I’ve always wondered if I’d like to paint, even though I can’t draw worth a darn. When I was a kid I went through a paint-by-numbers phase, daubing my way across a marked canvas. My paintings looked fine until I smeared my thumb (or more often, my forearm) across the bottom of the canvas, or until I misread the numbers on the diagram and wound up painting the sea orange or ran out of tub #13 while there were still many spaces on the canvas designated that color. Then a couple of years ago, I started seeing ads for places where the customers painted and snacked. It sounded corny, but enticing–and, best of all for someone who is as self-critical as I can be–low risk.
I was able to convince Dave that this was worth exploring, so I made reservations for two at The Paint Bar for Friday night. According to the website, we would be able to drink, snack, and paint.
“I wonder if it’ll be like Bob Ross?” I said. Bob Ross had a how-to-paint show on PBS in the 80s where he painted various scenes, incredibly fast.
“Oh, the happy little trees guy,” said Dave. “I liked Capt. Bob: Drawing from Nature.”
“Never heard of him.”
“His show was on Sunday mornings, Channel 5. He did pencil drawings of things like cats and horses.”
“You drew along? I usually just ate a sandwich or did the dishes.”
“Most of the time.” Dave likes to draw and is pretty good at it. Sonny gets all of his art skills from Dave, that’s for sure. “I remember Capt. Bob had a sea chanty for his theme song…” Dave started humming something vaguely nautical.
“And here we are,” I said.
The Paint Bar was a storefront, brightly lit, with stools flanking long tables covered with butcher’s paper. Instead of a placemat and silverware, each place setting had an easel with a blank canvas, a paper plate, a red Solo cup half-filled with water, and a rubberbanded bunch of paintbrushes. There was a bar where you could get beverages, chips, and candy at the front, and a small stage at the back. We were first to arrive, so we were put in the seats closest to the stage. We hung up our coats and put on sturdy paint-spattered aprons. I regretted my princess sleeves. The stage had a standing easel, a big paper pad, and an example of the picture we were to paint, “Tuscan Hills.” A landscape with hills, fields, trees, a couple of little houses, and many flowers. We visited the bar, acquiring glasses of Malbec and Chardonnay, and sipped a bit, waiting for things to get started. Soon every seat was filled.
The first part of the process was loading our palettes (the paper plates) with acrylic paint. “Acrylic is great!” chirped our instructor. “It dries fast, and it’s nontoxic, so if you accidentally drink your water–though please don’t, that’s for the paintbrushes–you won’t die! But it will stain your clothes, so if you have long sleeves” (did her eyes flick towards me, with my princess sleeves?) “try to roll them up.” (princess sleeves don’t roll up, unfortunately, unless you take them all the way to the shoulder, so I just resolved to be as careful as I could)
At the very back of the room was a paint buffet with plastic pump bottles of various colors. A sheet directed us to put nine colors on our palettes with specific amounts (nine pumps of white, three of dark green, two of bright red, one of black, etc.). Not an encouraging start for me, as I couldn’t figure out how to get all of the colors onto my plate/palette without them running into each other. I wasn’t one of those kids who couldn’t stand to have peas touch the pork chops, but I did eat my meat and veg separately rather than mixing them all together, and I felt disturbed when I looked down at my palette and saw the yellow brown and the brown brown and the dark blue all touching each other. Our instructor told us not to worry about this, that the paints were all about to get up in each others’ business, basically.
Then she put the music on–singing along and even dancing in the aisles is encouraged, though we mostly sang–and led us through the process of painting Tuscan Hills. We made reference dots, outlined our hills, picked up two or three colors with our brushes, did big sweeps and crosshatches and gallery-wrapped the edges…all kinds of stuff. She taught us to make trees. You make a line and then smudge around it and then put on other colors, and if you’re somebody who is not me, this turns out to look like a tree. Dave turned out to be very good at trees, which was fortunate, since the painting featured many trees. My trees…I think even Bob Ross would have been hard put to call them happy, but I did rock at crosshatching. At least comparatively to tree-painting.
A couple of cups of Malbec and many tunes later, I had a painting (admittedly, just a copy of a pretty basic painting) and a feeling about painting in general, which was: this was fun, but it’s probably not going to be a hobby thing for me. But I had a ton of fun figuring that out.
The paintings weren’t dry as we carried them to the car, which was parked across the street. We waited for the light to change, holding our canvases with the painted side facing out. The traffic raced by, viewing our work at 40 MPH. I was reminded of Sonny bringing home pictures he’d drawn in school, always held out proudly, unselfconsciously, to show me what he’d made. I felt a bit weirder, exhibitionist, but the Malbec helped me not to care too much. Once we got home, we put our artwork on music stands to finish drying. Capone the cat sniffed at them and tried to claw at mine, but only a little. Then he turned his attention to chasing my princess sleeves–which, I’m happy to report, survived two hours of painting without a drip or smudge.