By Dan Guarino
Champagne corks were popped and cake was served as sketchRockaway, a group devoted to bringing out the creative streak in all, celebrated its second anniversary last Saturday, July 29. The location, on and around the docks of Marina 59 off Beach Channel Drive, and timing, after a two-hour session of drawing on that sunny, warm morning, provided a perfect frame for the artistic picture sketchRockaway has been creating for the past two years.
“We invite everybody to join whenever they can. It’s free, it’s fun and any level of skills is welcome,” said Norma Allende, who founded sketchRockaway with friend and fellow artist Chris Jorge.
“We started this group in 2021, a year and a half post-pandemic,” Jorge recalls, “as a free and easy way to socially reconnect people who were just emerging from a world of quarantine and isolation.”
Weather permitting, the group meets twice a month, each time selecting an interesting pocket of Rockaway for artists from beginner to advanced to discover and draw. The blue sky and white clouds, Jamaica Bay’s rippling reflective waters, numerous colorful boats and decorated houseboats, landings, dock walkways, a visiting family of swans, and even the floating home of one of sketchRockaway’s members, for instance, brought a diverse variety of potential subjects to capture.
“We choose our locations based on interesting things to sketch,” Allende explains. “Some people love to draw boats, so we go to the marinas. For landscapes, we go to the park or Jamaica Bay. For architecture, we love to record the old and the new in Rockaway, highlighting local businesses or interesting old construction like the Bungalow District or Fort Tilden.”
“For the members who like to sketch people, the 60th Street Market- there’s good music players there- and the concessions along the boardwalk are great platforms for it. We try to keep a variety of places to accommodate everybody’s interests.”
They recommend bringing along a stool, hat, water, sunscreen, and favorite materials like sketching pencils, watercolors and small pads or sketchbooks.
Both Jorge and Allende have backgrounds not only in the arts, but also in passing their joy and passion for them to others. Allende notes she likes working in different media, changing them from time to time throughout her life. She has worked in stain glass for many years, as well as clay sculpture, and is now engaged in printmaking, bookmaking, and watercolor. “My favorite thing to do is sketching, simple and fast,” she says.
Describing herself as a “happily retired art teacher,” Allende formerly taught in local public schools and, as a board member of the former Rockaway Museum, organized and taught art classes to the younger population at the Queens Library. A former Rockaway Artists Alliance Board of Directors member, she notes she worked with friends and fellow members Janet Dever and the late Susan Hartenstein, organizing and curating exhibitions at RAA.
Jorge notes her background and experience with Rockaway’s arts spans over 25 years. “As Vice President, Education Director, and grant writer (for the non-profit) Rockaway Artists Alliance, I brought kidsmART arts education afterschool and summer programs to the peninsula, which provided artists with jobs and local youth with paid teaching assistant jobs. I secured funding to bring an art therapy program to the Belle Harbor P.S. 114 school after 9/11, and secured city contracts that helped set up (RAA’s office) on Beach 116th Street.”
Though a multimedia artist, she says her real passion lies in sculpture. In 2017, in partnership with NYC Parks, Jorge and Rockaway artist Esther Grillo brought several public sculptures to the peninsula. Her own 17-foot mermaid, sculpted in a downward dog yoga pose, was located near the boardwalks’ Beach 97th Street concessions. Free programs for the community were also offered for the six-month length of the exhibition.
Both women cite their experience with Rockaway’s creative side and RAA as a jumping off point for forming sketchRockaway. “Many people in the Rockaways love art, and the number of artists living here has increased over time,” Allende says. “When RAA was active as an art organization we had a fantastic time with exhibits, art classes, and a great artistic community. But,” according to her, “once RAA disappeared from the Rockaway landscape, we felt the need to create a community venue that can encourage people to do art, sharpen their skills, have fun.”
Currently sketchRockaway fills a need for people from Rockaway and far beyond to not only create art but also do so in the company of other creative people. “Everybody loves to come and join even if it is just to socialize,” Allende says. “We have writers that sit to draw or chose to write a poem because they are just inspired to do that. Some sketchers focus on more detailed and complex compositions, while others chose just something simple as a flower or a bunch of shells.” Numbers and the mix of people may vary from one session to the next, but for many who come out that’s what keeps it interesting.
And for those who are curious, starting out or just wish to dabble, Allende says, “Some people think that they are not good at drawing. But the reality is that practice makes all the difference. Our group is free and open to all ages and artistic abilities. And even though we do not teach formal classes, we help the newbies with basic instruction and encouragement. When we share our work with others, we give positive feedback and answer questions, and as we always say, ‘It’s not about the final product. It’s all about the journey.’”
Going forward, Allende and Jorge would like to secure an indoor venue to hold sessions year-round, even having models and drawing events.
Looking back over two years, they want to thank everyone who has come along, enjoyed, created, and made sketchRockaway a success.
As a favorite Albert Einstein quote of Allende’s puts it, “Creativity is contagious. Pass it on.”
For more information follow sketchRockaway on Facebook and Instagram
Photo by Dan Guarino.