Catherine McCarty

Catherine McCarty works on a watercolor from a photograph during a Saturday morning gathering of Watercolor Tahlequah at the Cherokee Arts Center.

Retirement can be a time of casting about to discover and develop new interests, hobbies, volunteer opportunities and relaxation. Retired court reporter and Minnesota transplant Catherine McCarty uses painting as a way to enrich her quality of life, as well as make friends and some money.

McCarty is one of six or so watercolor painters who meet at the Cherokee Arts Center on Saturdays with paints, paper and supplies in hand. The group welcomes all levels of painters to enjoy the shared art form, conversation, tips and techniques.

“It was my lucky day when I came across a notice in a used book store on Muskogee Avenue that told me of George Fulk’s Beginning Watercolor class as part of Northeastern State University’s Continuing Education,” said McCarty.

Skills and enthusiasm for painting reawakened in McCarty during this beginning-level class.

“I knew I was in the right class. We started painting simple things at first,” she said. “I took to the medium of watercolor and the idea of happy accidents.”

It was also during the class that she realized she would need to know how to draw. That summer, she read through the book “The New Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain,” by Betty Edwards, and did the drawing exercises that she described.

“That did wonders for giving me some confidence in what I am trying to draw. I was not familiar with the concept of negative space and how that helps in creating a more accurate drawing,” McCarty said.

At that point, she decided to repeat the painting class.

“I took George Fulk’s watercolor class again, realizing I was past the beginning point. I gained more inspiration from George and the other participants,” she said.

When this class ended, some of the members – including Fulk and friend Jerald Peterson – started painting together once a week. They have been meeting for more than a year.

“We call our group Watercolor Tahlequah. I would invite anyone interested to join us at 10 a.m. or take a look at the Facebook Page for Watercolor Tahlequah,” she said.

For the past 30 years, McCarty and her husband called Norman home, and she worked the past 10 years out of Garvin, McClain, and Cleveland counties. Up until a few years ago, McCarty’s time was spent in the work place or vegetable garden, or playing on a U.S. Tennis Association team.

“We lost our home to a wildfire east of Norman four years ago,” McCarty said.

Being retired, they took to the road for several months before settling.

“We landed in Tahlequah. Newell is a native of Oklahoma and drawn to the natural area surrounding Tahlequah, the university, and the Native American culture,” she said. “To add to that, for me, I’ve always thought it looks more like home as you get closer to the Mississippi River.”

An early introduction to art was inspiring but didn’t seem to produce a connection McCarty took to back then. But it left a seed growing of interest and occasional journaling.

“At 20 years old, I took University of Minnesota credits in a course, ‘Winter Quarter in Mexico,’ held in Tlaxiaco, Mexico. Painting, pottery, and photography. I came away with no particular skills at that time, but those months were enlightening and very much became a part of me,” she said.

Over the years, she’s drawn a bit in road journals, which may become future ideas for a painting.

“A drawing I come up with can put me back in a place better than words,” she said. “I’ve never had instruction in drawing. I’m convinced that with practice, we all can draw. It’s just that many of us quit at a young age.”

She now has the materials and keeps learning more about watercolor painting.

“Each Saturday morning, I get to see the different creative minds at work,” she said. “I have been gaining confidence in my own ability as I keep painting.”

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