AMSTERDAM – Amsterdam artist Gail Talmadge had a feeling free plein-air classes on the canal would go over well. But not this well.
“I thought it would be popular. I didn’t realize how popular it would be,” Talmadge said.
She recently began leading “Painting Alongside the Canal” sessions as part of the New York Power Authority and state Canal Corporation’s “On the Canals” programs, which feature an array of free activities throughout the state.
The painting sessions, which are offered throughout the summer, were filling up quickly when The Gazette spoke with the artist last week.
“They’re almost all booked up . . . [for] the whole summer,” Talmadge said.
At a young age, Talmadge would often doodle, and art has remained an interest of hers. She studied sustainable design at SUNY Empire State College and recently received a master’s degree in art education from the University of Florida. For the past eight years, she’s owned and operated Taste and Paint, a small business that provides painting classes throughout New York state.
Previously, she was an antique dealer and painted furniture and accessories. She’s also painted murals and portraits of pets.
Talmadge jokes that she’ll paint just about anything, though plein-air-style painting is a recent addition to her repertoire.
“I’m actually new at it,” Talmadge said.
Painting outside, rather than leading paint-and-sip-style classes, comes with the added challenge of a constantly changing environment.
“It could change minute to minute, depending on where the sun is shining or what you’re looking at,” Talmadge said. “My first class I had 20 people come, and if you’re standing in the first spot where the easel is, and then you go to where the 20th person is standing, what you see at each easel is [a] completely different scene.” That leads to a variety of landscape portraits by the time the session is done.
Weekly “Painting Sunsets” sessions are scheduled on Thursdays at the Mohawk Valley Gateway Overlook Bridge and have been among the most popular classes. There are also weekend sessions scheduled at Yankee Hill, Schoharie Crossing State Historic Site.
“Many people don’t even know that place exists. I go there every day to walk my dog,” Talmadge said. “There’s the locks, there’s the river [and] there’s actually an old general store there from the 1800s. It’s a hidden gem that no one knows about.”
Also on the schedule are sessions at Hudson Crossing Park and the Mabee Farm Historic Site. While many of the classes are full, Talmadge recommends that anyone interested keep checking back online at canals.ny.gov/onthecanals for openings.
She hopes the sessions inspire others to continue painting.
“People always say to me, when I have my Taste and Paint classes, or now with the plein-air, ‘I have no talent. I can’t draw a stick figure.’ And once they get to a class and do it, 99% of the people say, ‘Oh my god, I did so much better than I thought I would.’ . . . It’s as much [about] art as it is about recreation and fun, and trying something new. If a few people start doing it on their own, even painting in their house, it’s something that I feel like I’ve had a hand in helping.”
That’s already happened with a few students who’ve attended the sessions.
“One lady said she hadn’t painted in eight years since her dad died. Another woman hadn’t painted in, like, 15 years because she just never found anything she wanted to paint, but they really enjoyed the peace and quiet of painting, and calmness of it,” Talmadge said.
Beyond the plein-air sessions, the On the Canals program offers excursions throughout the state, including guided paddle/pedal with Upstate Kayak Rentals in Halfmoon; and historic canal cruises in Herkimer, among many others. For information, visit canals.ny.gov/onthecanals.