Growing up in Escondido’s countryside during the 1940s and 1950s on an avocado and orange grove, Judy Schroeder kept herself busy with art. She drew clothing for her paper dolls, created small paintings for her room and each month when Ford Times Magazine arrived, she couldn’t wait to see the paintings reproduced in the little magazine. The digest-sized publication featuring watercolor illustrations by well-known artists of the time intrigued the budding artist.
“The publication was the perfect size for a kid,” says the professional watercolorist, who owns Schroeder Studio Gallery in Orange, which specializes in water media. “I didn’t read a word, but I pulled the watercolor illustrations out of the magazine. I especially remember admiring the work of influential California watercolorist Rex Brandt.”
That early interest in the art of watercolor compelled Schroeder to gain an education in art and forge a career in the craft. She has taken lessons from notable watercolorists, including Brandt, Roger Armstrong, Gerald Brommer, Keith Crown, Millard Sheets, Robert E. Wood and Milford Zornes. Today she is a recognized painter and author and teaches art at the gallery, which she opened in 1998 in Old Towne and runs with her daughter Katie Schroeder, also an artist. The busy gallery, which specializes in watercolors and art glass, represents the work of more than 100 artists from around the country and regularly holds receptions and offers educational workshops from well-known artists.
Schroeder’s work, which also includes integrated collage, has appeared in individual and group exhibitions and is collected. In 2003, she participated as one of 17 artists selected worldwide to write a chapter for the book Work Small, Learn Big: Sketching with Pen & Watercolor. Closer to home, in 2006 the Orange Public Library Foundation commissioned her to create 13 paintings displayed at the main library representing Orange’s history.
Harkening back to her roots in the country, Schroeder’s subject matter tends to be landscapes, which she prefers to paint on location. Though she has painted in some picturesque spots all over the world, including, France, Italy, Portugal and Western Samoa, she finds equally compelling material in Old Towne.
“I just walk out of the studio and around the corner,” says Schroeder, who has painted Plaza Park many times. The painting in this issue of the Chapman Chapel on Maple and Grand is another example.
Schroeder drew the chapel painting on location using an ink brush and then added watercolor. “The brush creates fine lines that seem to dance on the page,” she says. “With the painting of the church, I put the tree in first and noticed that it was looking a little thin. I thought about filling it in, but decided to leave it as is, and I’m glad I did, because today the tree is gone.”
The painting is not Schroeder’s first of the church, which reminds her of a tiny chapel she attended as a child. She often returns to the same scenes in Old Towne to capture varying perspectives. “When you change a vantage point, you often see something new,” she says. “I enjoy tackling challenges in the scenes I paint. With the chapel, the tower is prominent and can take over the painting if you’re not careful.”
Schroeder also enjoys painting on location in Orange because of the rich history of many of the buildings, including Chapman Chapel, which was originally Trinity Episcopal Church and dates back to 1909. “It was the first church designed by the well-known architect Philip H. Frohman when he was a young man,” she says. “Frohman went on to gain fame working on the Washington National Cathedral.
Even when she is painting the same scene, Schroeder strives to challenge herself. “It’s important to continually give yourself problems to solve, because it’s the only way you’re going to grow as an artist,” she says.
Renowned California watercolorist Gerald Brommer knows Schroeder and holds art workshops throughout the world, including Schroeder’s Studio Gallery. “Judy selects her subject matter well, and she does an especially good job with those subjects close to home,” he says. “She loves the state, and it comes through in her work. Her California paintings are some of her strongest.”
Working on location is another part of Schroeder’s formula for pushing herself. Painting amid the hustle and bustle of a scene when things could change in a moment’s notice presents its challenges, but Schroeder enjoys getting the full effect of the scene. “It’s exciting to be on location; you can smell things and touch them, and you’re not limited to memory or a photo.”
Schroeder also finds the artist’s community at the gallery, including her many students, to be invigorating and to benefit her art. “Teaching and painting feed one another,” says Schroeder, who has a B.A. with a Special Secondary teaching Credential in art from the University of Redlands. “When students realize that they can actually paint and begin noticing things they never did before, that inspires me. People walk around with blinders on when it comes to the colors and shapes around them, and it’s a privilege to watch them take them off.”
For more information about Schroeder Studio Gallery, visit schroederstudio.com.
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