Linda Lawrence was always a doodler, but she didn't start making art until her father sent her his painting supplies when his eyesight failed him. That was about 15 years ago.

Her dad, who especially loved landscape paintings, shipped "almost his whole studio," piece by piece, from his home in Lawrence's native England to her new home in Andover.

Today, Lawrence is president of Artists del Norte, a north-metro artists group that comes together to support one another's endeavors, mainly through art shows and workshops.

The group's latest show, "Artists Out West," is currently running at the Banfill-Locke Center for the Arts in Fridley, and it includes Lawrence's most recent experiment: a brightly colored portrait of a man clad in cowboy garb.

The show runs through May 10, with a closing reception that day from 1 to 3 p.m.

As the name suggests, the exhibit reflects on various aspects of the western U.S. It includes nearly 50 works in all mediums and styles — even a cowboy boot that has been repurposed.

Bethany Whitehead, executive director of Banfill-Locke, said the show is a welcome break from the Minnesota winter, with portrayals of a "warm sun, bucking broncos, cactuses and adobe structures."

One of her favorite pieces is a torn-paper collage from Raynele Schneider titled "View from the Cactus." It vividly captures the "colors and feelings of the western landscape," Whitehead said.

Likewise, "Saquaro Vista," an oil painting by Elizabeth Geiger, gives the viewer a good feel for the arid desert land, she said.

Stretching themselves

Sharyn Erickson, a coordinator for Artists del Norte, said the idea behind having themed shows is to encourage people to go beyond what they would normally do.

She enjoys seeing what people come up with, too.

"There's probably not a market in the world for what we do. It's just fun," said Erickson, whose detailed oil painting "Cactus Flowers" is hanging at the center.

Erickson, who's been coming to the group's meetings almost since its 1976 inception, calls her art-making a "compulsion" more than a hobby. As a child she painted on the back of wallpaper, on her own.

These days, she works in the studio attached to her home. "I do it every day. It's how I relax," she said. "I have to have a project or I go stir crazy."

Artists del Norte has about 50 members. In the past, the group has played on other themes related to other locales. For example, a group of members visited Savannah, Ga., where they created pieces in advance of an exhibit titled "Artists in the Garden of Good or Evil"; that was a take on the nonfiction book with the similar title, "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil."

Admiring the architecture

Schneider, who lives in Coon Rapids, did plenty of research at the library when she was trying to figure out what to do for "Out West."

She looked up gold mining, wagons, and plants and animals of the region, sketching things that caught her eye along the way.

"You have to get original about what you do. You try to use imagination to make it your own. You don't want to just copy something from someone else," she said.

Schneider included her torn-paper works in the exhibit, but she also used drippy inks to convey a prickly cactus in another piece.

The themes help to "get you out of your own mentality," she said.

Blaine resident Gary Johnson, a board member for the group and the "club photographer," said he enjoys that part of it, too. He contributed four snapshots to the show, each from a road trip in November to New Mexico.

The color photos are all landscapes, a departure from the more close-up work he usually does.

An old adobe church in the remote town of Golden, N.M., is the subject of several of his shots.

Johnson and his wife decided to check out the church on the spur of the moment after it caught their eye in the distance.

Like so many sights in that part of the country, it was "new and different. You had to walk through a cemetery to get to the entrance. It sounds morbid, but it wasn't," he said.

Besides getting a shot of the church itself, Johnson captured what appears to be an old parish house, which is in ruins. Both structures blend into the sandy cliffs.

For another picture, Johnson happened to notice a couple of steel cutouts of a buffalo and an American Indian riding a horse that were perched on a hillside at an Iowa rest stop. Silhouetted against a vast blue sky just before sundown, the sculptures look "real," like an optical illusion, he said.

A strong cold wind blowing made it tough to get just the right photo.

"More than once I thought of quitting and putting my camera away, but now I'm glad I stuck it out," he said.

Anna Pratt is a Minneapolis freelance writer. She can be reached at