Robert Marcella is an accidental artist.

At the age of 75, he took a watercolor class “just for fun” and now, a decade later, he’s exhibiting his work at the Lemon Street Gallery.

In between, he’s had pieces accepted into the prestigious “Watercolor Wisconsin” show at Racine’s Wustum Museum, and his works hang in offices and public spaces as part of Lemon Street’s art outreach program. He’s also donated paintings to charity art auctions.

Not bad for a guy who admits his previous art experience amounted to “sketching and doodling as a kid,” adding that in school “the teachers got on me for it.”

Marcella was looking for a retirement hobby when his wife, Terry, suggested he take the painting class. (“I had to keep him off the streets,” she jokes.)

While Marcella discovered watercolor painting is “the most difficult of mediums,” he never gave up.

“If you stick to one area long enough, you get good at it,” he said, adding with a smile that “in another 100 years, I’ll have this down pat.”

He paints mostly landscapes, with inspiration coming from growing up on a farm in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.

“We had great scenery all around us, with woods and farmland,” he said. “My paintings reflect those scenes, which I still see in my head.”

Even though working with watercolor paint is a challenge, Marcella said he enjoyed his classes at the Kenosha Art Association “right away. The other people in the class are nice, and we have fun together. We also help each other.”

“Our instructor, Barbara Farrell, is so good at demonstrating techniques; she can do a portrait in an hour.”

Marcella’s paintings take more than an hour to complete, but it really depends on the subject — and on the materials.

“Sometimes, things go really well; other times, paintings take awhile. It’s the agony and the ecstasy of painting,” he said. “Water’s got a mind of its own, and the paper does, too. In watercolor, you learn how to work with it. You have to go along with what the water does and what the paper does.”

Marcella, who taught industrial trade classes at Gateway Technical, applied his teaching techniques to painting.

“If I don’t have something,” he said, motioning to his paintings on the walls of the gallery, “I’ll develop a tool and use it.” (It’s also how he grew up, saying, “On a farm, you have to rely on yourself. You can’t run to the store every time you need something.”)

Filling that canvas

When Marcella confronts a blank canvas, he aims to create a painting “that is pleasant to look at when I’m finished.”

To help in finding inspiration, he “looks at calendars with photos on them. I look at different aspects of the photo,” he said. “Plus, in my 85 years, I’ve accumulated a lot of pictures in my mind.”

Marcella has been a member of Lemon Street Gallery for about four years, and this is his second exhibit there. For this show, he planned to do about 30 paintings and select his favorites for display.

“I got 25 done and picked the 12 best ones,” he said.

(And if you’ve ever wondered how artists name their paintings, Marcella gets help from his wife, friends and family members in order to avoid exhibiting a painting called “untitled.”)

Staying busy

Watercolor painting — or, more accurately, developing any type of hobby — is something of a mission for Marcella, who said he’s “disappointed when I talk to other retirees who say they’re bored. There’s so much to do in Kenosha. Watercolor painting has kept me active and feeling better about life. I like to stay busy, and, through painting, I’ve met some really nice people.”

He also wants to be “a role model for my children throughout my life. They see me doing things instead of just sitting.”

Marcella continues to take painting classes and hopes to continue with his watercolors for another decade.

“I’ve gotten a lot more confidence since turning 85 in October,” he said. “It’s been a grand run, and I like to keep learning and improving.”

Which means we can look forward to more exhibits in the future and that Marcella needs to get busy painting.

Have a comment? Email Liz at or call her at 262-656-6271.

PHOTOS: Lincoln Park Live: Betsy Ade & the Well-Known Strangers

Betsy Ade & the Well-Known Strangers — a band made up of Ade on vocals, Cameron Fair on cello and piano, Brittany Lumley playing multiple instruments and backing vocals, Roger Gower Jr. on drums, John Kulas on the bass and Joe Adamek on lead guitar — played a two-hour set at the latest installment of Lincoln Park Live in Lincoln Park, 6900 18th Ave., on Tuesday, July 17.

Here are a roundup of photos of the band performing at the event. 

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Betsy Ade and the Well-Known Strangers, seen here performing in Lincoln Park earlier this summer, are playing at Laborfest on Monday.