Painting Live in the Castle, Ryan Mesmerizes Audience

By Purnell T. Cropper | February 16, 2011

By Michelle Tooker ’07, ’10M

On Feb. 15, Abbey Ryan ’03, a Visiting Assistant Professor of Art and Design, produced her “Painting a Day” in front of a live audience on the Castle landing. About 100 people appeared in person, while the online broadcast received more than 500 views. (Watch the archived video.)

“I want to thank everyone who came out to this wonderful event,” Ryan says. “I’m excited about how many people were interested and stopped by or tuned in online.”

Ryan, who is featured in the February 2011 issue of O, The Oprah Magazine as an “up and coming artisan” and in Seth Godin’s recent bestseller Linchpin, didn’t feel nervous painting in front of a live audience.

“I couldn’t tell if there were two or 200 people watching me,” she says. “When I paint, it is kind of like meditating. My focus is on the objects and the memory of those objects.”

The atmosphere on the Castle landing was meditative as well thanks to the music Ryan provided, and the audience’s interest. Many people stayed for the full two-hour demonstration, and all were fascinated to see the painting come to life through Ryan’s enchanting gestures.

Buzzing with Questions and Praise

Questions streamed in steadily from an active online audience, and Ryan’s partner, Jury Smith, and her mother answered them all. Some people asked technical questions, while others offered feedback about the camera shots. Many expressed their gratitude to Ryan and Arcadia, with one viewer stating, “Thanks Arcadia—You Rock!”

On Facebook, Ryan’s page is buzzing with praise. “I loved watching you paint today,” wrote Debbie Denstorff. “I’m in awe of how you handle your brush and brushwork. It’s amazing to watch how you plan each and every stroke.”

“I really enjoyed watching your talk on live video. It made my day… thank you,” posted Marina Windsor.

“Thank you for giving us at home an opportunity to watch. I was glued to my computer,” wrote Cathy Couch Smith.

Comments from audience members in the Castle were equally complimentary.

“I’m really impressed by her work,” says Carol Coffin, a Glenside resident who heard about the event from the local commissioner. “Before coming here today, my husband and I looked at her work online and really enjoyed it. She’s a wonderful artist.”

“I’ve seen her blog and I wanted to see how she paints,” says Ally Sims ’14, a student in Ryan’s Drawing I class. “She’s really helpful in class and her constructive criticism has taught me to think about my technique differently.”

“I’ve always been interested in her work,” agrees Psychology major Kyle Congdon ’13, who also is in Ryan’s Drawing I class. “She’s a great teacher and has taught me all the basics of drawing.”

Behind the Magic

One of the highlights of the demo was getting a glimpse of Ryan’s seemingly magical painting process. She employs a technique called alla prima, which she learned while in Europe studying the Italian and Dutch masters.

“I enjoy the immediacy of the alla prima style, but my style is still developing,” she says. “I’ve figured out a method that works for me and a method that I enjoy.”

Many were amazed by her ability to paint with a plan and concentration—she rarely makes revisions.

“I enjoy the path of a painting in which I plan out the order of it, so I don’t have to go back and revise,” she says. “At any moment you want the painting to look fine on its own. Every mark I put down is enough for it to be the end.”

Honoring a Friend

“Part of my intention for the live demonstration was to honor my friend Jami Rodriguez ’00 and raise money for the scholarship fund named in her honor,” says Ryan.

The Jami Rodriguez Memorial Scholarship honors Jami who, during her time at Arcadia, was active in student life and community service.

Avis Rodriguez, Jami’s mom, viewed the demonstration online and kept in touch with Jeff Ewing, former of Dean of Students, via text message throughout the event.

“I’ve been watching Abbey’s ‘Painting a Day’ series and it is awesome,” Ewing says. “It is remarkable that she is honoring Jami this way.”

“I watched the entire demonstration and was amazed by Abbey’s technique and her talent,” says Rodriguez. “The way Abbey would take a minute amount of paint to make dramatic changes to her piece was a lesson in itself. I sent Abbey a note telling her how I can imagine Jami giggling and saying ‘for me?’ Jami would be very humbled and honored that her friends think so much of her.”

“Jami was a close friend of mine and a great artist,” Ryan says. “The event served her memory well.”

The finished painting, “Peeled Tangerine with Tea Bowl,” is listed on eBay, and 100 percent of the proceeds will benefit the Jami Rodriguez Memorial Scholarship fund.

For available oil and ink paintings, visit or Also, follow Ryan at or become her fan on Facebook.

Special thanks go to all the people that made this event possible, including: Jury Smith and the Ryan family; Lori Bauer, Purnell Cropper, Michelle Tooker ’07,’10M, Will Smith ’12, Mike Stackhouse ’12 and the rest of University Relations; Chris Dieterick ’07 and the IT team; Alicia Sinha-Thomas of the College of Global Studies; Christine Kemp and Dr. Shekhar Deshpande from Communications; Facilities; Parkhurst; University Advancement; and everyone who tuned in.