Beloved East County artist guides others to their highest potential

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El Cajon resident Hazel Ross is highly regarded as a mentor of artists in East County. Hailing from Edinburgh, Scotland, the lady puts all artists, whether they are young, old and inexperienced at ease. More than that, she encourages them to reach for their highest potential. Ross credits her mother with teaching her the value of art.“She believed in exposing a child to cultural experience. She took me to see Hamlet when I was eight,” she said.

El Cajon resident Hazel Ross is highly regarded as a mentor of artists in East County. Hailing from Edinburgh, Scotland, the lady puts all artists, whether they are young, old and inexperienced at ease. More than that, she encourages them to reach for their highest potential. Ross credits her mother with teaching her the value of art.“She believed in exposing a child to cultural experience. She took me to see Hamlet when I was eight,” she said.

Her mother also took her to see Swan Lake, her first ballet. When she was 8 years old, Ross won her first national art award. By the time she was a teenager, her work showed in an international exhibit.

Ross’ career as artist was put on hold raising a family and working in health education in the UK. But when she retired and moved to France in 1992, she again picked up her paintbrush.

Seven years later, Ross moved to San Diego to be near her daughter and two granddaughters. Ross has since fallen in love with the weather and the people of San Diego. She paints both for pleasure and commission, mostly portraiture. In addition, she does her own brand of wildlife collage portraits, using old National Geographic magazines in the collage.

Her beloved cat is often the subject of her oils and watercolors. She also draws in the out-of-doors for inspiration. Her favorite places in East County to paint are the Cuyamaca College Water conservation garden and Lake Murray.

“Of course, I teach and am active on the local art scene,” Ross said.

As president of the Foothills Art Association and overseer of its education program, Ross has enriched the lives of many local artists. 

“My very first “stick figure” pupil, who would probably prefer not to be named, has now sold paintings,” she said. 

In addition, Ross is the art curator for the Rancho San Diego Library and the Fusionglass Company in La Mesa. Recently, she was invited to judge some shows around the county.

But perhaps the widest influence Ross has had on artists is through her unique Safari Art Circle. She calls it a Drawing Boot Camp.

“Safari started about seven years ago when I offered to teach a friend to draw,” Ross said.

Now twice a year, she teaches the class which is free, but a requirement to anyone who wants to join the Circle. 

After learning the basics, Ross said the students look at color and design and explore the different media with which to work, such as watercolor and pastels. 

“The philosophy is to provide a friendly environment for potential artists who may be too lacking in confidence to take a formal class. All you need to start at Safari is a pencil, an eraser, a sketchpad and a ruler. A sense of humor helps, too. We have a lot of fun,” she said.

There is no obligation to leave after “boot camp.” Many in the Circle have been coming for years. The Circle also visits galleries, has critique sessions, and is now showing as a group at the San Carlos Library.

This exhibit is a first for many members. “But it’s okay. They’re with their pals,” Ross said.

Ross said the reasoning behind offering these classes at no cost is simple.

“To encourage people to get started. Unfortunately classes from local education have gone up steeply. Also, materials are expensive. I like to be able to offer students a try at a medium before they go laying out on something that they might not like. I’m fortunate. People give me lots of art supplies they no longer use,” she said.

But what really makes it worthwhile for Ross are what she calls the “aha moments. When students realize, ‘Yes, I can do this,’” she said.

Her inspiration? “The beauty of nature, be it in people, fauna and flora or landscape. We are surrounded by it. We just have to take the time to stop and see it,” she said.

Though Ross is enamored with San Diego, she feels that the city still has a long way to go in art appreciation.

“I think it is sad that there are charges to visit the big galleries in San Diego. But in East County, we are fortunate to have a lively local art scene. I would like to see more provision for youth art,” she said.

The work of Ross and some of the students of Safari Art Circle will be at the San Carlos Library through February. To inquire about the Safari Art Circle, email Ross at hazel.ross@cox.net.

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