On the wall is a soothing landscape with forests at the horizon, open plains in the foreground and a path that snakes toward sunset. The painting is called “Evening Walk,” the artist is Beki Borman of West Allis, and my challenge is to use her work as an inspiration to create my own.
In her three-hour class are almost three dozen students, each wearing paint-splattered aprons and sitting in front of a blank canvas. “Relax, have fun with it and get a drink once in a while,” we are advised.
We begin by painting the sky, after coaching about which brush to pick up, how to use it and what colors of paint to mix. “Equal parts red and blue, with just a little white” sounds straightforward but produces all sorts of hues. That’s the beauty of what happens during this evening together.
We learn brushstrokes and painting techniques as Beki leads us, step by step. We all hear the same words but create remarkably different versions of the featured work. Some variations happen on purpose, since the point is to feed our creativity and trust our instincts. Some results differ because, speaking for myself, we don’t know any better.
Splash Studio: a Painting Bar, in Milwaukee’s trendy Third Ward, draws a wide mix of ages and skill levels. Groups of friends, couples on dates, mothers with daughters joke and encourage each other.
I arrive with three long-time friends, and strangers soon dub one as “The Ringer” because her natural talent is evident. I’m unapologetically at the opposite end of the spectrum, but no one judges or advises unless I ask for it.
A part of the fun is watching my artsy friend work. “I never drink when I paint,” she says, but tonight is an exception and it doesn’t seem to hinder her efforts.
“You might see my painting at Goodwill,” another friend announces, and the third decides to bring her adult daughter to a Splash class as a birthday present.
Sincd the classroom also is a bar, we sip between instructions and during class breaks. When the lessons end, owners David Poytinger and Marla Hahn take care of clean-up. Both have MBAs and built this business to support the area’s emerging artists.
A different artist leads each session, so many artistic styles are represented in classes and the artwork that graces the studio walls. Much of it is for sale.
“For some people, painting can be a very private or emotional experience,” David notes. “Some people share their stories.
“Many don’t have any art experience, but others talk about starting art school and never finishing, or letting other aspects of life take priority.”
A class is offered on most nights, many fill to capacity and the bar-studio is a fine place to talk about or buy local art even when a class isn’t scheduled.
The cost is $28-33 to participate in an artist-led, three-hour session at Splash Studio, 184 N. Broadway St., Milwaukee. The paints are water-based acrylics.
Cartoons, abstracts, still lifes, three-dimensional art and much more are represented in featured paintings. Check out the calendar of painting styles, artists and times at splashmilwaukee.com. Reservations are advised; call 414-882-7621 with questions.
It is possible to just show up for a drink and watch others or paint a smaller picture on your own for as little as $10 (for a 6-inch-square canvas). Private events also are arranged.
Need inspiration? The studio’s library of visual art resources is available for browsing.
February events include the Valentine’s Day painting of Natalie LeRoy’s “Trunks,” two elephants whose trunks touch in the shape of a heart. Cost for this 7-10 p.m. session is $40 per person, which includes a 16-by-20-inch canvas, four-pack of chocolate truffles, a champagne toast and sampling of chocolate coffee or hot chocolate at the newly opened Red Elephant Chocolate, 333 N. Broadway St.
The Red Elephant sells chocolate to eat and drink, plus chocolate-scented candles, bath salts and lotions. Also for sale are books, home décor and more with a chocolate or elephant theme.
For more: redelephantchocolate.com, 855-733-3574.
Also in the vicinity and worth visiting is Clock Shadow Creamery, 138 W. Bruce St., an urban cheese factory that shares a building with Purple Door Ice Cream. Bob Wills of Cedar Grove Cheese, Plain, oversees the cheese making, which visitors can watch from behind glass panels. Products include cheese curds, chevre and quark (similar to cream cheese, but with less fat).
“Clock Shadow” is a reference to the iconic Allen-Bradley Clock Tower in the neighborhood. It opened in 2012.
Purple Door, operated by Lauren and Steve Schultz, sells scoops to 2.5-gallon containers of ice cream made on the premises.