw a different scene out my windows,” she said. “I feel like drawing and painting can bring so much joy and pleasure and centering to people… Artists cherish isolation, and I want to share how to find such happiness right from your home with art.”
All are welcome to subscribe to Kennedy’s free weekly art lessons. Her aim is to keep it fun, and focus on teaching the mindfulness of making art instead of just hardcore drawing.
“Of course, technique is woven into it,” she clarified, “but the lessons are primarily to show a path and experience that can benefit people.”
Every lesson can be done with pencil and paper. Kennedy will show watercolor, gouache, acrylics and other media too.
“If these lessons can improve someone’s mood through this crisis, then that’s how I can help,” she said. “At the end, when all this is over, I hope we can all get together for a potluck at the cafe (in the Kennedy Brother’s building) and share our work.”
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