Brandon Umberger enrolled at Tidewater Community College to get a handful of basic college credits out of the way.
Then his art teacher recommended he check out the Visual Arts Center.
“Amazing,” is how Umberger describes the Olde Towne, Portsmouth space renowned for its faculty of working professionals and dynamic, innovative curriculum.
“I liked it so much I stayed for four years,” said Umberger, who will graduate on Dec. 16 with associate degrees in studio arts and photography.
He’s found early success with animals and landscapes, his two favorite subjects. Umberger won the Best in Show Futures Award at the Stockley Gardens Fall Art Show. His pieces include a watercolor of a distinguished rooster, a portrait of a lion done in vibrant infused watercolor and a third watercolor of Blue City Alley in Morocco.
“This piece is special from it being my first watercolor and soft pastel painting and my first architectural piece,” Umberger said. The Visual Arts Center student awards recognized that painting earlier this year for its use of color.
Umberger became serious about art at age 16 after realizing how well it calmed his mind. His initial work, a soft pastel master copy of Monet’s “Poppies,” caught the eye of his art teacher. When she let him work with her soft set of pastel colors – all 800 of them – his eyes grew big.
“It took me 30 minutes just to pick colors,” he said.
Umberger added to his skill set at the VAC, where he’s enjoyed all the classes, particularly Printmaking and Drawing IV. After wanting better references for his artwork, he decided to hone his photography skills and realized with just five more classes, he could earn a second associate degree.
He learns from the critiques at the VAC and the collaboration that comes from engaging with the creative minds there whose specialties range from glassblowing to graphic design.
A peer of his is adept at drawing zentangles, structured patterned designs that combine spots, lines and simple curves. Umberger enjoys layering and plans to experiment with a watercolor over her zentangle.
“There’s all kinds of ways to get inspired here,” he said.
After graduation, Umberger will study under local artist Tom Barnes. His plan is to be a studio artist who supplements his income with photography. One day, he’d like to teach.