Encouragement from peers is key to a beginner artist. At least it was for Deborah Umscheid.

Umscheid, a member of Manhattan Arts Center’s watercolor studio, started painting after she retired. She said the studio’s meetings, when members get a chance to discuss each other’s work, have helped inspire her to learn and grow in her art. She said she enjoys how her paintings, which often show people, can bring joy to others.

“It’s very much a blessing to do art of any kind,” she said. “It fulfills you.”

Umscheid is one of the artists featured in the current MAC exhibit with work by members of the watercolor studio. The exhibit is open until May 29.

Umscheid paints four to five days a week and has completed about 100 paintings. She frequently works from photographs of people. She especially enjoys using black and white photographs and copying the image in full color to bring them to life. She often paints members of her family, including her parents. Umscheid said people are her favorite subjects because she loves their stories and feels a deeper connection with them after spending so much time looking at the image.

“I love how something comes through that I didn’t notice about them before,” she said. “It might be, ‘I didn’t know they had this look in their eye.’ It can be something so minute, even something in their clothes.”

Umscheid, 71, worked in human resources at Fort Riley and retired in 2011 after 34 years in the federal civil service. She was interested in exploring the arts as a way to spend her time in retirement and started with drawing. She also appeared in a couple of MAC performances.

Then, Terry Mulhern, a friend and member of the studio, encouraged Umscheid to come to a meeting and try watercolor. Umscheid, who had never taken an art class, said she was intimidated at first but eventually got involved.

“I finally did get brave enough to say, ‘I’m going to do this,’” she said. “That seems to be the best way for me to just dive in.”

Each meeting begins with a critique. Artists will share their latest work, and other members will make comments about what they like or how the piece could be improved. Umscheid said she finds the environment courteous and encouraging.

Graham Rose, a fellow member of the watercolor studio, said members try to be open and friendly, especially with beginners. Members come from all levels of experience.

“They’re very kind, realizing that if you’re too critical to someone just beginning, it might be discouraging,” Rose said. “Some might take harsher criticism.”

He said when Umscheid first started coming to meetings, her work was “so fresh and very unique.” Her work has improved tremendously, he said, while still keeping those qualities.

“She really captures family, community and life around us,” Rose said. “She paints what she sees. Her work in picturing her family and relatives is rather remarkable.”

When she ventured into art, Umscheid was looking for a calming hobby in retirement. She has found that in watercolor and said the medium allows for experimenting.

“I like to play with it and see what happens,” Umscheid said. “With watercolor it doesn’t have to be perfect. You can correct your mistakes.”

Umscheid has used her newfound skill to create keepsakes for her family. She has recreated photos of several family members and gifted them to relatives, some of whom have even given her photos and requested she paint them. She said it is rewarding to share her pieces with loved ones.

“It’s fulfilling to me if I can make somebody happy about it,” Umscheid said.

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