Putting paint to paper

Watercolor teacher Gail Bodkin and several students in a classroom
Gail Bodkin, Bridgewater Drive, gives instructions to her class.

One of the most common questions a school-age kid gets is, “What’s your favorite subject?” Most likely the response includes the fun stuff like art, gym or recess. As adults grind away at daily business, it’s easy to become entangled in grown-up responsibilities, but the Mt. Lebanon School District’s continuing education program gives residents a chance to recapture some of that magic.

Gail Bodkin, Bridgewater Drive, will take you away, if even briefly, from daily stresses as she teaches you various watercolor painting techniques. Bodkin’s classes are geared toward beginners and intermediate painters. She also has an advanced class.

Bodkin says she wasn’t a natural-born artist. In her early school years, she simply survived her art classes. But, after starting a family, she needed to find a way to support her four preteen kids, so she enrolled in art classes to prepare to teach.

An art student drawing a sketch on a worktable.
Gina Fontanesi, a student in the advanced watercolor class.

She co-founded The Golden Triangle Decorative Painters with Peg Johnson in 1984 and the group is still going strong. Bodkin began traveling throughout the country, attending conventions and picking up knowledge and skills. She brushed shoulders with famous TV artists during her education, including Bob Ross, Susan Scheewe, Donna Dewberry and Mark Polomchak.

The experience she acquired during her travels allowed her to teach not just painting, but all types of art, including floral, candle, macrame, decoupage, and trompe l’oeil. She has led instruction on watercolor, oil, alkyds, acrylic, pastel, pen and ink, and silk ink, but she harbors a specific soft spot for watercolor.

Her classes are intended for even the most inexperienced, “for people who never picked up a brush.” Class size is limited to 15 so Bodkin can focus on every student. Though seniors often sign up for these classes, Bodkin has seen an increase in students in their 40s and 50s.

Bodkin combines her storytelling expertise with her mastery of skills to breeze through weekly classes. It’s not uncommon for previous students of the beginner/intermediate session to take the advanced course and continue learning under her wing.

If you happen to run into Bodkin during one of her events or take up residence in one of her classes, be sure to ask her about her adventures and time spent running businesses, including one in Jenkins Arcade downtown and one near South Hills Village. Also, ask about the time she spent as a buyer, and stories from thousands of previous students. Within a matter of moments, you’ll be pulled into her rich history and it’s possible a little bit of her passion will rub off on you.

Photography by Elizabeth Hruby McCabe