Photographs by Bob Rozycki.
I’d heard about places such as Muse, which opened recently in the heart of downtown White Plains.
These wine bar-meets-painting class venues, where no art experience is needed, are billed as the ideal setting for girls’ nights out, bachelorette or birthday parties, fundraisers or even first dates.
At Muse Paintbar, you spend a few hours, sip some wine (or beer or soda), nibble on tapas-style snacks and come away with a painting you’ve made yourself, thanks to step-by-step instruction provided by one of Muse’s own professional artists.
I was up for the wine and snacks… it was the painting part that was making me nervous.
Well, I shouldn’t have been, as my night at Muse proved that all of us — even me, of stick figure and distorted portrait fame — can summon our inner artist in a decidedly “judgment-free zone.”
Muse itself is artistic, a modern space with a funky vibe created by brick walls, large picture windows that allow Mamaroneck Avenue passersby to peek in and décor that includes the options featured in Muse classes, an Andy Warhol quote and a mural depicting Bob Ross, that famously soft-spoken instructor and PBS staple.
At Muse, a New England-based company also operating locally in Norwalk and soon, Ridge Hill in Yonkers, the sessions, with materials, cost an average of $35. The materials include a much-needed apron, paintbrushes, acrylic paints and an at-first intimidating blank canvas set on an easel.
On arrival, mingle, order a snack and drinks (served in plastic glasses to keep things safe) and find your reserved seat.
Co-founder Stan Finch, who launched Muse with Vanessa Leigh and Ray Weaver, said the classes do appeal primarily to women — there were but two men among dozens of women on a recent evening — but date nights and couple events do attract the guys.
“I think our core customer is kind of a pretty broad age range and lifestyle,” Finch said, with participants from their 20s through 70s. (Family sessions are also offered).
Once settled in, me with a sangria and bit of French-bread pizza at hand, the class got under way — and it was easy to follow our instructor, professional artist (and onetime public-school art teacher) Carla Olexovitch.
As she told me before we began, “If you can hold a pencil, you can do this. It’s like paint by numbers for adults — with wine.”
The instruction is indeed designed to take away any fear, progressing methodically and subtly building confidence within a laid-back atmosphere.
“Everything I say is suggested,” Olexovitch told us, referencing the color-coded paintbrushes. “If I say use the big blue brush and you want to use the purple brush, go for it.”
Talking to friends and neighbors added another element to the evening, with comments bouncing back and forth.
“I want to do this for a living. Just paint,” said one woman.
“Oh, this is not pretty,” said another, eliciting laughs and making everyone within earshot feel better about her own work.
Yet another student wandered around, checking out everyone else’s work.
“It’s fun, isn’t it?” she said.
Olexovitch, creating her own work on a center stage, interspersed her encouraging remarks with true instructions, such as “Any time you have something going off the edge, it creates a more dynamic composition.”
With a brief intermission to refuel — and let some of our paint dry — two-plus hours flew by.
The classes, Olexovitch said afterward, often prove eye-opening to many of the participants who realize that painting is all about “following the simple steps. You can do this.”
And everyone certainly did, to quite personal results.
“It’s like handwriting,” Olexovitch said. “We all learned handwriting the same way, circles and lines, and we all have our own handwriting.”
A glance around the studio proved that to be very true. We all had completed a sea-themed scene yet no two were alike.
Now, when I look at my own “Coastal Creatures” painting, I can see beyond the wonky starfish — and the sand dollar someone mockingly likened to “a biscuit” — and realize painting, particularly at Muse Paintbar, is something I’d definitely like to try again.
Muse Paintbar is at 84 Mamaroneck Ave. in White Plains. The company donates 5 percent of profits to local causes and partners with local suppliers. For more, visit musepaintbar.com