Artists gather each Friday morning at Coffee Ali in the Vintage Hills Shopping Center to share their latest works for a gentle critique. They also hang themed exhibits on the wall each month for the enjoyment of coffee-drinking patrons.
Stan Vierk walked to the front of the small gathering and pulled the dark plastic bag off the canvas, revealing a portrait of -- himself. He painted it from a photo, he said.
The dozen or so artists looked at the portrait with a critical eye.
"I like the way you took care with the creases in the clothing," said Claudette McDermott, adding, "I'd like to see shadowing of you behind, on the wall."
"There are no wrinkles in your face," noted another artist.
Vierk laughed and said he's sensitive about adding wrinkles after a neighbor didn't like his realistic portrait of her.
These artists have turned Coffee Ali into an art gallery and gathering place. Ten to 20 of them meet at 10 a.m. each Friday to share their latest works for a gentle critique that helps them fine-tune the pieces.
"It's fun to get together. It helps to motivate us," said McDermott, an impressionist who heads up the group and curates the displays under the name Poetry on Canvas. "If we are working on something and know something doesn't feel right we bounce it off each other, then pick and chose what works for us."
One wall of the coffee shop displays their artwork, which changes and follows a different theme each month. The left side has a featured artist; in June it is Gregg Skuce with his contemporary landscapes done in warm colors.
At this meeting June 1, the May exhibit of Flower Power came down, and June's Art in Public Places went up -- these are paintings done "en plein air" recently when the group descended on Milfleur in the old Kottinger Barn on Ray Street.
When Mahesh Baishya stood up with two framed landscapes of scenes from local parks, Skuce commented: "You're an artist, man."
"I like that red shirt," McDermott said, noting a person in each painting wearing bright apparel. "I notice you always put in a red shirt."
John West showed the group an unframed watercolor with wavy edges that he had just sold.
"I'm wondering whether I should frame it to show the rough edges," he told the others, who agreed they were an important part of the piece.
When Alka Vaidya held up a watercolor of an inviting park scene, she described it as a study in trees and water.
"Where is it?" someone asked.
"Nowhere," answered Vaidya. "It could be anywhere."
The title "Walk in the Park" came to her mind, she added.
Antonia Wennink, who paints her contemporary works in oils and acrylics, showed a vivid canvas with varied shapes in bright colors.
"Is it finished or not?" she asked her fellow artists.
She'd showed them the work previously and added lines according to their suggestions.
"I like the colors," Skuce told her.
Wennick pulled out another painting, explaining she'd created it quickly with paints she happened to have.
"Now I'm stuck because I don't have an underpainting," she said.
"I'd introduce the colors again," Skuce advised. "Then compositionally it works."
Others suggested a fixative to hold the bare canvas tone, and Wennick asked whether that was against the rules.
"Since when do you care about the rules?" McDermott asked her with a laugh.
"I like it and it irritates me at the same time," Wennick said about the painting.
Someone suggested that she add a vase to the bottom, which would then turn the vague shapes into flowers.
"Keep working on it until it makes you feel good," McDermott said.
Loralee Chapleau shared two works so recent that they weren't yet dry. One portrayed the wall at Milfleur where she'd painted with the group. The other impressionistic painting depicted a man and child at Point Isabel in Richmond with San Francisco in the distance.
"He's a father figure, and she's got the whole world out there," she said.
Someone suggested the two figures have shadows on the sand, and a discussion ensued as to whether their faces needed definition.
"I wanted the faces to be extremely loose, more universal," Chapleau said.
After everyone shared, the artists began to take down the May paintings and make plans on how to best display those for June.
Throughout the proceedings Steve Curry, a relative newcomer, sat to one side with his sketchbook but declined when asked if he had anything to share.
"I sit here and listen and learn," he said. "They're a great group of people to get you motivated to do more. And they're very encouraging."