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Paint the Town Red (or Green, or Blue...)

A few weeks ago, I mentioned (with great trepidation) that Asha and I would be taking a BYOB painting class together.  Well, we did it.  And it was pretty freaking awesome.

Here's the backstory: this past fall, Asha found a Groupon deal for a three-hour BYOB art class at Art Plus Studio (f.k.a. “Art with a Twist”), conveniently located just four and a half blocks from the Law School.  Seeing as how I am (1) a teetotaler and (2) a terrible artist, I couldn't imagine anything more up my alley.  Well, it turned out to be one of the coolest and most fun things I've ever done in New Haven, and I can't wait to go again.

Art Plus Studio is run by an absolutely lovely woman named Bella Zadore (even her name is lovely, isn't it?).  Bella is a professionally trained artist from Brazil who came to the U.S. eleven years ago.  She worked for many years as a free-lance artist specializing in city murals with a particular focus on cartoon art.  Her murals can be found across Connecticut, in cities like New Haven, West Haven, and Hartford.

Just a few months ago, in May 2012, Bella opened Art Plus Studio as a way to share and combine two of her great loves: painting and wine.  The idea developed after Bella began organizing get-togethers with her friends where they would all paint (with the help of step-by-step instructions from Bella) while sharing food and wine. Soon Bella's friends were asking her why she wasn't doing the same for more people.  So Bella got together with daily deal companies Groupon and Living Social and soon found herself with 800 interested customers – among them, two adventurous admissions officers from Yale Law School.

Here's how it works: Art Plus Studio offers evening BYOB painting classes for adults several nights a week.  Classes for kids and families are offered occasionally on Saturday and Sunday afternoons.  Each class has a featured painting that participants will try to replicate (with their own personal spin, of course), so check out the monthly calendar and select your class based on which piece of art you'd like to paint and take home.  There's a wide array of subjects to choose from, including monuments, scenes from nature, and famous pieces by the likes of Monet, Van Gogh, Kandinsky, and Dali.  The calendar also includes some fun theme sessions like Girls Night Out (where the featured painting is of something ridiculously girly, like six-inch hot pink stilettos), Couples & BFFs Face-to-Face Picasso-Style Portrait Painting, Paint a Picture of Your Pet, and Unleash Your Warhol (where the featured painting is – what else? – a can of Campbell's tomato soup).

Here's the featured painting from the session that Asha and I attended.  It's aptly called “Tree and Birds”:

Without a daily deal voucher, classes cost $35/person for a 2.5-hour session (longer sessions are available at an additional charge) that includes all necessary supplies: a canvas, an easel, acrylic paint, brushes of various shapes and sizes, aprons, and hair dryers.  Our Groupon included an 11”x14” canvas, with the option to upsize to a 16”x20” for $5 more.  As you can see in the photos at the end of this post, Asha chose the latter while I stuck with the former.

Absolutely no painting experience is required (it's true!) because the instructor will guide you step-by-step through everything you need to do to reproduce the featured artwork – right down to telling you which brush to use for each component of the painting.  All you have to do is show up in some frumpy clothes with your favorite beverage (adult or otherwise) and snacks.  It also helps to set some low standards for yourself – though perhaps the BYOB part is supposed to take care of that . . . .

The painting stations are set up in clusters of four, so you can sit together with your friends.  Asha and I chose to sit next to, rather than across from, each other so we could keep an eye on each other's progress and provide moral support as needed.  We put on our aprons, spread our drinks and snacks out on the table, and we were ready to go.

Step one: Paint the entire canvas blue using the largest brush and a mix of blue and white paint.  Simple, right?  Well, as Asha and I both found out, covering an entire canvas in a single color is not as easy as it sounds.  What a workout!  I found myself wishing I had done a few more pushups and bicep curls the day before.

Step two: Paint three straight bands of equal width across the bottom of the canvas to create the ground.  Check.  This is where being an anal-retentive-risk-averse-perfectionist lawyer really pays off.  Asha and I both received praise for how straight and uniform our lines were.  Shoutout to my Tiger Mom for teaching me well!

Step three: Using (eek!) black paint, draw the tree trunk in the center of the canvas, a little wider at the base and narrower towards the top, and then add individual branches of different sizes radiating from the trunk.  This is where being an anal-retentive-risk-averse-perfectionist lawyer is a liability.  Black paint?  This class just got real.  Both Asha and I were terrified to put our brushes to the canvas, afraid of making a mistake and screwing up our entire paintings with one errant brush stroke. The only thing that compelled me to dive in with the black paint was the fear of falling behind in the class.  (Go figure!)

Step four: Paint three different kinds of flowers – each demonstrated by Rebecca, our instructor – all around the tree branches using whatever colors we liked.  Time for everyone to unleash their creativity.  Or in my case, continue to paint conservatively with total fear of failure.


Step five: Connect the flowers to the branches with brush strokes that become narrower closer to the flowers.  This I could handle.

Step six: Paint three birds – again, demonstrated in great detail by Rebecca – standing around the tree.  I'm actually pretty happy with how my birds turned out.  All props go to Rebecca for breaking it down into very manageable steps (i.e., first make a circle, then attach a football-shape to it, then add a smaller football in a different color on top, etc.).


Step seven: Add leaves around the tree wherever we thought they'd look good.  I kind of went to town with these, but I felt like my tree needed them.

Step eight: Sign our masterpieces with a Sharpie and then walk around and check out everyone else's interpretation of “Tree and Birds.”  This was the coolest part of the evening – seeing so many different renditions of the same painting.  Here's what Asha and I ultimately created:

We had an absolute blast, and now I have a new piece of art hanging in my office to remind me that spring is on its way.

Art Plus Studio is a great place to spend an evening or a weekend afternoon with your friends, small group, significant other, or (for YLS students with children) family.  Asha and I found the painting class to be incredibly relaxing and therapeutic (once we let go of our unachievable standards), so sign up for a class to de-stress from the YLS exam period or to take a break from the SAW that's been driving you crazy.

And while you're at the studio, make sure to check out the funny way they identify the ladies' and men's restrooms.  I'd post the pictures that I took, but they're not the most blog-appropriate . . . . More incentive for you to try out a class and support a fantastic new local business!