Outdoor Artisan

BC To Display 'En Plein Air'

Posted: March 19, 2013

The color wheel is constantly spinning inside painter Debra Sheffer’s mind. Whether looking out the window on her way to work as graphic design director for Bridgewater College or at her home in Augusta County, she finds inspiration in Virginia’s vast mountains, streams and farmlands.

“Once you get this passion for painting outside, you really can’t stop doing it,” she said.

According to Sheffer, the process of oil-on-canvas painting starts well before she touches the brush. First, she takes a mental “photo” of her observations, storing the image in her memory. The 1980 BC art graduate then starts the piece by making deliberate color choices in order to convey a sense of place.

“My hope is that my paintings of Virginia scenes resonate as authentic to the viewer; that the views and patterns evoke this place,” she said.

Work On Exhibit

Sheffer’s take on the Virginia landscape will be displayed until April 14 in the Cleo Driver Miller art gallery, located on the second floor of BC’s Alexander Mack Memorial Library. The approximately 1,000-square-foot exhibit is open to the public and features more than 30 of Sheffer’s paintings.

Michael Hough, gallery director, said Sheffer was chosen as the March artist because her work stands out among “plein air” painters. The term describes those who paint outside, in the spaces they are depicting.

“She has a gift in terms of how she sees the world, how she manipulates color, how she captures it. Her work is really fresh. It’s really warm,” he said.

Lifelong Passion

Sheffer began drawing when she was 5 years old — though her early artwork didn’t always draw a colorful response.

“I always liked to draw. I was the kind of kid that always got in trouble at school for drawing teachers and their likenesses,” she said.

A self-proclaimed “weekend painter who takes it seriously,” she took up the medium when she attended BC in the late 70s. At the time, she was known for her still-life work. It wasn’t until she attended Beverley Street Studio School in Staunton in the mid-90s that her artwork began to take shape.

In response to an email, Frank Hobbs, one of Sheffer’s teachers, said she was a determined and enthusiastic student.

“I was always glad when she was in one of my classes because she just got what painting was all about,” he said. “I could tell that Debra had a strong eye for drawing, form, color. She also possessed something that’s as important as talent and that is a capacity for strong feeling in the presence of the subject and a love of the medium of oil painting.”

Hobbs said it has been many years since he’s worked with Sheffer, but that he continues to monitor her progression.

“I’ve watched her work grow, both in its formal means, and in a deeper sense of connection to the process of painting and to the places that mean so much to her.”

Sheffer has traveled to many places throughout her life. She once lived in Nigeria, where her parents were stationed for most of her youth as Church of the Brethren missionaries. She returned to Virginia and attended high school at Fort Defiance.

But no matter where she has found herself, there has always been something about Virginia that has resonated with Sheffer.

“Some people love to paint Italy; I would, too, if I lived there, but I am really committed to this place. I love it. …  It’s my definition of a perfect day; painting Virginia rivers, farmland and towns [and] sharing this passion with friends.”

Contact Timothy Schumacher at (540) 574-6265 or tschumacher@dnronline.com.

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