Cari Freeman works on her replica of a Van Gogh painting.
In a small studio in West Toledo, hundreds of budding artists are raising a glass to creativity.
They are hitting Uncork the Artist studio in droves weekly, a studio in which patrons pay to experience the art of painting while enjoying a favorite beverage. At the end of the night, they leave with the masterpiece they have created.
It’s a concept that has erupted in popularity nationwide in the last few years, and hit Toledo in June, when Cathie Nelson and Joy Youster opened their studio on Monroe Street near the Westfield Franklin Park mall.
“[Joy] and her daughter went to one in Tennessee and I went to one in Columbus and thought ‘we need to do this in Toledo,’” Nelson said. “Our two minds came together on this.”
The independent commercial real estate appraiser with the strong business background (Youster), and the social worker and intervention specialist who teaches full-time at Lake High School and part-time at the Northwest Community Corrections Center in Bowling Green (Nelson) brought local artist Bernard Garcia on board to complete their business circle.
It’s a social event that has something for everyone.
Women drag at-first unwilling boyfriends and husbands to paint a progression of birch trees against a night sky and orange sunsets over a lake.
Mothers bring kids to try their hand at painting monkeys hanging from vines, flowers blossoming on canvas, and fluffy cupcakes with sprinkles that look real enough to eat.
Mothers bring daughters and daughters bring mothers — to paint anything, really.
“What’s nice about this is you don’t have to truly be an artist — they break it down for you,” said Kristen Roughton, 39, of Oregon, who attended a recent class with a gaggle of friends. Tonight’s subject? Vincent Van Gogh’s famous Café Terrace at Night.
Roberta Gedert's painting.
The outing was orchestrated by Denni Smith, 37, of Arlington, Texas, and formerly of Oregon, who saw that the studio had opened near her hometown. She had taken her friends to a class in Texas when they came to visit.
“I texted everyone up here and said ‘hey you have one there now, we have to go,’” she said.
On any given night, a class is pure chaos — the good kind.
“This is the best $35 I have ever spent,” Jennifer Tresso, 34, of Toledo, yelled out as she swished dark blue paint on her Van Gogh. “I’m serious, this is better than a movie, better than going to a bar.”
“Let’s go class — be bold, expressive,” clamored Garcia as he walked his students through the famous painting by the Dutch post-Impressionist painter of a popular coffeehouse in Arles, France, in 1888.
“When Van Gogh painted he was bold, he was obsessed with being expressive,” he said. “There’s no right or wrong — just express yourself. Don’t be shy with that paint.”
The 41-year-old with a degree in graphic design from Cal Poly near San Francisco who has applied at various universities to get his master of fine arts degree, said every class is a learning experience for him as well.
“It’s loosened me up quite a bit — I’ve learned to be more relaxed,” he said. “I like seeing people have a good time, and a lot of them, I end up liking their work more than mine — everyone has their own style.”
“Expressive is sloppy, I’m finding that out,” one woman challenged him as she frowned at her latest paintbrush maneuver.
Painters sang along to the radio and chatted with the person next to them as they chose brushes, colors, a place on the canvas to place their next stroke. Behind them on the wall hang reminders of past classes — martini glasses on an electric blue background, two lovebirds side by side on a tree branch, a blue peacock with mango feathers.
“I think I did this wrong,” a man called out, frowning at his work.
“There is no wrong,” Youster called back as she and Nelson traveled the room handing out clean paint water, replenishing paint, and offering tips and praise.
Jennifer Kranz, left, and other students hold their finished paintings.
The new virtuosos of their craft sipped their wine, had a beer, joked with the instructor, had a snack from a table of appetizers.
Nelson said the studio offers a relaxing atmosphere and an activity that many would not ordinarily do without the support of peers sharing the same reluctance.
“Many of our customers state that it is the best $35 ever spent and leave with a sense of accomplishment, far more memories, and something to show for it than a typical night out dining or at the bar,” she said. “Art is therapeutic. This is a healthy outlet and leaves you wanting more.”
Besides the standard classes for the public, the business partners offer fund-raising opportunities, team building, corporate events, children’s parties, and if desired, a painting party at a residence.
Both women said they hope to develop the business into a franchise if the market can sustain it.
Sonny Ariss, chairman of the management department for the University of Toledo’s college of business, said the paint and sip concept in an entertainment venue is a business model that works.
“This is an up-and-coming trend,” he said of the studios. “They are growing because society is looking for something different to do … It’s a good place to meet people, it’s a good place to network, a good place to socialize, and it’s unique.
“Their business model makes sense as long as they deliver on the promise of creating an ambiance of fun, while at the same time keeping people painting and doing the artistry they want to do.”
Cathy Deano and her partner, Renee Maloney, the owners and founders of Painting With a Twist, started with one studio — like Nelson and Youster — in the small town of Mandeville, La., just south of New Orleans, in 2007.
They knew nothing about franchising initially, but when they took that route, the business — true to apparent form — exploded. They have licensed 84 franchises to date, including two in Ohio, and believe themselves to be the first successful franchise model.
“What drives this business is the fun factor … but also people leave feeling better than when they came in,” Deano said. “It’s also a very good value. You walk out with something you can use as a gift, or donate to a charity, or hang on your wall.”
Deano said updating and keeping a wide variety of painting subjects to offer patrons helps keep the business fresh.
Cari Freeman, 35, of Lambertville, studied her Van Gogh masterpiece with pride before standing with her friends for a group photo of their paintings they would take home to hang in kitchens, dens, and living rooms, or perhaps give to a family member or friend.
“I absolutely love this. It’s something different for a Saturday night,” she said.
Contact Roberta Gedert at email@example.com or 419-724-6081.
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