Novice Artists Find Creative Uses of Free Time

Dec 7, 2012

If you have young kids in the family, you may open handmade gifts this month – holiday projects little fingers crafted at school. Perhaps adult relatives or friends will also offer their own creations.

WUWM’s Ann-Elise Henzl found places in town where “grown-ups” are taking time to explore their creative side, or, in some cases, learn crafts of past generations.

Instructor Pat Barry (left) helps a student with a project at one of Fiberwood Studio's open knitting classes.
Credit Ann-Elise Henzl

Walk into the studio called Arte in Wauwatosa, and you see walls lined with acrylic paintings – a rendition of van Gogh’s The Starry Night here, a whimsical beach scene there.

In the middle of the room people are sitting on stools, each facing an easel.

“Welcome to Arte. My name is Katie, and I’m going to be leading the class tonight…”

Co-owner Karen Salituro describes her place as part of the growing “paint and sip” industry -- studios where non-artists get to play with paint for a few hours. She says the classes are good places for first dates, even corporate teambuilding.

“The goal is to have a drink of wine or a glass of beer, to relax a little bit, and enjoy a good night out with friends,” Salituro says.

At the end of the night, everyone will leave with a finished painting. But right now it’s time to don a smock and check out the paints and brushes. Instructor Katie Ryan offers tips:

“It’s really important to take care of your brushes. It’s also important to know where your water glass is and where your wine glass is, because you don’t want to mix them!”

For each class, the studio chooses one of the paintings on the wall that the students will to try to replicate by watching the instructor paint her canvas. Tonight, it’s a Paris street scene, with the Eiffel Tower set against a blue sky.

“So, find the middle line where the horizon is, and then go ahead and fill the entire top half with a mixture of blue and white…”

Ryan says students gain confidence as soon as they push aside their need to be perfect, and allow their inner artist to surface.

Jennifer Doerr displays some of the glasswork she's created at SoulShine Arts. The pieces are to be incorporated into vases or pitchers, as decorative rims or handles.
Credit Ann-Elise Henzl

Jennifer Doerr is tapping into her creative side by taking glass making classes at SoulShine Arts in Cedarburg.

“It is very, very hot molten glass, and I figured there’s a small amount of danger and excitement, all wrapped into fun,” Doerr says.

Doerr has melted and manipulated glass into long, thin pieces, reminiscent of peppermint sticks, but in different colors.

“You put one color on one side of it…”

She plans to use them as decorative touches on vases or pitchers.

The busy mom says she started lessons last winter as something special to do for herself, but questions whether she was born with creative abilities.

“I don’t know if I’m newly trying to find this thing that never really existed and I just want to take a hand in it, or if it’s more about just cultivating an interest and that becomes your sort of ‘crafty’ outlet,” Doerr says.

“I think that with the technological world, people are missing a lot of hands-on experience,” says one of SoulShine's owners and instructors, Ember Cheney, who adds: “And then there’s a lot of people who just want to experience something new and something different. And also, you’re kind of investing in yourself and being able to take those pieces home and be proud of something that you’ve done, I think is important.”

Some people looking for a creative outlet find it in traditional home arts. About a half dozen knitting students are gathered around a table at Fiberwood Studio, on Milwaukee’s far west side. They’re surrounded by skeins and spools of yarn, in every color.

Each student is working at her own pace, asking for help, when needed. Pam Penn says as a child, her grandmother taught her how to knit, but…

“When you learn something from an elderly person, often they just show you what they know and they aren’t showing you based on any book either. Just like recipes, when you learn something from someone: a pinch of that, a teaspoon of that…”

Penn is working on a sentimental project: a pair of argyle socks an elderly relative started before passing away. Penn says, one day, she may give the socks to her husband.

“Who knows? They might go on a wall! I don’t know if they’re going to even fit anybody! They’re from a very old pattern book,” Penn says.

Instructor Pat Barry says some people are drawn to fiber arts, to honor the legacy of previous generations.

“I feel very connected to women in the past who had to depend upon making garments for their families, and the family wouldn’t have socks if mom and the daughters and the grandmas didn’t knit them. I think it’s really nice to keep that tradition alive,” Barry says.

Although the tradition seems to have evolved from necessity, to a quest for creativity.