Fields of bluebonnets covered the bottom of Lake Buchanan during one of its driest years with only a ribbon of water running along the original riverbed to show where the mighty Colorado once flowed. Watercolor artist Betty Biesler captured that improbable but beautiful moment in time with a paintbrush, a palette, and paper. The image reminds her of a sunny spring afternoon on a four-wheeler exploring a lake bottom covered in blue blossoms.
“I did it for history,” Biesler said. “It takes me back to when I was there at that time. I try to relate my memories — what the weather was like, what I was feeling — onto the paper. That’s the feeling I have when I’m painting. That’s my desire: to paint those feelings again.”
Biesler lives in Buchanan Dam on a hill overlooking Inks Lake and an idyllic Hill Country landscape that inspires and shapes her art. Her emotional connection to the Texas countryside she paints translates to the people who later come in contact with her work, she said.
“It’s not just the artist putting emotion into it, it’s the viewer as well,” she continued. “Go into an art gallery or museum and really look at a painting. You’ll feel that connection.”
Biesler has 40 years’ experience as a watercolor artist and has taken numerous classes and workshops with nationally known artists. She has been teaching the art herself since 2002 and currently instructs two groups from beginners to advanced at Highland Arts Guild and Gallery on Main Street in Marble Falls. She has two published books on the subject: “One Step at a Time: Watercolor for Beginners” and “One Step at a Time: Watercolor Portraits.”
She also gives demonstrations across the state and competes regularly in plein air events, which are held outdoors. She has entered the Marble Falls Paint the Town plein air event every year since it began in 2006. She also has painted in plein air competitions in Burnet, Salado, and San Angelo, winning two first places and one second place.
“I decided to do it on a whim, and I fell in love with painting outdoors,” she said. “It has a whole different feel about it. There’s the lighting, the atmospheric changes.”
While most plein air artists paint in oil, Biesler is part of a growing number of watercolorists tackling the medium’s finicky nature in the open (plein) air.
“Watercolor doesn’t like to be too dry, it doesn’t like to be too wet,” Biesler said. “You’re constantly adjusting the water content of your paint to the elements.”
Plein air harkens to pre-camera days, when artists hauled their supplies to the seashore, mountain, or a city street, chasing the elusive morning or evening light.
“It used to be the only way an artist could paint,” Biesler said. “It went out of style when you could take photos and paint in the studio. About twenty years ago, it came back into vogue.”
Along with the challenge of plein air, Biesler loves painting portraits, most of which she does as commissions. She also teaches a watercolor portrait class, although not for beginning painters.
“Portrait is a very different style,” she explained. “It’s a layering and blending process. You start with yellows and pinks, then you put in shadows and contours, and you top it off with the skin color.”
Skin color requires more building and blending of color to become what Biesler calls “a sculpture on paper.” Many of her comissions are people who have died.
“People want a remembrance of a loved one,” she said.
She also paints pets, both alive and passed on. Her favorite faces are rugged with plenty of character lines. One recent portrait she painted from photos she took is of a man holding a prized chicken. It is a personal favorite.
As for buying art for their homes, people have “100 different reasons,” but knowing the story and feeling an emotional connection help make the final decision to acquire a work.
“It might be it matches their sofa,” Biesler said with a laugh. “But people mainly put art in their homes because it brings a room alive. A reproduction is not the same. An original work of art that you invested in will have more meaning for you.”
A natural-born storyteller, whether by word or watercolors, Biesler relishes her time at Highland Art Guild and Gallery, where she can talk to visitors or paint with her students.
“If someone comes in and is interested in my paintings, I can give them the story behind each one,” she said.
Biesler used to work exclusively in oil. She painted her first watercolor 40 years ago.
“I have not painted in oil since,” she said.
She also has moved from framing her work behind glass to using a non-yellowing acrylic clear coat and a wax medium on top. The acrylic and wax seal and protect the picture, allowing viewers to better appreciate its colors, textures, and connection to a moment in time.