We like to think of ourselves as being fairly artistic souls, so when Arteastiq first opened its doors at Mandarin Gallery, M & I agreed that we'd definitely go down, one day. The problem with one day is that it can so easily become never. As we dragged our feet on the matter, whenever we found ourselves in the building having tea at Jones the Grocer or dinner at Itokacho, we'd say maybe next time. In the end, it took two years before we wound up going there on a whim the afternoon of M's birthday. We dragged Auntie S along with us, and what transpired next felt like the fastest three hours of our lives as we got really into creating our masterpieces.
Here's what you'll definitely get in each 3-hour session for the $48 entry fee:
1. All the basic materials you'll need to paint your masterpiece - A 50 cm by 50 cm white canvas, pencil and erasers for sketching your outlines, tubes and tubes of acrylic paint placed in an accessible plastic box in between the easels, a set of six brushes with different widths, a set of disposable paint palettes, a fresh bucket of water to rinse your brushes in and a stack of serviettes to use as you see fit (They turned out to be absolutely essential). There might have been sponges available, but we forgot to ask after those.
2. Free run of the Inspiration Shelf - If, like us, you arrive without a picture in mind and find yourself paralyzed at the thought of picking an image out of the vastness of the aether, the shelf has a rather eclectic selection of prints to help the process of inspiration along. Apart from the books, there are also folders full of printed images, organized by theme. M & Auntie S found what they were looking for there, with M settling on a work by Britto, while Auntie S picked out a flower with colours that matched her outfit of the day.
3. Having an image printed off the Internet for you - Coplu's paintings were a very popular choice with a lot of the other Art Jammers, but being fully aware of my own limitations and the fact that I hadn't so much as touched a paint brush in nearly a decade, I decided Mondrian's Compositions would be the best place to start. Once you find the picture you want, you just need to email it to the email listed on the counter, and they'll print it in a jiffy.
4. Use of an artfully paint-speckled apron - Like the floor, the easels, the stools and some parts of the walls, these are covered in abstract splotches from artists past. This might keep the worst of the paint splatter off your clothes, but if you're anywhere near as clumsy as I am, you'll still get paint on your clothes, on your arms and legs, and possibly in your hair and on your face. (I leaned down to take a sip of my tea, misjudged how near the canvas was to my face and... Well. Art is messy business.) Wear clothes you don't mind getting splattered, although the acrylic paint they provide washes off fairly easily from skin (Thankfully!).
5. Gawked at - It is a truth universally acknowledged that people working in glass studios make compelling viewing subjects for everyone else milling outside. The first few camera flashes may come as a surprise, but just roll with it, especially if you've been seated right by the glass. You may feel like an animal in a zoo for a while, but treat the circumstances as performance art. I put on my best serious artist face, and even though all my attempts to paint within the lines ended up with wonky failures, the intent gaze of my audience elevated the entire experience.
6. One free beverage of your choice from the Boutique Tea House next door - Someone will bring a menu around and take your order as you begin, then place your to-go cup in the drink holder that's been very conveniently cut into the work bench. I got a cold lychee tea, which was surprisingly good. M's cold pear tea was refreshing, if a little sweet. Once we finished our paintings, we were even invited to have a rest on the plush seats of the Tea House to enjoy the rest of our drinks while they packed our works into individual boxes for us to carry home.
Three hours may seem awfully long, but time works in mysterious ways within the walls of the studio at Arteastiq. Picking a good picture that corresponds to your skill level and how long you want to spend on the piece is the key to ensuring that the experience remains fun and therapeutic, rather than the cause of a meltdown. If you relish a challenge, then by all means, go for something as complex as your heart desires. If you're a perfectionist who needs time to get each shade or stroke exactly right, you might be better off sticking to something simpler if you're going to attempt to finish your work within a single three hour slot. For those looking to pull off something ambitious, buying a block of sessions (5 go for $180) and working in your own time is probably the most practical thing to do - they'll even keep the canvas in the studio for you as long as they have sufficient storage space.
Caught up in the excitement of the moment, every artistic principle I've ever learnt went flying out the window, and I completely forgot to use masking tape to mark out some nice, crisp lines. Instead, I sketched them out in pencil, using my palette as a makeshift ruler. With guesstimation as the underlying principle, the effect was that of slightly scratchy crookedness, but it didn't seem too bad overall, so I powered on.
The nice thing about acrylic paints is that they're pretty versatile and fast drying because they're water soluble, and unlike oil paints they don't really smell or need to be cut by harsh chemicals. The old storage bottles have been swapped out for sealable tubes that prevent the paints from drying out, so everything is nicely watery and pliable, but note that the pigments aren't the strongest here. Two layers of white paint weren't quite enough to cover the pencil marks, so I had to build and build the colour until I got the opacity I wanted. Once I got into the groove of it, the slow back and forth of paint application was wonderfully soothing. The most complicated thing I did was mixing the two different shades of yellow that were in my paint box to get the in-between hue I wanted.
The black paint was a bit more dribbly than I was expecting, and in my inexpert hands wound up smudging all over the place. Still, I'd already found a state of Zen, and accepted my piece for what it was - a pastiche of Mondrian, at my current level of (zero) artistic skills. Stressful as M found it, we've already made vague plans to go back for more. Maybe we might even attend one of their weekend painting workshops and pick up some foundational skills to help us progress as artists.