A&E

Stewart Freshwater has been making Vegas art for decades—and he’s sharing what he has learned

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Stewart Freshwater works on a portrait.
Photo: Wade Vandervort

Stewart Freshwater's North Las Vegas home doubles as a multispace studio. Stacks of drawings, sketches and art supplies fill the dining room, guest bedroom and even the master bathroom. Lacking the advantage of a north light window, Freshwater takes his work from room to room throughout the day, tempering the effects of inconsistent natural light, a major burden for many fine artists as the sun's angle changes.

Freshwater's living space lays out a timeline of his work, from the surrealist paintings of his 1970s college days to his recent figure drawings of jazz musicians and nude models, to which he says he feels a special affinity.

"It's in the humanity, I guess, the human condition," he says. "Las Vegas has always had such an unusual condition for humans with the gambling and lifestyle. There's really no city like it."

Although Freshwater gravitates toward the natural desert, the Valley's vibrant cityscape has also had an influence on his past work, notably in his early photographs of neon signs around old Las Vegas.

His artistic aptitude for capturing life was tested two years ago, when he was recruited to be the courtroom sketch artist during the high-profile trial of Cliven Bundy and his sons. Bundy and others were slapped with conspiracy and firearms charges following a 2014 armed standoff with federal agents who attempted to execute a court order to round up the Bundys' cattle. Freshwater says sketching a courtroom scene is demanding and comes with a lot of pressure, and he was tasked with capturing key moments in a short period of time.

"I'm restricted because I have to sit where the press sits," he says. "Your angle of view is limited, their backs are to us a lot of times and they're facing the judge. Getting the likeness of Bundy was tough, his facial features—and at different angles, he looked real different."

Freshwater says he has enjoyed his long artistic career in the Valley, from working as a graphic illustrator for the City of Las Vegas to his days teaching introductory drawing courses at UNLV. He's mostly retired now, except for a life-drawing workshop he hosts every Tuesday at the Arts Factory. The sessions provides artists of all levels with hours of practice for a $5 donation, which pays for the models' time.

The workshops, which Freshwater took over nearly 30 years ago, are promoted largely through word of mouth. He tries to keep the costs to a minimum in order to maintain accessibility. "It's always good to have some instruction to kind of help guide you through your work," he says. "A lot of instruction involves life drawing. It really helps your coordination with what you're able to see."

Drawing with Stewart Freshwater Tuesdays, 7 p.m., $5 donation. Arts Factory, 702-383-3133.

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