The large watercolors of Patricia Tobacco Forrester, now at the Fendrick Gallery, 3059 M St. NW, would have pleased John Ruskin (1819-1900), the great Victorian critic. Ruskin advised us to draw from life, study flowers, trees and grasses, and approach art through nature. Forrester does just that. It was Ruskin who insisted "that you never will love art well till you love what she mirrors better." Forrester, who portrays groves of trees and thickets, ponds and water flowers, easily convinces us she loves the plants she sees.

She paints the lily and the lotus, the daisy and the birch. Her subjects are not posed; she draws them where they grow (she did the flower pictures here in Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens). No paintings done from photographs could look as fresh as these.

She is wise to work with watercolor, that most immediate of media. Her wet, transparent colors pool and flow and bleed. "All second-rate artists will tell you that the object of fine art is not resemblance, but some kind of abstraction more refined than reality," wrote Ruskin. "Put that out of your heads at once. The object of the great Resemblant Arts is, and always has been, to resemble, and to resemble as closely as possible." Forrester's flowers are not types. Her technique is just right, not too tight and not too free.

What would probably shock Ruskin is the scale she employs. Her pictures all are big, some are six feet wide. It is their size that makes them seem more modern than Victorian. There are details of these paintings -- that tangle of birch branches; those pooled and splattered colors, purple, orange, gold and red, on that patch of bark -- that look like Pollocks, say, or Gilliams, or other works of abstract art.

Forrester, who was trained at Yale, who has taught in California, who now lives in Glen Echo, sometimes takes the easy way. Her trees are often leafless. (Ruskin knew how hard it is to draw a life-like cloud of leaves: "You cannot possibly work it out in facsimile, though you took a twelvemonth's time to a tree.") And because she cannot take a six-foot sheet to the Aquatic Gardens, her pictures come in pieces. Though she solves that problem fairly well, it is a problem still. Her show closes Dec. 10.

Frank's Mysteries

Barbara Frank's drawings, now at Gallery K, 2032 P St. NW, are precise and mysterious. The common thing she draws -- a chair, a stretch of wall, a fireplace, a doorway -- casts a kind of spell.

That bare and white-walled room seems a bit too empty, that shadow seems alive, that chair has left the floor and is balanced in the air. These carefully made drawings suggest modest magic. They do not overwhelm, but conjure a distraction fit, set the mind afloat. Technically they're fine. Frank, who teaches at the Northern Virginia Community College, Alexandria, uses pencil with much skill. She combines in these drawings the precise and the elusive. A carpenter could reproduce that decorative molding, or that balanced chair, but the shadow on the wall behind is as soft as smoke. Her show closes Sunday.

Glykokokalos' Balance

Ionnis Glykokokalos, whose work is now on view at Capitol East Graphics, 600 E St. SE, strikes a balance in his art between the sacred and the profane. His handsome little paintings look like precious objects constructed out of junk.

The artist, who was born on the Greek isle of Lesbos, once helped produce Greek icons. Though now he prefers to attach nails, staples, hacksaw blades and other pieces of detritus to bits of frayed and wrinkled canvas, he makes icons still. His subtle abstract pictures have an icon's preciousness and an icon's scale. Some are touched with gold. Those with horizontal bands of close-keyed blues and grays suggest the space of landscape; others show the cross. Glykokokalos showed a year ago at the Phillips Collection here. His art is rich and moving, and considering his limited arena, astonishingly varied. Capitol East Graphics is open on weekends, and during the week by appointment (547-8246).