Julie McDonald: Paint and Sip Terrific Way to Make Memories While Creating Art

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A few years ago, I joined dozens of others at Bethel Community Church for a group painting event, where an instructor guided us in painting two love birds perched on a swing in the sunset.

Unfortunately but unsurprisingly, my birds bore little resemblance to any feathered friends — after all, whenever we played Pictionary, all my animals looked the same with circular heads and bodies with stick legs.

When I gestured toward my pathetic painting, bemoaning the lack of birds, the instructor graciously suggested I add tails and turn them into monkeys. So I did.

Earlier this month, my sister Cathleen invited me to celebrate our sister Sue’s birthday at a Paint and Sip in Federal Way. I chuckled, recalling my earlier painting, but agreed to go.

“It’ll be fun — or funny,” I said.

I picked up Sue in Olympia on a Saturday afternoon and drove to Bellevue to pick up her daughter, Rose. Although most of the drive north proved bumper-to-bumper slow, we arrived at Pinot’s Palette in time.

The instructor displayed the colorful painting of snow people — a snowman and a snowwoman — on a projector in the corner with two painted samples on easels at the front of the room. Then, as she instructed us on how to mix colors for the background and draw the outlines with chalk, she did the same at the front of the room. We could draw the boy or the girl or both.

Two hours later, flabbergasted, I looked at our paintings. Amazingly, they resembled the painting on the screen — sort of. My carrot noses resembled elongated squished sweet potatoes, but my husband kindly said they provided “carrotization” for my characters. I dripped white paint on my blue background, and attempts to fix it proved fruitless, so I signed my initials over that smudge.

When I posted a photo on Facebook, I described my experience as fun, even if my painting was far from perfect. Terrie Hill, a local friend and talented artist, noted that “art connects us to our inner child.”

As the holidays approached, in anticipation of my adult children returning to the nest temporarily, I decided we should try a Paint and Sip closer to home. I emailed Di Morgan of Morgan’s Art Center in Toledo, and she contacted Sue Watcher, an artist with By My Design Art Classes, which opened in November 2019.

If we had a minimum of 10 people, Watcher said, we could hold a class in Toledo. Whew, no bumper-to-bumper traffic on the short trip to Plomondon Road. I recruited family members to join us, even though I knew some might arrive late because they worked. With my son and daughter, two sisters, my stepdaughter and her daughter, my niece and nephew and my daughter’s friend, we had enough to hold the class Thursday night. I considered the $35-per-person cost a family Christmas gift as we created memories (and art?) together. And, because as family we all love each other, we could paint without fear of being mocked or ridiculed by strangers.

Watcher suggested we could paint gnomes or a coffee mug with trees visible outside a window. When I polled the kids, they opted for gnomes. Watcher provided the paint, brushes, easels, and blank white canvases. The Morgan Art Center provided coffee, tea, and white wine — although we were so busy painting, we forgot to sip.

As an instructor, Watcher said, “I encourage creativity and being yourself.”

We watched a brief slideshow and then she told us to start painting the backgrounds. But when I realized we needed to draw the gnome freehand with chalk, I panicked. I didn’t want my gnome to resemble my Pictionary animals. Using a small cup, I traced its outline for a nose and drew from there. It was rather intimidating, but as I told our granddaughter earlier in the day, perfectionism is overrated. It’s freeing to paint without focusing too much on the results.

Before we even started painting the gnomes, I noticed both my hands covered in paint — and no, we were using brushes, not fingers. Terrie was right; I was definitely in touch with my inner (messy) child.

Watcher encouraged us to relax and enjoy the experience.

I appreciated tips from both Watcher and Morgan as I stumbled my way through creating a gnome with a cane and pointy shoes. As I tried to fix mistakes, I created more. Finally, we all agreed I’d best put away my paints to stop the unending cycle.

Before COVID-19 hit, Watcher and another ARTrails artist, Joan Hitchcock, taught classes with a maximum of 20 students. During their traveling art classes — held throughout Lewis County — the duo demystify art and simplify drawing so that non-artists can attempt it, kind of like how I describe writing a book — chunking it down into pieces. They’ve taught classes at Rectangle Gallery, Centralia College, Mossyrock Community Center, Morton Moose Lodge and Yelm Senior Center.

Enough people showed interest in the Paint and Sip at Toledo that another evening is planned in January to teach painting coffee mugs. Check with Morgan Arts Center at 360-864-4278 or By My Design Art Class at joanandsuesartclasses@gmail.com or check the website at https://www.facebook.com/JoanandSuesArtClasses.

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Julie McDonald, a personal historian from Toledo, may be reached at memoirs@chaptersoflife.com.