A Brush With Fun

Jessica Austin of Holland, left, Janalyn Oster of Huntingburg, Donna Boutwell of Jasper, and Audrey Boutwell of Jasper worked on their paintings during a Paint Your Pet canvas class Feb. 25 at The Doodlebug in Jasper.

Story by Candy Neal
Photos by Alisha Jucevic

Within the right circumstances, anyone can be an expert painter, even if it is for just a few hours.

Just ask Sue Habig.

“No, I’m not a painter,” the Jasper woman said as she used her brush to paint the lining of a woman’s hat. “If it can’t be stapled or glued, I can’t do it.

“But I can do this.”

Northwood Retirement Community resident Marge Gehlhausen of Jasper, 83, smiled at Lynn Emmons of French Lick during a canvas painting class Feb. 26 at the Jasper nursing home.

She and good friend Sheila Harmon were painting ladies wearing Derby hats in front of Churchill Downs, the famed site of the Kentucky Derby, as part of a canvas painting social on St. Patrick’s Day at the Doodlebug craft store. Harmon spotted an advertisement for the event and noted the design, which was one of about five offered.

“I told her that we had to do it,” Harmon said.

“We’ve been to the Derby four times in the last eight years,” Habig said. “We saw this as an opportunity to get together and make some new memories.”

Spending time with friends, socializing and creating art are the reasons art painting socials have climbed in popularity. The craze arrived in Dubois County about two years ago when artist Nicole Wehr-McClain started Modern Social, a company that specializes in painting events.

“I think of the gatherings as socials rather than canvas parties,” Wehr-McClain said. “We gather together with our best friends, co-workers or family members and socialize with one another while exploring and learning something new.”

Now, not everyone is a Picasso or a Rembrandt. In fact, most people taking the sessions don’t consider themselves to be great artists. But they don’t have to be.

Brooklyn Kiefer of Celestine, 9, outlined bunny ears on her painting during an Easter-themed canvas painting class March 25 at The Doodlebug in Jasper.

“I always have at least one person who has a bit of anxiety and is hesitant to make that first brush stroke,” Wehr-McClain said. “For this reason, I pre-draw each canvas.”

When participants sit down to work, they already have the design in front of them. Wehr-McClain delivers a few instructions about choosing color — the painters can choose whatever colors they want —and then it’s a matter of filling in sections. Almost like color by numbers, sans numbers.

“I’ll step in and calm their worries, crack a few jokes and I’ll paint the first few strokes on their canvas because everyone learns differently,” she said. “Some people learn by listening to me, while others need more one-on-one time with visuals.”

When people get stuck, like Habig did when she proclaimed that a flower she colored in yellow and pink looked like “The Wizard of Oz gone wrong,” Wehr-McClain stepped in to offer suggestions and show Habig how the bright yellow and pink colors could be subdued with simple lines and a little more blending.

“She’s a miracle worker,” Habig said, after seeing her flower transform. “She’s the miracle worker of modern art.”

Wehr-McClain organizes the sessions at the Doodlebug — about two a month, sometimes more. There are also sessions for children.

Joni Dillon of Ireland worked on a painting of her Shih Tzu, Milo, during a Paint Your Pet canvas class Feb. 25 at The Doodlebug in Jasper.

“These have been a hit,” Doodlebug co-owner Hannah Thyen said. “The first one we held filled up within 24 hours. So we decided that we should have them every month.”

Thyen surmised the appeal of the painting has to do with each person’s desire to be artistic.

“People like to be creative,” she said. “But they’re hesitant because they can’t draw. With this, you don’t have to be able to draw to be creative.”

The March session was Habig’s third. Her first time was at a event hosted by her employer, Kimball Electronics, near Christmas. She tried to pick what she thought would be the easiest design, a snowman.

“It ended up being the one with the most steps,” Habig said, laughing. “But I had a good time with it.
“I had a great time at the other two, but this time (in March is) the least stressful because I know Nicole can fix whatever I mess up. She can make it look beautiful.”

All kinds of sessions are available — for birthday and office parties, families, children, couple, men only, women only ... the list goes on.

Seniors are getting into the movement, as well.

Mabell Schitter, a resident at Northwood Retirement Community’s assisted living facility, used a palette of blues, purples and greens to paint in sections on a canvas placed before her by Jasper Arts Center Visual Arts Coordinator Emily Colucci. Schitter made broad strokes in the sections separated by tape.

Northwood Retirement Community resident Anna Mae Gosman, 95, painted in a shape on her canvas during a class Feb. 26 at the Jasper facility.

“Well, this is different,” Schitter said as she painted. “I’ve never done this before.”

“It’s interesting,” table neighbor Marge Gehlhausen said, swirling her brush in yellow paint. “The only thing I’ve ever painted is a house.”

The ladies were with 14 others for a session hosted by the arts center in February.

The nursing facility asked the arts center to lead the project. The center has held a few painting socials, called canvas and Cabernet in Krempp Gallery — at the beginning of Strassenfest, during the Christmas season and just last month. Colucci said another one will likely be held this summer, as the sessions tend to sell out.

Unlike the gatherings at arts center, which are drawings that participants completed by coloring with paint, the canvases the seniors were using were taped into sections. After she was done painting each section and the painting was quick-dried with a hair dryer, Gehlhausen began removing the tape with the help of a volunteer.

“Oh, that’s pretty,” table mate Marilyn Bassett said to Gehlhausen.

“It’s OK. I do like this purple one,” Gehlhausen said, critiquing her work.

She then spied on Bassett’s completed work.

“You swooped around,” Gehlhausen commented on a yellow section. “It kind of looks like shingles. It’s more creative than my yellow.”

Corina Mack, programming coordinator for the arts center, circled the room to encourage the group.

Katelyn Love of Huntingburg watched her husband, Justin, as he painted during a couples canvas painting class at Kelley Schipp's Ferdinand home Feb. 28. The Loves were working on a dinosaur painting to put in their son's bedroom.

“Looking good ladies, and gentleman,” she said, acknowledging the lone male of the group, Lew Weisman.

Weisman chose to make a John Deere tractor in one of the sections of his painting. So when one of his peers was impressed at how he formed a section of his canvas to look cloudy, like rain drizzling outside at the time, Weisman fessed up.

“No, I just didn’t clean my brush when I changed colors,” he said as he chuckled.

The majority of the group had never painted art before.

“It was fun to do,” Bassett said. “It’s relaxing. I can see why artists enjoy this.”

It’s a concept likely to expand.

“The Modern Social currently offers painting on wood as well,” Wehr-McClain said. “I plan to offer and explore other areas within the near future.”

Contact Candy Neal at cneal@dcherald.com.