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Brenda McLean Is Drawn to the Colors of Pastels

Growing up in the Florida Panhandle, Anderson Artists Guild member Brenda McLean was torn between drawing and singing. She eventually devoted herself to music, drawn by her school’s excellent chorus.

She attended the University of Florida, where she majored in elementary education. She really wanted to study law, but that was not a viable option in those days. “Law school students, all male, were very unkind to women who ventured into the field,” she said. “It was difficult for women to do more than nursing or teaching in the ‘60s. But after I got into teaching, I found I had a talent and took great joy in it.”

She always used a lot of art in the classroom and remembers taking a group of fourth graders to a museum in Jacksonville for a showing of privately owned paintings by Andrew Wyeth. Hand in hand, she and two boys with severe ADHD all stood mesmerized in front of a painting of an elderly black man on a piece of torn brown wrapping paper. “The sketch was so poignant that I was almost moved to tears,” she said. “I said that if I can’t paint, I think I just might die.”

That led her to return to school to study art though she didn’t complete her degree because she and her husband moved to upstate South Carolina for his new job.

While taking those art classes, she initially focused on oils. “But it was difficult to overcome my tendency to paint more realistically, too tightly,” she said. An instructor suggested that she try pastels to free up her reluctance to introduce lots of color variations. So she would do a study in pastels as a prelude to her oil painting but eventually realized that “my pastels were better than my oils.”

These days, she works almost exclusively with pastels, which she loves for the brilliance of the colors, the fact that the colors don’t need to be mixed, and that you don’t have to wait for the paint to dry. She works on sanded paper, which she cuts to the desired size.

From her home in Keowee Key, McLean has been very involved with the Blue Ridge Arts Center in Oconee County, where she oversees the classes. For several years, she also taught English as a Second Language, using drawing as a key tool. “If you get children who cannot speak English, they can always speak art,” she said. “They would draw for me and I would draw for them as a way to get the required subject matter.”

McLean will speak at the next Anderson Arts Guild meeting on Monday, Sept. 14, at 6:30 p.m. at the Anderson Arts Center. She will discuss the versatility and advantages of pastels.

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