By PENNY FLETCHER
Grace McKee of Apollo Beach has studied and taught many forms of art most of her life.
From owning her own graphic design business to painting and teaching in watercolors, oils and acrylics, McKee has studied and taught many traditional art forms, and still kept up with new ones.
In December, however, she discovered an interest in a new art form that became such a passion she now works with it nearly every day.
People who have been her students or seen her art exhibits — filled with portraits, landscapes and everything between, with prices ranging from a few dollars to a few thousand dollars — will find it hard to believe her latest inspiration came from modern teenagers’ love of sending self-taken photographs via social media and cellphones.
They call these impromptu photos “selfies,” taken at odd positions and usually not posed in the traditional sense. McKee says they capture the “truth” of a person’s essence better than any portrait can.
As an artist, she became intensely interested in these as she watched her grandchildren send photos of themselves taken on their cellphones with the snap of a button that suddenly made them available to everyone they knew on social media, or privately, to a person or two on their phones.
Instead of the magnificent colorful paintings she is known for, McKee suddenly started drawing, in charcoal and graphite, black-and-white images, beginning with a Christmas card that contained hand-drawn pictures of her six grandchildren.
It was so well-received, and she enjoyed doing it so much, that she combined using the black-and-white technique with her interest in “selfies,” and immediately the passion set in.
She began to copy cellphone photographs. “I want to draw these exactly as they are,” she said, adding a stroke to the canvas in her lap.
“People would never deliberately strike such poses for photographs,” she said. “Some of these are just magnificient.”
She pointed to two as her favorites: One was of a woman dancing with abandon, holding a cigar in one hand; the other was of a man holding a beer to the mouth of his pet parakeet.
“These are such fun,” McKee said in an interview in her home studio March 5. “I suddenly had a desire to become proficient in them.”
McKee recently gave up her Tampa studio in an old cigar factory that she said she absolutely loved: “It was perfect, with the old brick walls and high columns. Perfect for any artist. But I was never there. We do so many things, I found I was using my home studio more than the one I was renting, so it seemed a waste to keep it.” The old-style Tampa studio was her third since moving to the area in 1970.
She now teaches art classes at MiraBay, where she and her husband Archie reside. If there are open slots after MiraBay residents register, anyone may take the group course. For those who want to take private lessons, she gives those in her home studio. All the information about lessons and photographs of her many art mediums can be found at www.gracemckee.com.
But all that aside, this year she said she thinks most of her own creations will be selfies. “I want to perfect the technique. I see truth in it,” she said. “People the way they really are at an exact moment in their life.”
In December, rather than make a New Year’s resolution, McKee decided she would draw one selfie a week in 2014, a total of 52.
That total was surpassed sometime in February, in less than two months. “Once I started, I couldn’t stop,” she said.
McKee decided to have a showing of them, with the $5 entrance fee benefiting the SouthShore Arts Council, of which she is a member.
It will be held Saturday, March 15, from 6:30 to 8 p.m. at the MiraBay clubhouse on the west side of U.S. 41 at the south end of Apollo Beach.
Attendees may drive straight in and park at the clubhouse, which is the first building inside the entrance, before reaching any of the gates where guards check for residency.
“I felt a $5 charge at the door is one way for me to share my passion and support both present and future artists in the SouthShore area,” McKee said. “I have designated the monies collected to be used to pay for art classes for SouthShore residents who cannot afford them. These classes might be a part of the Firehouse Cultural Center programs, either private or in groups.”
As a result of this project, McKee has opened an online “Etsy” shop where she will take commissions for her work. It is at www.etsy.com/shop/gracemckee.