Smelly subject: Drawing Gowanus water colors in black and white

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See the gorgeous Gowanus!

Amateur artists can learn to capture the fantastical, fetid sight of the Gowanus Canal on paper, at a free workshop on the banks of the noxious waterway on May 20. “Abstracting the Gowanus” will help people to see the heavily polluted stretch in a new light, according to the artist leading the class.

“My hope is that something that people might not have not paid attention to, or discounted as an ugly body of water, will start to see the beauty in it and appreciate what’s really there,” said Rachael Wren, who became intrigued by the federal Superfund site last year during a canoe trip, when the Brooklyn artist discovered that its shifting colors provided the ideal subject for abstract creations.

During her two-hour workshop, Wren will teach creators of all skill levels to envision the canal on paper, using pencil, charcoal, and ink. Participants will start by jotting down a series of small drawings that evoke their impressions of the gonorrhea-infested waterway, she said.

“The idea is to capture the feeling of what they’re seeing, not necessarily making it look like what they’re seeing,” said Wren. “When you’re working that quickly you bypass thought and judgment — really unexpected and beautiful things can happen.”

The artists will then choose one of their speedy sketches and create a larger version.

The Lavender Lake is so nick-named for its less-than-natural coloring, but participants will create their masterpieces in black and white — a challenge to make them focus on the unusual contours lurking atop Brooklyn’s Nautical Purgatory, according to Wren.

“It forces you to look at the shapes and movements of things — that’s the reason why I’m doing it with black and white,” she said. “I think the black and white just lends itself to this exploratory type of drawing.”

The Gowanus Canal has been the muse for photographers and musicians, but most people just hold their nose and hurry past. Wren says that her class will help participants to truly see the wonder in the water in front of them.

“Any time you spend time thinking, which is rare these days, really focusing on something, I think it makes you imagine and see more,” she said.

Abstracting the Gowanus at Whole Foods Esplanade (214 Third St. at Third Avenue in Gowanus,, May 20 at 2 pm. Free. Art supplies provided.

Reach reporter Lauren Gill at or by calling (718) 260–2511. Follow her on Twitter @laurenk_gill
Updated 5:59 pm, July 9, 2018
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