Off the Clock: Professor of Biology Is Student of Art

Posted: January 6, 2003 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By Lynn Burke

Cyndy Beck, visiting assistant professor of biology, might consider herself a novice watercolorist, but the jury for the Oatlands Art Show and Sale this past fall thought her submissions were good enough to be included in the annual show. The show, held at the Oatlands Plantation in Leesburg, Va., features artwork of historical sites around Loudoun and Fauquier counties and eastern West Virginia.

Photo of Cindy Beck's art

This painting of Beck’s was her first to be sold

Beck submitted two paintings: one of a small stone and stucco house along the river in Harper’s Ferry, W.Va., and one of sunflowers from a farm stand outside of Berryville, Va. “I was going to enter in the student category, but if you’re over 18, you can’t,” she says. So she gave it a shot and was pleasantly surprised. She was even more pleasantly surprised when the Harper’s Ferry painting sold. “I was very excited about that,” she says. “This is the first time I have ever sold any of my art.”

Her paintings feature clean lines and clear, bright colors. “You just can’t get the same luminosity, I guess you’d call it, with oils or any type of opaque medium,” she says. “That’s why I like it.”

It has only been within the past four or five years that Beck has been able to actively pursue her hobby. “I used to be interested in and do a lot of pen-and-ink sketches. I really like the mixture of pen and ink with watercolor washes,” she says. “So originally when I tried to learn about watercolor, it was to see about adding watercolor washes to my pen-and-ink drawings.”

Cyndy Beck
Cyndy Beck

Other than a few classes in high school, she has had little formal art training. About two years ago, she started to take lessons with Alex Carr at Blue Ridge Fine Arts in Purcellville, Va. When Carr couldn’t get enough people to continue the class there, she invited Beck and another student to continue the lessons at her house. “It’s sort of become an old girls club,” Beck says.

“I’m fairly pleased with the progress I’m making,” she says. Learning from Carr how to mix the colors on the paper rather than trying to mix the colors ahead of time has been a part of Beck’s progress. “I pick the colors that I want to use and wet the paper down to do a light wash with one color and then drop the other darker color into it,” she explains and adds that the technique provides a more natural-looking result. Beck would like to continue her training, possibly with classes in color theory and perspective.

Photo of Cindy Beck's artwork

This sunflower painting was also displayed at the Oatlands Art Show and Sale

Beck’s paintings primarily are of landscapes and flowers. “Mostly, I paint from photographs because our art class meets at night,” she says. “We use a compilation of photographs or one little photograph.” She has started to build a library of photos she has taken that might make interesting subjects for future paintings, such as a vineyard she visited this summer and some antique shops. In January, she will have the chance to not only add to her library, but also fulfill a goal. “One thing I’ve been wanting to do is to keep a watercolor sketch journal of a travel experience,” she says. So she will accompany Biology Professor Ted Bradley to Costa Rica as he takes some of his students there for field work. “I don’t get to travel much, but this looks like it’s going to be a perfect opportunity for that,” she says.

Beck says her painting keeps her centered. “Other people go to the gym to calm down, I just paint and draw.” And even though she is a biologist and her paintings are of landscapes and flowers, her focus in the classroom is different–human anatomy and physiology. “I used to do a lot of drawings in my lectures and stuff like that, but they didn’t come out quite the same,” she says with a laugh.

As for future shows, Beck is readying three paintings she hopes will be hung in the historic train station in Purcellville and is planning to submit some paintings for the Art at the Mill show held in the spring at the Burwell-Morgan Mill in Millwood, Va. She says, unlike the Oatlands show, the Millwood show is open to any subject, “so that means a lot more opportunity.”

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