With a gray-scale picture to guide her and the memory of a special photo shown to her by cell phone, Louetta ‘Letty’ Enns of Durham carefully applied her chosen paint color to make a kitten come alive on a canvas.
“This one is almost done,” she said. “I need to add some white on the legs and chest, and then fluff up the fur a bit.”
Enns, who began painting as a schoolchild in the 1950s and has taught painting classes for the past 15 years, likes to bring something new to her class, which meets on Mondays at Trinity Mennonite Church basement in Hillsboro.
“My favorite things to work with are watercolors — and pencils, oil, acrylic. I like to work with each medium,” Enns said. “I have taken classes with all of them and like to bring what I learn back to our classes.”
One of the more interesting techniques Enns shared with her class was painting on rice paper. She learned how to do it at a convention in Wichita several years ago, but taught her class the medium last year. This year, paintings on the textured paper glow with vibrant colors where they are currently displayed on shelves at the Hillsboro Public Library.
“Some of the best paintings I’ve ever done were on rice paper,” she said. “The colors are just so rich with this medium.”
Enns admitted many of her art class participants did not quite agree with her on the advantages of painting with rice paper.
“It was a unique process,” she said. “First you had to put the paint on over the rough texture of the paper and let it spread around. Then you put on a layer of wax to hold the color.”
Enns said layers of paint and wax created a vibrant mix, but, when finished, the artists had to crumple up their painting in order to get the wax off the page.
“I had some who refused to crumple theirs up,” she said. “It is a hard thing to do, when you have put so much work into it. But the result is so exciting.”
Enns said she applied another coat of darker paint after crumpling wax off the rice paper, which added more contrast to the original painting.
“The paintings I did on rice paper sold right away,” Enns said. “One went out of state and another went to Jared Jost for the funeral home in town. I heard that they liked it so much they took it to their own home though, so I told him I would make another one.”
Enns said that each year, she and members of her local class display their latest art pieces at the library, but some never make it to the viewing.
“Sometimes they sell before we get them up there,” Enns said. “I also have an easel with paintings for sale at Kessler Kreations. It is always nice when something sells because there is quite a lot of time and money that goes into each painting.”
In addition to paying for the paper or canvas, they paint on, Enns and class members buy their own paintbrushes, pencils, mats, glass, and frames.
Though she sells her paintings from $75 to $250 each, Enns said sometimes the costs come to more than she makes. Even so, she does not intend to slow down with her painting.
“I do enjoy it so much,” she said. “I am so thankful God gave me this talent.”
Enns said she particularly enjoys doing portraits and has painted just about everyone in her family.
“I always try to paint people younger than they are,” she said. “People don’t see themselves as others do and I take that into consideration.”
Enns said she is inspired to keep perfecting her paintings by other famous artists she has studied.
“I am a big fan of Grant Wood,” she said. “It is probably because I studied and did a report on him when I was in high school and have always tried to copy his work.”
Wood is most known for his 1930s painting, “American Gothic,” a Depression-era painting of a stoic farm couple.
“His technique is just one-of-a-kind,” Enns said. “Close-up his work just comes to life.”
Currently on exhibition at the Hillsboro Public Library is Enns rendition of a Wood-inspired painting, Guitar Lesson. It features an overall-clad man playing the guitar while a young girl watches closely.
“On some of these famous artists you can buy instructions and follow them to learn how to paint,” Enns said. “That is how they make their money, publishing their own how-to manuals. It is what we use to teach painting in our classes.”
Enns said she particularly likes following bird portrait instructions from artist Sherry Nelson.
“Sometimes it is hard to find the colors she recommends, but her patterns are always correct, very precise,” Enns said. “She is so exact and correct with how she explains everything.”
Enns said she had created some patterns and instructions for original paintings of her own, but at this point in her life did not have plans to publish any of them.
“I am still very interested in what others are doing,” she said. “I really enjoy learning new techniques and new patterns and then bringing them back to my class here.”
Enns recently returned from a cruise up the coast of California and to Vancouver, B.C., Canada.
“I found the most interesting special-cut mattes on this trip,” she said. “I ordered enough for my class and that is what we will be working on for the next session.”
Last year, Enns taught her class to follow her own creative process using iridescent paint.
“We used salt in the background and we painted on masket,” she said. “We even used a tooth brush to paint on the background. That was my invention.”
Pearl-X paint in copper, silver, and gold colors created the iridescent aspect of the project.
“I kind of like what it did to our paintings,” Enns said. “The flowers really sparkle.”
Enns teaches painting classes from October through early June, or whenever harvest time occurs.
“We will end the year with a few more sessions and then take a break for summer,” she said.
Openings for Enns painting classes fill up quickly, but she said she expected several openings this fall. Those interested in joining her Monday classes may call her at (620) 947-3610 to enroll.