by Cynthia Hollis
With a stroke of her brush, watercolorist and farmer Elena Scibelli transforms everyday sights into watercolor wonders. Her work can be seen at the Tallahassee Watercolor Society’s Brush Strokes Members’ Exhibition 2023 though Nov. 27.
After earning a Bachelor of Science in Nursing, she worked in cardio-pulmonary ICU and high-risk labor and delivery in St. Louis, Missouri, then in St. Petersburg, Florida, where she married her husband. Scibelli, her husband, and their two young children moved to Tallahassee in the mid-1990s, where she worked as a substitute teacher at Killearn Lakes Elementary for a decade.
“About ten years ago, I started taking figure drawing at LeMoyne. There’s nothing like figure drawing to get the eye/hand coordination up to speed. I took watercolor classes online. I’ve also been lucky to learn a lot from local master Bill McKeown,” Scibelli noted.
“Compared to drawing, watercolor is a far more difficult language. Bill has been a real mentor to me.” After painting for several years, she started developing her own style.
Her current painting process involves using photos as a starting point. “I find painting is sort of like sculpting. I like realism, but I make color changes because I’m not trying to [make something for] National Geographic.”
Scibelli also takes photos as the work progresses, getting “obsessive, staring at the in-progress photos in bed and taking notes in the middle of the night… it’s all a part of my process.” She also has a watercolor journal where she keeps swatches of colors and mixtures with notes. “I’ve made [that] so that I can refer to them for later works.”
When asked where she painted, Scibelli explained, “Since my kids are grown, I have more time to paint. We now have a farm, and I have an area in our house with an antique drafting table where I paint. I’ve made lots of work painting commissions… selling online as Bluebird Oaks Art.”
Bluebird Oaks is also the name of their farm. The family has two rescue dogs, a rescue cat, a guinea fowl, bantam chickens, and a cat colony; they worked with Meow or Never to have the colony neutered and ear-clipped.
“Those cats live in a property we have across the road, and we feed them twice a day. I’ve not yet attempted plein air painting, but the farm is an inspiration to me, and it’s a goal of mine to start doing plein air painting this year.”
Five years ago, Scibelli joined the Tallahassee Watercolor Society (TaWS). “We meet two Sundays a month. One Sunday is for artist dialogues, which are friendly critiques of each other’s work, and one Sunday we host speakers, who are artists working in various media.”
Scibelli is now the Secretary of the Board of the Watercolor Society while also heading their social media efforts and chairing the hospitality group. Scibelli has proudly become a ‘Signature’ member of TaWS, achieved by points acquired from being accepted into juried exhibitions.
Two years ago, at the FSU Museum of Fine Arts (MoFA) Annual Tri-State Watercolor Competition and exhibition, Scibelli won a bronze award for “Unwound,” a large watercolor of a cat surrounded by colorful skeins of yarn.
“At MoFA, they put out tables with watercolor sets and paper. We would go be the resident artists, painting with the public… it was a great fun.” Scibelli’s “Unwound” was also accepted into the Florida, Georgia, and Alabama Watercolor Societies exhibitions, winning a second-place award in Alabama.
Scibelli now takes watercolor classes at the Senior Center with the master artist Eluster Richardson. “I’m really glad to be part of all this. I feel like I’ve found my tribe, and it’s both inspiring and humbling… [and I’m still] learning.”
Scibelli recently won an award for her large watercolor, “Let it Bee,” at the annual TaWS Members’ Exhibition, Brush Strokes 2023, held at the Tallahassee City Hall Art Gallery.
When asked about “Let it Bee,” she said the subject was flowers from her daughter’s garden. “But once I got into it, it became more about the bee, the beauty of the bee, and its environment.”
Community members can decide to view Scibelli’s “Let it Bee” and many other artists’ works at the TaWS Brushstrokes exhibition through Nov. 27. “And with watercolor, it’s always about decisions. But mostly, it’s about the joy.”
Read more on the Tallahassee Democrat.