Kenneth Bud Aldrich shows a lighthouse watercolor that he painted.
Photo by Amna Rehmatulla
Kenneth "Bud" Aldrich painted his first watercolor 74 years ago when he was 15 years old. He would walk about five to ten miles to a library in Pittsburgh on Saturdays, where he had a class in which he was told to paint something from memory. "I painted a local railroad station looking down on it from above,” Aldrich recalled.
He didn't have any schooling in art. He was mostly self-taught. What he picked up was out of magazines and books. "There was an artist in Pittsburgh that did paintings for a magazine section of the Sunday newspaper and he did watercolors. He used to put some beautiful watercolors in there and I liked them. I guess I appreciated watercolors and how free and easy and sometimes when you're painting you try to do something you like, it doesn't work out and other times it's an accident and works out beautiful for you," Aldrich said.
Aldrich was born and raised in Pittsburgh. He worked as a service manager in a body shop for a Chevrolet dealer and raised two daughters with his wife, Alice. She was the one who said he was an artist. "I didn't believe I was an artist. I didn't have time. Mostly at Christmas I would settle down and make a card for the kids," Aldrich said. Alice bought him his very first art table for Christmas and that got him started on watercolors again. When Aldrich's kids grew older and moved out, he created an art room. Painting watercolors was not his career. It was just a hobby that he pursued for most of his life.
ALDRICH'S BUSINESS CARD reads: "Memories in Watercolor," and that's exactly what he does. His paintings are stroked with nostalgia of a time and place. "For the family, I make something that they will remember," Aldrich said. His grandson used to play on a tank in a park and he loved that tank, so Aldrich finally got an old black and white picture of it and made that for him. Most of his artwork is composed of landscapes and sceneries of places that he's visited, such as Sanibel Island in Florida and his home in suburban Pittsburgh.
When asked if he paints from memory, Aldrich said, "I have to be there to paint it and then I take a picture and bring it back. Sometimes I take a lot of pictures and combine them. Sometimes I decide yeah this is going to be a good composition and then I work from the photo. I don't normally work exactly from the photo. I change or delete. That's one good thing about painting you can take out or put in something you want."
Last Christmas, Aldrich made a calendar with his artwork. "I told him you have all these beautiful paintings why would you buy Christmas gifts for the children and grandchildren, so I told him let's make a calendar, " Tracey O'Malley, his daughter, said. Aldrich lives with his daughter, O'Malley, in Burke. He taught her how to paint watercolors. Sometimes, the father-daughter take their palettes, go out someplace and simply paint. Earlier in the summer, they were at the Georgetown C&O Canal painting for three hours. "He likes the company and I like to be there," O'Malley said.
A lot of artists that O'Malley and Aldrich interact with at art shows are impressed that he does watercolors and turns out such beautiful products. Most of them say, "Oh, you do watercolor that's the most difficult thing to do," O'Malley said. Additionally, Aldrich taught his grandson how to paint watercolors that led to a career as a tattoo artist.
THESE DAYS, Aldrich's workstation is the kitchen table in O'Malley's house where he spends a lot of time painting. His favorite thing to paint is "Anything, anything outside, anything that's a memory that will serve me as memory. You go to the beach, a covered bridge, anything you see where the shadows are falling." The most difficult thing for him to paint is people and animals mainly because he didn't take any classes in painting them.
What inspires Aldrich in his paintings is "Life in general I guess. I just love life. I enjoy everything I see, I enjoy people, my wife inspired me quite a bit and Tracey too. Like I said, I just love life, that's all. When I get a chance, I put it down on paper." Most of the paintings Aldrich creates he gives away. He does it for his own enjoyment and other people's enjoyment.
"We have always loved that he's gotten so much joy out of it (his watercolors). And we are very stingy my sister and I when he gives any away. We love and adore it. It brings him so much happiness. He's such a good role model as far as attitude towards life," O'Malley said.
Aldrich advises that with watercolors you need patience. All of your paintings will not be great. In order to become better, "Keep drawing and keep doing it. It's fun. The more you do it, the more fun you have and the better you get. Don't do it now and then two years later do it again. Keep doing it," Aldrich said.
He also adds, "It's nice if you have somebody that motivates you, which I had with my wife and my daughters now. The motivation means a whole lot. And you get pleasure showing them to people that would enjoy it.”