With easel in one hand, a glass of wine in the other, Alison Jones explores her artistic side on a new type of night out in Brum.
I used to think I was good at art. I took it as an extra option while studying for my A levels for a few hours of relief from writing essays and cramming in facts.
I felt quite confident in my understanding of perspective and how to create plays of light through shading.
But I had never really thought about creating art to hang on my walls beyond the odd collage of photographs. Much less doing it knocking back beers in a bar.
Yet that is one of the delights of Paint Night. It is a solitary pastime reinvented as a social event.
Paint Night has been organised by Russell Yapp. By day a technical support analyst, by night a facilitator for enthusiastic amateur artists.
“I thought that rather than going to a bar and just having a drink, it would be nice for people to have something to show for it afterwards. I think it would be good for tourists or maybe people who are here on business and in the city on their own.”
Russell is not an artist himself after being discouraged at school. “I enjoyed it, but wasn’t very good at it,” he explains.
Paint Night, he says, is a great way for people who want to try their hand at art but don’t want to have to invest in buying easels, canvases and paints without being sure they will stick at it.
It isn’t just appealing to singles new to the area and at a loose end, but to groups of friends, work mates and couples looking to stretch their creative muscles, feed the muse with a glass or bottle of something, break for snacks and then afterwards look at each other’s handiwork.
Paint Night is an idea that has already caught on in America, though Russell believes this is the first time it has been tried in Birmingham. Bars have been swift to come on board and Russell has already got Apres in Summer Row, and Locanta and Portofino in the Jewellery Quarter offering up space.
Art students from Birmingham City University have been recruited to give expert guidance on how to put a picture together in short space of time by the untrained.
As well as giving the students experience at presenting workshops, Russell hopes to be able to showcase and sell some of their work through the website.
Our tutor for the event, John Farningham, is a fine artist who normally specialises in figurative paintings on giant canvases up to 6ft in size.
For tonight he was confining himself to one about the size of an A3 sheet of paper and was showing us how to paint trees in a dense forest with a carpet of flowers beneath.
Helpfully he and another student had painted ones earlier so we could see what our master pieces were meant to be resembling.
Table top easels held the canvases, paper plates acted as palettes with generous blobs of primary coloured paint on them, there were three pristine brushes apiece and plastic aprons.
John told us how to mix our paints together to create different colours – probably the first time since primary school that I’d had to think that blue and yellow make green and that red and green make brown.
Any hesitation about putting that first stroke of paint on canvas was lost as we hastily covered the bottom half of the picture with a sort of liverish reddy brown and the top with an olivey green.
Then we trailed thin vertical stripes of brown up and down the canvas to create the edges of the tree trunks before filling the insides with broader stripes of brown and lighter shades to one side for the effect of sunlight hitting the trees.
By the time break was called and some hot bar snacks served, we were able to murmur encouraging things to our fellow painters, though the attempts ranged from the distinctly tree-like to what looked like other-wordly landscapes or thick brown prison bars.
Break over, it was time to replenish the palette and water and start tackling the flora and foliage.
I had expected painting to be relaxing but found myself surprisingly tense as I struggled to correct my handiwork to make it more bark-like. Wild experiments in recreating the colours I had been using before failed, usually due to the fact I was cleaning the brush in muggy water which was then tainting the paint. At one I was juggling three brushes and failing to notice one was pointed directly at me, resulting in an abstract pattern of blue across my aproned chest.
My perfectionist nature struggled with the notion of carelessly daubing green across the trunks to create green while my over compensation on the trunks meant I was missing John’s instructions in how to create the illusion of shadow on the violet and purple blobs that were meant to be the carpet of flowers.
After two and half hours, I had something that gave the impression of being a woodland if squinted at from a (great) distance.
Others showed varying degrees of skill, though the best were probably those done by John’s fellow art students who will be heading up future paint nights.
As for my own special creation, well I don’t think it is ready for the gallery yet without some serious fine tuning but I still have a sense of accomplishment and I can’t wait to have another crack.
* Prices for Paint Night start from £25. For dates and more details, go to www.paintnight.co.uk or look up http://paintnight.eventbrite.com