View one of Elena’s watercolors for the first time and you might just do a double-take. Is it a painting or is it a photo?

By the time you get closer and realize it really is a painting, you are already in awe of what Elena can achieve with a brush and some paint — and a lifetime spent honing her talent, that is — a talent that she has also shared through more than 30 years of teaching.

On August 10 and 17 (6-8 p.m.), Elena will once again be sharing her talent and teaching skills — this time outdoors at the library — in the next ART@EPL painting workshop.

Elena’s class will focus on the fundamental application of watercolor, mixing colors, and control of water on the surface. Classes are free and open to anyone 16 and up, but attendance is limited and registration is required. Email Lauri or call 610-965-9284 to check availability, or come be on standby on the day of to take the place of any last-minute cancellations. Also see below for information on other upcoming ART@EPL workshops.

We asked Elena to tell us more about her journey as an artist and what she has planned for her classes…

When did you know you were an artist?
My grandmother sent me to art classes, at the Barn Studio of Art in South Jersey, at the age of seven. I always loved drawing and painting. My teacher at the Barn, Pat Witt, encouraged me. She said I would say, “I wanna go to the Cademy.” The example of the older students inspired me to set my sights on art.

I was apprenticed at 10, and worked for my lessons. I would assist Pat in classes at the Barn and the Museum School in Philadelphia. Most of my Saturdays were spent at the Philadelphia Museum wandering the collections. In the summers, we hosted workshops with prominent artists and I was assistant to them, as well.

I attended Henry Hensche’s Cape School with Pat at 16. We also hosted Hensche the following year at the Barn. He was a “great” in the art world and in my forming.

When did you decide to pursue art professionally? Do you do it full-time?
By the age of 13, I had no other desire but to be a fine artist. I toyed with the idea of being an archeological illustrator, but I made the decision to attend the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia. I also continued learning at the Barn. At 25 I decided to get some graphics training and worked as an art director and illustrator for several years. After all, one has to eat! At 32, I left the corporate world and began teaching again, privately.

I no longer need to teach, but I am an instructor at the Banana Factory. I am the President of the Lehigh Art Alliance (LAA) and my time is filled with producing and promoting my art and LAA.

Tell us about your workshop? What can people expect?
Watercolor is an intimidating medium, for sure! I have heard accomplished artists groan when they need to use watercolor. I can demystify the medium for people by showing them the reasons watercolor acts the way it does. The technical aspects are the hard part. I will guide students in application of the paint in steps designed to help them understand what to do. I feel this method frees them to explore and gain confidence.

What’s your advice for anyone who wants to explore art, but can’t seem to find the time or feels intimidated by a blank canvas?
Time is the issue. You have to be creative and “make” time. I started “painting” in watercolor when I returned to teaching. Most of all, I needed a way of painting that I could drop at a moment’s notice to change a diaper or make dinner. Other mediums are messy and you can’t stop in the middle and come back in a week and pick back up where you left off. I painted in fits and starts. Watercolor lends itself to this lifestyle. You can set up in limited space, and put it away quickly to clear space.

I would also tell that person to go to galleries and look. Go online and watch snatches of videos on painting and drawing technique. There is a world of teachers online on YouTube who are great starts — I love “Café Watercolor” and “Jared Loves to Draw.”

Scribble! Scribble! Scribble! And doodle some more! Drawing is the first step. Get a set of good watercolors and dabble on scraps of paper. Paint along with an online teacher. It all adds up. You will surprise yourself! No one can say how quickly a student has to learn, it’s an individual process. I never stop learning.

[You can learn more about Elena Shackleton and view more of her work at her website and online gallery video.]


ART@EPL is the library’s exciting partnership with the Lehigh Art Alliance and the Lehigh Valley Arts Council. The series is funded through a grant from PA Partners in the Arts, making it possible for area residents to enjoy free art lectures and workshops from local artists working in pastels, charcoal, sculpture, and watercolor among others.

The last remaining ART@EPL workshops, scheduled for late August and September, are:
Charcoal and Chalk Portraits with Barbara Greco, and
Sculpture with Laura Elmore.
Click the links for info or contact Lauri Miller for availability.