By M. Scott Morris/NEMS Daily Journal
Alison Schuchs got the wrong message when she was a grammar school student. “We were given a 40-minute period and you were supposed to come up with a masterpiece. If you didn’t, you weren’t considered good at art,” the 47-year-old Fulton resident said. “I wasn’t very good at art.”
Years later, her statement – “I wasn’t very good at art” – makes no sense because you can walk through her home, or the home of one of her clients, and find proof that Schuchs was meant to paint. A talent that didn’t get enough time to breathe during those 40-minute sessions came alive decades later.
In 2006, she bought a book by Lee Hammond called “How to Draw Lifelike Portraits from Photographs.”
“That book opened up so much to me,” she said. “It’s just about being taught in the right way.”
After their 20-year-old daughter, Carrie, died in a car accident in 2003, Schuchs and her husband opened Carrie’s Coffee House in Fulton. They still devote Friday and Saturday nights to giving young people a safe, alcohol-free place to gather.
There were some giggles and jokes at the coffee house when Schuchs pulled out her book.
“The kids laughed at me. They said, ‘You’re not going to learn to draw from a book,’” she said. “Then I started drawing them and they all lined up.”
Her first pencil drawing was of Princess Diana, and the results encouraged her to keep working. When scanning her portfolio, you can see her increasing skills play across the faces of coffee house kids.
She started with pencil and charcoal, then moved to acrylics, before switching to oils. Along the way, she gathered tips from other books, as well as Internet sites like artpapa.com and wetcanvas.com.
“Self-taught doesn’t mean the same as it did 100 years ago. You can go on the Internet and learn,” she said. “I’ve learned from people all over the world, getting on forums and sites. They’ll even critique it for you. People with all this experience will look at it and they’ll say, ‘The nose isn’t right.’”
By the bed
There’s a bed in Schuchs’ studio, but it’s a temporary situation while another room is renovated. On the left side of her canvas is a computer screen that displays a digital photo of her subject. On the right, she keeps her glass palette of oil paints. A mirror hangs on the wall behind her.
“That’s an artist’s trick,” she said. “You can see your mistakes in the mirror. For some reason, they pop up at you more.”
During a recent Thursday morning, a music player delivered a steady supply of blues, and the volume was cranked up to easily drown out a telephone ringer.
“My friends know not to call me on my painting day,” she said. “The day just flies by.”
Since leaving her job at a sign company, Schuchs has been a full-time grandmother, spending much of her time with James Carr, 6, and his sisters, Marion, 4, and Alice, 2. They don’t seem to mind when Schuchs combines her full-time job with her part-time passion.
“They’re good little models for me,” she said. “I’ll probably paint them my whole life.”
Schuchs also does commission portraits of other kids. Erin Conner met the artist at church, and saw paintings of James, Marion and Alice.
“I got her to do a portrait of my two kids for my husband at Christmas,” Conner said.
She was pleased with the work, so when someone took a photo of her husband and son together at a lake, it was an easy decision to ask Schuchs to paint it.
“I think she’s extremely talented,” Conner said. “She just has a naturally artistic mind.”
Schuchs usually takes her own photographs, and she can take up to 100 in the hopes that one will inspire her.
But before the camera comes out, she’s focused on the clothes. She’d rather have a kid barefoot than in a pair of sneakers. She’d rather see a classic dress or simple white shirt than a sports jersey.
“I love painting clothes. I think that’s going to be my trademark,” she said. “I’m really, really picky about what they wear. I don’t want anything modern. I want something timeless, so someone looking at the painting doesn’t know when it was done.”
Schuchs isn’t taking any more commissions at this time because she’s filled up for 2012, and she’s running behind.
That’s partly because of her grandchildren, but she doesn’t consider them a hindrance. They often work on arts and crafts, and an abstract masterpiece by the Carr trio hangs in Schuchs’ living room.
The message has been delivered: James, Marion and Alice are good at art.
“We do artsy things together,” Schuchs said. “We have fun with it.”