Learning to mix colors to achieve the right color of blue for the sky, the first part of the scene participants will paint onto the pink canvas. Photo: McCall Digest.

On a recent Saturday night, 33 would-be painters gathered at McCall Craftworks to create a landscape painting. Most had never painted before but were game to try. Thirty-one women and two men sit in rows across paper-covered tables, each with a canvas, paint brush, dabs of paint in primary colors on a paper plate and cups of water for diluting those paints arranged around them as instructor Jo Kiester talks them through the process of painting. There’s lots of joking and laughter. Any artistic inhibitions people walked in with quickly evaporate with the camaraderie, helped along with a sip or two of the wine or beer some of the fledgling painters brought with them.

This Paint Night class – the second offered so far – is so popular that an overflow class is scheduled so all who want to participate can. More Paint Nights will be offered in coming months. “We have had a lot of demand for Paint Night classes and will offer classes frequently, up to every two weeks, through the winter,” says Jo. “In the summer people tend to want to be outside recreating but we will still offer classes. We are flexible on scheduling, so we can accommodate groups and parties, such as birthdays, bachelorette, girl’s night out, family reunions. We will also offer repeat classes for specific paintings by request.” Some of the participants I talk to on this night are eager for a “date night” session. The permutations seem endless.

The goal painting, a landscape created by instructor Jo Kiester. Photo: McCall Digest.

Paint Night and similar art classes are hosted by Debbie Billingsley, who with husband Aaron owns McCall Craftworks where one can find all types of art and craft supplies (or ask that they be ordered if not already stocked). Debbie explains that for each Paint Night class a painting goal – for example, a landscape of trees, water and sky – is chosen ahead of time. All of the necessary supplies for the project are provided, included in the $35 class fee. For this Paint Night, the canvases were prepared ahead of time, having been painted with a uniform pink background. (More on that later.) Not everyone prefers the same size paint brush; Debbie moves around the room, quick to make sure each participant has what works best for them.

Diving In   Once everyone gets their dabs of paint from Jo and reclaims their seat, Jo starts them off by showing them how to mix colors on their paper plate to achieve a desired color – maybe light blue, for the sky – and how to apply it to the canvas. As participants watch and listen, Debbie holds the goal painting – created by Jo ahead of time – so everyone can see what they’re trying to achieve. Watching Jo as she demonstrates brush strokes on the pink canvas, many look a bit perplexed initially but quickly just dive in and go for it, knowing that ultimately they’re there to have fun and learn a little something about painting. There’s no such thing as a bad painting at Paint Night.

Erica Tucker is there with her 11-year-old daughter Madison Jensen. Erica attended the first Paint Night and enjoyed it so much she wanted Madison to experience it. I’m impressed that early into the process, Madison is one of the more confident painters in the room, forging ahead without any hesitation. Madison admits she doesn’t have any painting experience, yet she isn’t afraid.

Instructor Jo Kiester sharing some pointers at the start of the class. Photo: McCall Digest.

Gwen Asmussen is seated with some friends, sharing a bottle of wine to help ease any painting jitters. “I’m not artistic,” says Gwen. “Figuring out color balances is a challenge. Jo’s painting has fluffy clouds and trees; I’m pretty sure I have tall grass!” Despite that, Gwen finds the class fun, not intimidating. “I’m pushing my comfort zone a lot,” she says. Gwen is an accomplished climber, skier and mountain biker. “This is totally different than athletic pursuits, the things I normally do, but in a good way.” Gwen’s looking forward to an upcoming mixed-media class that Jo will teach. As for this painting, “If I mess up, I mess up,” Gwen says, philosophically. “I can always paint over it!”

Craig and Nicole Brown of Boise are attending their first Paint Night. Noting that Craig is one of only two men in the class, I ask whether he is a willing participant or has been dragged there. After he hesitates to answer, Nicole laughs and says, “He was dragged here. But after 35 years together, that’s what you do.” Asked if either has any painting experience, Craig shakes his head no, and Nicole says she hasn’t ever painted on canvas but does some tole painting on wood. She’s enjoying this new experience. “I like it; I think it’s fun. It might not look like the picture up there [Jo’s goal painting] but I’m going for it!” Craig mutters, “I have no idea what I’m doing.” Nicole then offers that Craig has done drawings with colored pencils. “When we got engaged, he gave me a drawing of a fawn deer. It’s still in the house, hanging in our bedroom. He used to do wildlife, but not for a while.” Asking Craig if Paint Night is re-sparking his interest in art, he replies, “The jury’s still out.” Taking a pull on his bottle of beer, he’s a man of few words, but his painting is progressing nicely and he’s enjoying himself. Regarding any feelings of intimidation or hesitation at trying painting, Nicole says, “I’m an art mom – for my kids and now my grandkids – in their schools, as a parent volunteer. This is the same as I tell them: Enjoy; don’t be afraid.”

Jo Kiester demonstrates how to paint the sky while Debbie Billingsley holds the goal painting and participants start on their own creations. Photo: McCall Digest.

Sharing the Joy of Painting   Jo Kiester is a pharmacist by day who balances her analytical, scientific side with an artistic side that paints and crafts. She’s thoroughly enjoying teaching Paint Night classes, and has some other types of classes in the works, including as a mixed-media class in November that incorporates acrylic paint and other media, such as ink and paper (think eye-catching table decorations for your holiday gatherings). On November 1st, she says, “I will be teaching a second intro to acrylics class featuring a beautiful fox, where I will teach some basic techniques for students interested in learning how to paint using acrylics. Techniques covered include the painting process, start to finish—prepping a canvas, basic color mixing, brushstrokes, economic use of paint, basic color theory, and varnishing a painting.”

Catching up with Jo after Paint Night, I ask a few questions about her classes.

When and where did the Paint Night concept first start? “In the late 2000’s back East, as a franchise concept. Since then several new franchises have popped up, and many artists, like myself, are doing non-franchised events as the idea has become more widely known.”

Have you done this before, elsewhere? “No. I have always enjoyed drawing and painting in a variety of media, so when I graduated pharmacy school I began seriously studying art. I used to live-stream online classes, but can’t do that anymore due to spotty internet in McCall. I have given a few private lessons, and enjoyed teaching a few mixed media classes at Meadows Valley High School in New Meadows a couple years ago. I am super excited to share my love of painting with people and give people the chance to feel like an artist for a night.”

How do you choose what participants will paint? Will it always be landscapes, or will you feature objects such as flowers, people, or animals in future classes? “Because I am a private instructor, I have the freedom to select what I paint and use my own color palette. I’ve been deciding based on my favorite subjects—currently landscape—I find a lot of inspiration in nature and love painting flowers, trees, and birds. I also plan to teach some still life (think flower bouquets in vases). We’ve also had requests for pet portraits and butterflies.”

Can you explain why the canvases for the recent class started with a pink background? “The technical term of the pink background is ‘ground;’ by using a warm-colored ground, it creates visual excitement in the landscape. When spots of the ground are left visible while painting the landscape, the warm pink vibrates intensely against the predominantly cool colors (blues and greens) of the painting and our eyes perceive this as beautiful.” (During the Paint Night class, Jo kept urging participants to leave bits of the pink showing through here and there, to not paint over all of it.)

What mindset do you hope participants bring to their first Paint Night or other types of classes you teach? “Definitely bring an open mind and a sense of humor! Try to be realistic about the limitations of the class. Just as you can’t learn to be a virtuoso cellist after one lesson, we can’t be expected to be professional artists and produce gallery-quality art at Paint Night. But you can expect to go home with something you can be proud of and had fun making!”

You can keep abreast of upcoming classes by following the McCall Craftworks Facebook page.

About the author

Rebecca Wallick

Rebecca is a freelance writer and publisher living near McCall, Idaho. A Seattle native and recovering attorney, she much prefers the quiet, slow pace, and distinct seasons of the West Central Mountains, enjoying the skiing, hiking and running opportunities provided by the nearby Payette National Forest. Rebecca is a Contributing Editor with Bark magazine, and the author of Growing Up Boeing: The Early Jet Age Through the Eyes of a Test Pilot’s Daughter (Feb 2014).

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