Art Space: You can draw if you want to, says renowned local artist | May 29, 2009 | Danville Express | |

Danville Express

Living - May 29, 2009

Art Space: You can draw if you want to, says renowned local artist

by John A. Barry

Even though I couldn't see what she was doing while I sat for a pastel portrait by noted local artist Beth Batchelor in her spacious Alamo studio, I still learned, for example, that the human face is approximately five eyes wide and seven high. She dispensed this and other knowledge - accumulated over more than 70 years of artistic endeavor - as her students watched her render me.

After winning a Brooklyn Museum textile design competition when she was 13, Batchelor studied commercial art at Cooper Union Art School and Girls' Commercial Art High School in Brooklyn. She then went on to work in the field, doing jobs for Ford, TWA, Minute Maid and Pepsi-Cola, among others in New York City. But her first love was acting, she reveals, and she was once in a high school drama class with Susan Hayward.

Although she now focuses primarily on portraiture, the commercial training still stands her in good stead. Just last year, she created the poster for Alamo's tree lighting.

What's her angle?

Batchelor is a master of "quick portrait sketching." She can produce a creditable likeness of a person in about three minutes. Her work on me took longer because she was doing a full-fledged version and teaching in the process.

Before I started sitting, she asked me if I could draw a cat.

"No," I replied.

"Lots of people think they don't have talent," she chided me. "Can you draw a few straight lines? If you can just follow the direction of a line and feel like doing it, you can."

She proceeded to scratch a couple of Vs, one inverted, on top of the other, into my notebook. Those became the feline's nose and mouth, and in about 20 seconds, a kitty was staring at me.

Batchelor is in the process of putting on the page her artistic tricks and wisdom, for a book tentatively entitled "What's Your Angle: A Shortcut for Artists." She has no dearth of material for the text. Although her studio is spacious, it is also cluttered with her work and numerous scrapbooks full of photos, clippings, curricula, drawings and other memorabilia accumulated during her long career.

That career includes founding the Alamo Danville Artists Society (ADAS) in 1977, which is still active today, and the Contra Costa Academy of Fine Art in 2001. She has been teaching locally since she moved to Alamo, in 1970.

I learned much of this as her lines metamorphosed into my likeness. After she finished my portrait, she was working feverishly to complete a painting for the San Ramon Community Players production of "Harvey."

"I have to have this done by Tuesday (in oil)," she noted on Saturday, without particular concern about pulling it off.

92 and Going Strong

To call Batchelor energetic for a nonagenarian (she turns 92 in July) would be an understatement. My back was killing me after protracted sitting, but she was perched birdlike on her stool, drawing, kibitzing and educating, going full tilt the whole time.

To put it in Dan Ratheresque terms, the petite Batchelor has more energy than a caffeine/guarana/sugar-fueled adolescent. But she attributes her longevity and good health in part to avoiding artificial coloring and other toxic and unhealthful substances that pervade the food supply.

This approach seems to be working just fine, as she shows no signs of slowing down. "Nobody will let me retire," she says, "because they keep giving me commissions." See more of her work at

Open Studios Update

ADAS plans to replace its annual Open Studios with a new venue on Sunday, June 7. The event, called "Artists at Work," will be held in the parking lot at the Museum of the San Ramon Valley and will be open to all artists. Those with home studios are welcome to open them as well. For more information, contact

--John A. Barry is a writer and aspiring artist. To share anything art-related, call him at 314-9528 or e-mail


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