Battle of the Brushes

Artist Olivia Anders paints a portrait of a purple woman. The woman had colorful feathers on top her head and a snake slithering at the side. Anders used imagination, the evening’s theme to the best of her ability.

OTTUMWA — For the fourth year in a row, local artists got to unleash their creativity on canvases in a timed competition.

At Saturday’s Battle of the Brushes, it boiled down to three themes: spring showers, imagination and hidden treasures. Attendees had to clap for which theme they wanted artists to capture. Imagination was the clear winner.

Some artists immediately turned their canvases around, fiddling with ideas. At the sound of “go,” they had 90 minutes to see where their imaginations would take them.

Katlynn Sammons, OHS’s visual arts teacher and one of the judges for the evening, was in awe of what the artists came up with, from Mandie Wages’ painting of a girl’s eye to Alex Batterson’s portrait of a ballerina reaching for purple clouds. Sammons liked the idea of a suprised theme.

“I think it’s really interesting that the artists don’t know the theme,” she said. “As an artist myself I want to sketch like crazy and have multiple different ideas before I get to my final piece of my art from the beginning. It’s a lot of fun that they don’t know what it’s going to be. Usually artists will take days or months or years to work on something and finish it.”

Artist Olivia Anders certainly played around with the theme at first. She painted a portrait of a purple woman who had a variety of colorful feathers on her head, with some sort of snake slithering on the side, with flowers coming out. Anders generally does not get her inspiration from people in her own life. Images of people just came naturally.

“She’s just someone that’s been in my brain,” she said with a smile. “She’s kind of just pieces of people I’ve seen around. She’s just a creator like everyone. She has ideas in her brain that wants to come out, and they’re just exploding out.”

Why did she paint the woman purple?

“Because it’s one of my favorite colors,” Anders said. “It’s one of the ones that I’ve found I can always get some of the best contrast with.”

The purple woman wanted to express her thoughts through her eyes, but she still couldn’t pinpoint her emotions, Anders said. “It’s just kind of wherever the painting goes,” she said.

“Wherever the painting went” was the motto for many that produced different results. For Wages, her ideas took her to a single eye.

The portrait was supposed to consist solely of a woman’s eye, but then she added “farmers” who were raking the woman’s eyebrow. “It’s just supposed to be fun,” Wages said. “They’re just farmers, harvesters. I really wanted to combine nature.”

Then came a rose that was added to the woman’s eye. The goal, Wages said, was for the harvesters to get to the rose. The woman’s golden hair symbolized optimism.

Like Sammons, Holly Berg, Ottumwa Area Arts Council president, walked with amazement in her eyes at the artists’ creations. Battle of the Brushes was a chance for them to get featured and for residents to soak up the talents before them. The event’s concept was something Berg saw in other communities and said it was something Ottumwa should have.

“We saw other communities and things they do, we started seeing ideas and our arts council curtailed it to how it would work best here,” she said. “It’s that Iron Chef for painting. A lot of people like myself, who do not have artistic capabilities, love to watch people who do have them. People love to see people who can do amazing things and how they do them and accomplish them.”

Putting on Battle of the Brushes each year meant fun for artists and attendees and ways to raise money. For every painting auctioned off, half of the proceeds went toward artists and the other half toward the arts council. Sammons loved being a first-time judge, seeing the event draw crowds.

“It’s really unique they have something like this where Ottumwa is such a small town, but it still has this whole creative environment atmosphere that can come together and have the people here,” Sammons said.

Many people did crowd around the artists, but they didn’t mind. They were focused on where they wanted to go with their piece and hopefully score the opportunity to win the people’s choice award or the overall winner. Leah Yoder, who painted wind passing a mushroom and plants, was the first person in Battle of the Brushes to score the people’s choice award and the overall winner.

Chiara Romero can be reached at

Chiara Romero can be reached at


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