The Abstractionists of the Cincinnati Art Club

In today’s world, ZOOM seems to be where everyone is meeting these days and it was no different for six of the abstract painters in the Cincinnati Art Club who met for over an hour. It was the first official meeting of this group to explore how to help one another to become better abstract artists and to share their love for abstract art

The first meeting of The Abstractionists, six attendees: top left is Eileen, that’s me in the middle holding camera, then Priya, Martha, Trish and Terri.

Eileen McConkey has served as the “organizer” of this newly established group inside the Cincinnati Art Club. Attending along with Eileen and myself, were Martha Howard, Priya Rama, Terri Schmitt, and Trish Weeks. We liked the name The Abstractionists for the group — as a takeoff of the name of the famous group of French impressionist painters from the 1800s that became known as The Impressionists. The six in attendance were from a larger group of about 30 artists who were unable to attend the first meeting, but all who explore the abstract style in their creations. The only requirement for attending group meetings is to be a member of the Cincinnati Art Club (CAC).

As with most groups in CAC, there was a lot of sharing with one another about what’s going on for us and our work and some of our thinking behind the work we do, the processes along the way and discussions of some resources that were useful to the participants.

All I do is paint! I never see anyone anymore!

Everyone was unanimous. With Covid-19 precautions, we have all essentially boarded up in our homes and studios. Trish and her husband Ron sheltered in their rustic home at Lake Lorelei about an hour from the city, near Fayetteville. Martha works in a small building next to her farmland home and Eileen and I have our studios in our residential homes. Through the summer months, I move my studio onto a covered patio where I try to work each day but as fall approaches I will be back inside.

Sharing Ideas

Priya shared some of her recent works for a commission she installed at the Medpace building at Red Bank and Madison – 42 paintings! She says that Medpace owns the hotel there and wants to do art shows there (taking no commissions from sales). She also shared about her experience in taking a four-day online workshop with Gwen Fox ( where the instruction featured powerful design and sensual edges.

We shared some of the ways we find inspiration for our paintings. Terri drops olive oil in a pan of water and studies the swirling patterns of the oil moving across the water. Priya who suffers frequently from severe migraine headaches has turned this malady into a powerful stimulus, using the explosions of color that she sees during episodes for many of her sparkling colorful works. Other ideas: work from blind contour sketches, look at previous figure paintings that can emerge into totally abstract forms and from the recent Art Club workshop on abstraction led by Patrick Lee.

Lively discussions about various new acrylic paints, cold wax and useful websites. But from all there was the encouragement to get away from pre-conceived ideas and to listen to the conversations in our heads and then go with them.

Next meeting of The Abstractionists

The next meeting will be on October 22, perhaps again on Zoom or perhaps one of the member homes where space is sufficient for social distancing.

Ursula Brenner Explains Her Passion for Abstract

Ursula caught the fever for art in high school and then pursued it more aggressively at Edgecliff College where one of her teachers, Josef Albers, led her through the The Interaction of Color, a pivotal course in how to deal with color.  Others taught classical training in composition, drawing and painting.  During her early years after graduation, she painted realistic scenes but gradually over the years found her voice and heart in abstract painting.

I see all art as a degree of abstraction.  It is simply a question of where you stop on that continuum.  An artist is seeing something with the eyes but the brain and heart processes this information through life experiences and then it comes back out and manifests itself from the hands.

What inspires my work is around all the time.  It could be when I am flipping through a magazine and see a color combination or composition.  It could be driving along the road or walking in a park … my imagination never stops … sometimes it is when I wake up in the morning with paintings in my head.  I am always looking at things and constantly feeding my brain with visual information to be processed often at an unconscious level.  

Ursula Brenner, Image 4806

I am always challenging myself to make better paintings … and asking, “why do I find this more interesting than some other image?”.  Painting is about making choices, whether intellectual or emotional.  The ideal is to have a balance between the two sides of our humanity.

Once I start a painting, I see where it will lead me.  I listen and look. The painting will tell me what it wants and I simply do it.  When I don’t listen (impose my will), it usually is not as successful as a whole.  Sometimes, if I don’t know what to do next or go blank and I have to stop.  Over the years, I have learned to just stop and come back the next day. With fresh eyes, I usually see almost immediately what to do to finish.   How do I know when it is finished?  It will feel complete to me and let me know it is finished. That’s the hardest part.

I like to explore painting in different sizes and examine the same color but pushing it in different directions—warm to cool, lighter to darker values, transparency to opacity.  It might begin with a challenge to use a color that I haven’t focused on before and make it the most interesting and arresting color I can.

Painting is like training for a marathon.  One must paint every day or at least consistently.  You show up and do the work even if you don’t feel like it.  Sometimes the most interesting things show up when you are “not in the mood” But, you always do the work!  Actually, it isn’t really work but one of the greatest pleasures in life!

I do think that there are people that will never understand or get abstract art and that is okay.  I think it has something to do with how our brains work.  It is why some are better engineers, party planners or nurses and some of us paint abstracts. We are all given different strengths and it is up to us to find them out.   We are all on a journey of figuring out who we really are and trying to grow at the same time.

Don Schuster, Visionaire Landscape Painter

Cincinnati Art Club’s President Don Schuster uses his talent to communicate the beauty in scenes that other people often overlook.

Don’s Finneytown HS teachers recognized his gift early on and provided independent study when he advanced beyond what they could offer in class. He also gladly accepted the role as the go-to guy for high school musical set design. Later attending University of Cincinnati’s DAAP college, Don pursued printmaking as his major, but also packed his schedule with enough courses in theater design to count as a minor.

After graduating Magna Cum Laude, Don worked in the printing, packaging production art and pre-press industries. Upon leaving the corporate world, Don pursued a wide variety of art-related areas of interests ranging from making stained glass windows to restoring antiques until settling in as a full-time artist, devoted mostly to oil painting.

 “I painted Boreas’ Profound Fervor after watching the movie Mr. Turner, J.M.W. Turner’s dynamic snow painting of the train moving across the railroad trestle impressed me to the point where I wanted to tackle a snow nocturn of my own. I worked from daytime photos of the other side of the U.S.S. Constitution and views of the naval yard in Boston where there had been a great blizzard. I did thumbnails, enlarged my drawing by freehand on the canvas and transformed day into night.”

The content of Don’s work is largely focused on landscapes – from cityscapes to rural environments. He seeks to document visually-striking focal features and draw the viewer into the scene – evoking feelings of being part of the locale he depicts. Many of his landscapes, such as Gregory Creek 12, are part of series about particular places around Cincinnati from multiple perspectives and over the course of changing seasons.

“My hope is that if I single out things that catch my eye, others may start noticing the extraordinary visual wonders of this region.”

“Working on drawing skills is so important and figure is one of the hardest areas to do well… That’s why Sketch Group has been so helpful in bringing back my figurative perception. I don’t want the people in my paintings to look flat, like they’ve been painted from photos.”

Don also became involved with Southwest Ohio Plein Air – SWOPA – to regularly brave challenges posed by changing light, often inclement weather and sometimes uninvited critters. Plein air work can yield subject matter for more complex studio paintings. But in the hands of an experienced plein air painter such as Don, they can stand on their own merits.

Don also regularly attends the Signature Critique, which serves as an informative and supportive vehicle for artists of varying skill levels to improve.

As a board member of the Cincinnati Art Club for six years and the Club’s current president, Don has high respect for the Club and its heritage of highly regarded artists. He also is a member of Oil Painters of America, the Art Renewal Center, the Ohio Plein Air Society, SWOPA, Fitton Art Center and Arts Alliance Painters.

Don also participates in exhibitions and has won many awards, including numerous times being featured in the Bold Brush FAV 15, being awarded the Architectural Artist of the Year at ACA 2018, and getting three Meritorious and a Finalist piece in last year’s Richeson 75- Landscape, Seascape & Architecture.  His work has been featured in Artist’s Magazine and Venue Magazine and he is represented by the Eisele Gallery of Fine Art and Bodenheimer-Mayer House Gallery.

Remembering Milton O’Dell

Milton O’Dell, Signature member of the Cincinnati Art Club, died this past July.

Milton found inspiration for his work in the urban and rural environment of the greater Cincinnati area. Travels in this country and abroad fed his fascination with portraiture and the human figure.

Milton graduated from the Central Academy of Commercial Art. He held a BS in Fine Arts and a MEd from the University of Cincinnati. He studied with Paul Chidlaw, Arthur Helwig, Reginald Grooms, and Robert Fabe. Milton began his career as an illustrator for the Gibson Greeting Card Co. where he developed his love of bold brushwork techniques emphasizing the form and structure of his subjects. Milton taught in the Cincinnati Public Schools. He was regularly active in the Art Club as Sketch Group Moderator and later encouraged Paul Fisher to take these duties over. His friendship with Paul was always evident.

Marlene Steel’s sketch of Milton O’Dell during Art Club Sketch Group

You, too, Can Paint Under the Tuscan Sun

Diana Mara is Painting Under the Tuscan Sun; Join Her.

Diana Mara is resident artist at OG Gallery in Reading and is currently showing at Art Design Consultants. She also teaches at Plaza Art in Kenwood. In the Fall of 2019, Diana and Yuki Hall will be teaching watercolor and Asian brush in three Italian cities amidst the rolling hills and vineyards of the Tuscany area. Workshop sign-up is open now and Diana wanted to give fellow Club members first opportunity for this experience. Contact Diana at

Jim Effler has just another Ordinary Day at his Office

Only his office these days is atop a 50-foot scaffold where he directs the ArtWorks Mamie Smith Mural located between 12th and 13th. The mural

was designed by Julia Bottoms, Buffalo, NY. This current mural is dedicated to Mamie Smith, born in Cincinnati, and the first person to record a blues jazz record. It is 47 feet high and 34 feet wide.

“My Photoshop image was scaled so one-inch equaled one-foot on the wall. The wall was gridded off using plumb lines and snapping chalk lines, then we drew outlines with charcoal. We mix the colors and show the 12 apprentices how to fill in the shapes.”

“I like working with ArtWorks because I get to teach young artists, (14 to 21) and pass on what I know. It is an opportunity for these young artists, and makes Cincinnati look better. There is a project manager for each mural. On our team we have a teaching assistant and a junior teaching assistant. They are talented artists, good at working with teenagers, and crucial to getting the job done.”

“I started working with ArtWorks in 2015 when I designed the “Grain to Glass” mural on the side of the Moerlein Brewery. In 2016 I designed the Canal mural on Central Parkway at Marshall and a smaller mural in the Brewery District on Vine Street that was painted on actual wooden barrels, I helped on Jonathon Queen’s Toy Mural. In 2017 I was co-project manager on the Ralph Steadman murals at 12th and Walnut.”

His friend, Ray Hassard, had a personal way of complimenting Jim: “I did one big mural-size piece once in Buffalo for the subway system and swore never again. For someone who almost never paints larger than 18 x24, it was nerve wracking! Cannot imagine how Jim does it!”

Ray Hassard Honored Again

Ray Hassard honored at PSA.  His pastel City Lights was included in the Pastel Society of America’s annual juried show “Enduring Brilliance” and was given the Great American Artworks award. It is among several works selected for an exhibit at the Butler Institute.. Ray participated in the Cape Ann Plein Air competition for the third year where he won Peoples’ Choice Award for his pastel Mrs. Currier’s Hydrangeas. The Degas Pastel Society in Louisiana accepted two of Ray’s pastels where Funke’s Greenhouse garnered a purchase award.

City Lights Pastel on Pastelmat Board 19″ x 13″ Studio 2/05/12

Romelli in Motion

Patrick Romelli creates oil paintings that reveal an emotional perception of the landscape through broad strokes and color.  His life experiences and intuition for light, hue, and composition create a visual language that captures the spirit and physical beauty of the countryside.  For Romelli, painting is emotional.  It’s not enough to simply copy the subject, but rather through color and boldly textured brushstrokes, he captures the essence of the subject.  

He says, “This inner ‘painting’ is emotional and passionate.  It’s about being able to share what you feel you see, the atmosphere.  It’s the air around the subject.  If I can get the observer to go on that emotional ride with me, I’ve succeeded.”

The power of suggestion is greater than the statement of reality

“First, I find a subject that interests me.  Then I sketch on canvas a comprehensive detail drawing of the subject.  Next, I use an underpainting with color notes to block it in.  Now this is when the painting gets interesting.  I start by painting the atmosphere around the subject with large strokes creating a sense of motion.  Now I’m in the zone.  I continue this until the emotional “inner painting” is no longer valid.  At this point I try to complete the painting in a blur that pulls the subject into and across the canvas.”

Recent Solo Exhibits at Wessel Gallery

Solo Exhibits in Wessel Gallery Foyer

Margaret Mock was our Featured Foyer Artist in November; Don Schuster in December. 

The Crown, Margaret Mock

Margaret captures the detail and emotion of human form in finely worked pencil drawings. After teaching art for thirty years to suburban Cincinnati’s youngest students, “I found myself in retirement inspired to draw and watercolor plein air views of my Mount Adams neighborhood.  It was a big step for me to pursue membership in the Cincinnati Art Club and to come face-to-face with portrait and figure models in the bi-weekly sketch group sessions.  These drawings are from my three-year exploration of the pencil as a medium and my first approach to portraiture.  I have been awarded third place in the 2018 Sketch Group Show and am a featured artist at Upper Eden, a boutique and gallery in Mount Adams. The Cincinnati Art Club has recently accepted me as a Signature Member.”

Gregory Creek, Donald Schuster

Don Schuster brought a chill to his solo exhibit. The pièce de résistance for winter is always snow, and the December Foyer Show has plenty of it. This display proves that snow is not just white but a reflection of everything around it. Don offers a series of winter plein air paintings that explore the beauty and texture of fallen snow covering winter scenes of reflected light. As expected, Gregory Creek is among these compositional wonderlands.

Steve Hart, Fueled by His Experiences from Around the World

By Mandy Putnam, Dragonfly Feature Writer

Sometimes the gift of serendipity changes one’s path. For Steve Hart, his junior year abroad in Paris ignited his passion for art. Studying the works of old masters at the Louvre – free for students on Sundays, visiting the Jeu de Paume Impressionist museum and discovering new artists in the little galleries on the Left Bank awakened Steve’s desire to paint. Standing in front of David’s Coronation of Napoleon, Steve thought, “I want to learn how to do that someday.”

After graduation, Steve bought his first set of oil paints and, like the rest of us, his first attempts didn’t match his plans. Later, another year of teaching in France further fueled his passion to learn how to paint. However, his self-taught efforts while juggling a new career and growing family still fell short of his expectations.  That’s when he enrolled in a class taught by Cincinnati Art Club member Yvette LaFollette Mazza, which began a 20-year process of learning the tools of the trade and gradually perfecting his voice as a gifted painter.

What fascinates Steve and underpins his work is studying cultures and their people around the world.

“To me, art is an expression of the human experience. That’s a very wide definition but I believe that good art expresses more of that human experience. It evokes a reaction from the viewer. I do like to paint human figures, because it’s easier to see the human element.”

At the End of a Day’s Labor, Steve Hart

 “This painting (above) is my favorite. A fisherman in a little town in Spain called Peniscola came in after his day’s work. I took hundreds of photos of fishermen that afternoon and created six paintings from them. One of the reasons I like this one so much is that I feel I captured an existential moment. He’s staring at something, but we don’t know what he’s thinking. It’s as if he’s catching his breath, taking a pause in this workday but we don’t know what’s going on in his mind – is he thinking about dinner, his work, his girlfriend or his life?”

A Louer, Steve Hart (the right panel of a tripyche)

“Since the kids are grown, we’ve been able to return to Paris a few times. The architecture is fascinating. I did a triptych from a recent trip. The middle panel captures a man on the balcony. I like the human element between the architectural paintings. The one on the right (shown above) was very challenging. I love the roundness and the sign that says ‘apartment for rent’ in French that provides a little touch of humanity.”

“About 10 years ago, I joined the Art Club. Initially, I mostly attended Sketch Group, where I escaped from battling computers and their users at work at the end of the day. If not attending Sketch Group, I retreated to my studio in the evening, put on my music and dove into a painting.”

“Now retired, I am almost never without a painting in the works. There is nothing like starting a painting with the anticipation of how great it will become. Then comes the inevitable struggle to make it everything you want it to be. Honestly, I feel as if I always fall short of my ambitious vision, but the process leaves me with the desire to start another one. I’m sure that next one will be that masterpiece!”

Lost in His Overcoat, Waiting, Steve Hart

“The man in the overcoat was derived from a photo that I took in Florence in one of the piazzas. I liked the way he had his legs crossed. I wanted to do a large figure of the whole body.”

In recent years, Steve has enjoyed acclaim for his work – being recognized in Viewpoint five times, receiving awards at the Art Design Consultants’ Art Comes Alive Show and participating in gallery shows.

Steve’s work will be featured at an upcoming show at the Harding Museum in Franklin, Ohio, 302 Park Avenue, with the opening night reception on Friday, February 15th. The show will run on Saturdays through March 9th. Hours are from 1:00 – 4:00 PM.