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Local painters mix altruism and art

The Sarasota Urban Sketchers are ready for their artistic debut.

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  • | 6:00 a.m. March 2, 2017
Jerome Chesley helps Ellen McKeefe and Karen Jackson price the pieces that will be sold at the Sarasota Urban Sketchers art sale March 2.
Jerome Chesley helps Ellen McKeefe and Karen Jackson price the pieces that will be sold at the Sarasota Urban Sketchers art sale March 2.
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On Wednesdays, the women of Sarasota Urban Sketchers can expect a familiar message: 

Friday. 10 in the morning. Starbucks. First Street. 

The uninitiated might speculate the email refers to a dangerous rendezvous, but reality is less dramatic. 

It’s the usual call to gather for a group of artists who have been meeting for nearly two years around Sarasota to sketch, paint or just chat at some of the city’s iconic landmarks. 

Many pieces depict Sarasota landmarks.
Many pieces depict Sarasota landmarks.

“Everybody brings their own chair. We all have small palettes that we use for travel, so we use those,” Sarasota Urban Sketchers participant Ellen McKeefe said. “Sometimes, I bring a big sketchbook, and I basically just practice perspective. You just do what you please.” 

For most it’s a hobby. Few have sold a painting. But come March 2, that’s due to change. 

The women are hosting their first art sale at Malbi Decor on Pineapple Avenue, set up to aid a pair of art teachers.

Their collection of work is the product of outings to Bayfront Park and the Ringling Bridge, Five Points Park and the historic DeMarcay Hotel. 

Faith Reynolds started the meetings in 2015 while taking a watercolor class at Selby Gardens. 

“I didn’t enjoy doing large pictures, so I went on a trip and decided to journal,” Reynolds said. “I got a little watercolor journal … and did sketches along the way.”

And she kept sketching. 

Every week she would meander around downtown, creating art as she went. 

Amy Harding holds one of her submissions to the sale.
Amy Harding holds one of her submissions to the sale.

“She mentioned in one of the art classes she just wanders around downtown and does small sketches,” Amy Harding said. She was taking an art class with Reynolds at the time and asked to tag along. 

And then another friend asked to come, and then another. 

“It just kept growing,” Harding said. “It’s all just people who live in the area. Some of them are snowbirds, and some of them are full-time residents, but all of them have an interest in loving Sarasota or just painting and hanging out.”

The group has maintained a consistency that is stereotypically uncharacteristic of artists. It meets at the same place, at the same time to do the same thing. Yet, the group exercises a level of flexibility one would expect from a creative community. 

Some women come every week and some just once a month. Sometimes someone will bring a needlepoint project instead of a palette, and sometimes someone will bring nothing at all. They’ll come to enjoy the company. 

Since its inception, the group has swelled, incorporating friends-of-friends and art class acquaintances. The group now includes almost 30 women. 

Each sketch represents countless mornings spent sitting in the shade, creating art while constructing their community.

“Some of us studied art in college, but no one ... made living out of it,” McKeefe said. “So it really is kind of nice how it worked out that we are doing it later.”

The proceeds of the sale will be donated to two art

"Art for art ... That's a no brainer."

teachers, one at Horizons Academy in Manatee County and one at Booker Middle School in Sarasota.

They decided to do the sale before it settled on a beneficiary, but it wasn’t difficult to decide on who should receive the funds.

“Art for art,” Sarasota Urban Sketcher participant Brandy Braver said. “That’s a no-brainer.”

Reynolds said the goal is to supplement the teachers’ typical budget to account for alternative or higher quality items.

“We can just imagine how neat it would be ... for a teacher that is underfunded to be able to buy supplies and things that the school normally wouldn’t get for them,” Reynolds said. 

It’s their first major colaboration, but the group expects to collaborate again.

Harding said they are creating a cookbook with sketches of the finished dishes.

But even as the group evolves, Harding expects it will stay true to its roots. It’s a group that prefers to keep the organization simple — no officers, no dues, just art. 

“We’re just an informal group of people who like to get together and sketch,” Harding said. “We don’t want to make it too complicated.”



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