Drawing teacher Gabrielle Wheaton discusses art, style

Among the many hats she wears on a daily basis, on Saturday mornings, Gabrielle Wheaton dons her art teacher hat and leads a course in Classical Drawing at the National Gallery. Gabrielle took time out from her busy schedule to tell Weekender a little about her journey into art, what one can expect from the course and the artists that inspire her.  


Tell us a little about your background and how you made it to art school in Toronto?  

I loved art in high school but did not have an opportunity to return to it until my early 30s. At that point my sister bought me a drawing course at the University College of the Cayman Islands for a birthday present and it reminded me how much I loved to draw and paint. Shortly after the course ended, I saw an advertisement for an art workshop to be held in Grand Cayman by teachers from the Academy of Realist Art in Toronto, during which one would paint a copy of an “old master” painting.  

It was a one-week course in the evenings after work. I attended the course and was thrilled that I had found exactly the type of art instruction I had always wanted. Shortly after the course finished, I attended the 25th anniversary dinner of the Visual Arts Society and heard Roy Bodden speak on the importance of supporting art education in the islands. Sometimes in life you find that all sorts of things start falling into place to guide toward what you are supposed to be doing – at least, that is exactly how it felt for me.  

Everywhere I turned, the universe seemed to be pushing me towards art. I applied to the government for a scholarship to study at the academy. As it is a private atelier it was considerably less expensive than a standard university.  

I was stunned and thrilled when my application was approved and I must take this opportunity to publicly thank the Cayman Islands government for their support and generosity. Attending the Academy in Toronto has changed my life. I graduated in December 2009 and since returning to Cayman have hosted art workshops, been the owner of an art company working with children in summer camps and after school art instruction and am now passing on what I learned through the drawing classes I am teaching at the National Gallery.  


Which artists inspire you and why?  

I am most inspired by Leonardo da Vinci, Caravaggio, Vincent Van Gogh and John Singer Sargent, although there are so many more artists I could add to this list. El Greco, Michelangelo, Ilya Repin, Frank Frazetta … the list goes on and on. Why they inspire me varies from artist to artist.  

I love Leonardo because of his technical brilliance and the science of his art, whereas with Michelangelo it is his sculptures that move me and how he was able to carve a piece of marble with such genius that it seemed to breathe.  

Sargent was a master of the portrait and portraiture is something I very much want to pursue, whereas Frank Frazetta’s work is visceral and dynamic, the figures so full of energy it seems they will leap off the page. When I visited Paris I spent three days in the Louvre and ended up with a blinding headache from all the wonders I saw.  

Sometimes it is hard not to feel daunted in the face of all that has gone before and wonder what one can possibly contribute at this point, but everyone has a unique voice and I hope that someday whatever works I may create in my lifetime will speak to those who see them.  


What are the common misconceptions about what you do?  

That only people “touched by the hand of God” can be artists or artistic is the main misconception. I find more than anything that people are very, very quick to say, “I cannot do that”, without having even tried.  

We are all so hard on ourselves in a world that is hyper-critical that there seems to be a feeling that if one cannot produce the next “Mona Lisa” that one shouldn’t even bother to try. This misconception that it must be so difficult to do is one I would love to change. Yes, some people are born with more natural ability than others, but that is true for any discipline – I, for example, would have to work very hard to be a great singer, whereas my sister was born with a naturally brilliant voice.  

This does not mean that I never sing, just that I have found my own way to put across a song. As my wonderful mother always says, “let your little light shine”.  


Tell us about the course you are teaching? 

I am teaching basic, classical drawing skills in a relaxed atmosphere suitable for anyone from beginners to more advanced students (minimum age 16). Students should end the course with the confidence and information necessary to be able to then create works of art on their own, as well as a much greater ability to represent realistically the object, person or landscape they are drawing.  

What is your message to youngsters who may be interested in art?  

There will be those who will tell you it is not a practical career choice, especially in a society like Cayman that counts so much on banking and tourism.  

Do not listen! If this is what you truly love to do then fight for it, every day. Practice, study, work for it – believe me when I tell you I wish I could go back in time and talk to my 16 year-old self, and tell her to have more faith in her decision to pursue the arts. I gave up my dream of acting and art because I thought I had to choose a more “practical” career for Cayman. I should have fought every day to find a way to do what I loved.  

I have been as guilty as anyone of not taking advantage of the numerous art classes on offer at the National Gallery. People in Cayman often say there is nothing to really do here but there are so many opportunities available to try something new, or revisit an old love. Put some creativity back into your life!