Thursday, December 9, 2021

The Art of Seeing



Tara O’Neill

“What I have not drawn, I have never really seen.” — Frederick Franck, “The Zen Of Seeing”


I recently visited my dear friend, Barbara Sills, who lives in the Orlando area. There’s lots going on in Orlando — all the time — and Barbara is never at a loss when it comes to trying new and interesting things. In fact, she’s downright intrepid.

I’ve known Barbara nearly 40 years, and she still never ceases to surprise me. Although I try to expect the unexpected, my friend managed to thoroughly gob-smack me on this last visit. Hanging on the walls of her living room were three acrylic-paint landscapes; two were painted by Barbara and one by her husband, John. I’ve never known either of these good folk to draw so much as a stick-figure!

Turns out they’ve been going to paint parties, a relatively new creative enterprise popping up all over the country. Participants follow, step-by-step, the brush and color work of a lead artist while sipping wine, noshing on tasty bits, and enjoying supportive camaraderie. It’s a non-intimidating and fun environment for the complete beginner to get in touch with their creative side, and it can also be enjoyed by advanced painters.

I have personal knowledge of paint parties because I used to host them with my friend and fellow artist, Betty Newman, when we shared a studio together.

Naturally, John’s and Barbara’s paintings are primitive — being their first works — but still they are strong, convincing and full of freshness. They are delightful. Most important, Barbara is in love with her new hobby, and it has changed the way she looks at things. While chatting about painting, she confessed to now being hyper-aware of the colors and their shapes all around her.

“It’s weird,” she said to me. “I find myself driving slowly over bridges trying to solve what color the water is, but you’ve been painting so long you probably have no idea what I’m talking about.”

Oh, she couldn’t have been more wrong! I am perpetually distracted by those very elements of our visual world. So much so, my ever alert husband is often challenged with preventing me from walking into, or tripping over, obstacles. (He does the driving.) Plus, I often create embarrassing spaces in my conversations because my attention was captivated by a particular shade of blue in the shadows.

So, maybe not so weird. Wonderful would be a better word. It’s looking at an apple, and instead of seeing an apple, seeing a star-shaped highlight, crescent-shaped shadows, and colors that are seldom red. It’s finding every color of the spectrum in a cloud. White is the best; next time you look at a great painting with a “white” object, like a cloud, or a woman’s dress, or a man’s shirt, or a field of snow, notice how little, if any, pure white paint the artist has laid down, and yet, you still read those objects as being white.

I’m proud to welcome my friend into the family of abstract seers — those that see what others can’t, or won’t, or don’t. It’s fantastic that she went there so quickly, but probably not so surprising.

FYI, Betty Newman will be hosting paint parties this year at Marco Island Center for the Arts. For more information, contact them at, or call 239-394-4221. Treat yourself.


Tara O’Neill, a lifelong, award-winning, artist has been an area resident since 1967. She holds degrees in Fine Arts and English from the University of South Florida and is currently represented by Blue Mangrove Gallery on Marco Island. Visit her at


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