Gogh for it

2013-12-21T05:45:00Z 2013-12-21T06:53:37Z Gogh for itDavid Burke dburke@qctimes.com The Quad-City Times
December 21, 2013 5:45 am  • 

With an avocado club sandwich to her right, a glass of Malbec to her left and a blank canvas in between, Amy Stockwell is ready to get to work.

Stockwell is one of two dozen women gathered on a recent Monday night at Davenport's Cafe Indigo for a session of Vino van Gogh, where teachers give step-by-step instructions on how to re-create a painting.

And true to its name, there's frequently a bit of the grape involved.

"We're not getting graded," jokes Stockwell, a visiting nurse for Genesis Health System who lives in Bettendorf, "and we get to drink."

Having started in the Quad-Cities during April, Vino van Gogh travels to various bars, cafes and coffee shops around the area. Participants are given a 16-by-20 inch canvas on a miniature easel, as well as dollops of paint frequently doled out onto Styrofoam plates, four different brushes (large, small, round and flat), paper towels, water and the use of a black Vino van Gogh apron.

"It is something that the Quad-Cities has never offered in terms of art before," said Nikki Gillette of Davenport, who led Cafe Indigo participants in creating an orange-and-green lily scene.

"We have a lot of art in the Quad-Cities, we have theater, we have dance and music and all that, but we've never had art where people from all walks of life can come in and participate together," added Gillette, who teaches art at the Davenport School District's Kimberly Center.

Wearing a headset microphone, Gillette guides the artists through the blending of acrylics as she paints a version herself, referring to one shade as "kind of a pukey color" and another as "pale, baby-chicken yellow."

After the backgrounds are set, she instructs the class that it's time to sketch the lilies.

"It sounds scary," she says. "Really, it's not."

Like many of the artists-for-a-night, Stockwell's frustration with her work grows.

"This is like the biggest lily on the planet," she grouses.

Vino van Gogh began about 2½ years ago in Chicago and has spread to St. Louis, Kansas City, Iowa City and Omaha, Neb. Its owner, Jenny Staub, and regional manager, Alex Bauer, are both from the Quad-Cities, so a river bend location was a natural.

"We thought it would do decently well," Bauer said. "I had expectations for how well it would do, but it has exceeded those immensely. We've just had such overwhelming support here. It's been wonderful."

Vino events open to the public are taking place nearly every night of the week now, many of them with multiple locations per night. Private parties are also available, Bauer said, and the Quad-City area outnumbers other, larger markets as far as booking those.

The cost for individuals is $38 per public session, but email subscriptions after a signup at VinoGogh.com offer discounts and other offers. The wine and food are separate, with many bars and restaurants offering a limited menu and specials.

Nine people are working for Vino as the lead artists or assistants, and Bauer said that as the idea grows, more artists may be needed.

Bauer said Vino van Gogh sessions can replace typical girls'-night-out activities such as a movie, a book club or any number of commercial sales "parties."

"It's an opportunity to socialize with friends, paint and have a drink," she said. "Coming to our events, they see they truly can create what they have, and they leave impressed with themselves."

The Vino sessions cover a spectrum of locations, including some where art would more likely be the name of the grumpy barkeep than what's going on in the establishment.

"We want to be close and near to everyone," Bauer said. "We don't want to limit it to certain restaurants and certain areas. We want everyone to have a chance and an opportunity to experience it.

"Places such as the Rusty Nail or the Circle Tap (both in Davenport) sell out. They do wonderful," she continued. "We want to bring a different atmosphere and a different experience for everyone. If someone wants to go to a fancier restaurant and order a glass of wine and do some paintings, or if someone wants to watch a game, paint and drink a beer, they can."

Those without art experience are not only welcomed, but also encouraged to attend.

"We get some with a big art background and some with no experience whatsoever," Gillette said. "That's what makes it fun. You have that diversity in the classroom. You have people trying things out for the first time and they're excited and a little bit stressed. It's kind of cool to have that variety."

Stress and extreme self-criticism are common early in the sessions.

"You get a lot of people who are very critical of themselves," Gillette said. "It's cool and reassuring to have your friends with you to tell you it's good or to help you fix it up a little bit."

A veteran of that is Christine Taylor of Moline, who was at work on her fourth piece of art, accompanied by her sister-in-law, Monday night. 

Taylor, who works for the American Heart Association, already has her own paintings of pond lilies, koi fish and a tree of life on her walls.

"I love that I'm not artistic, and it gives me the chance to try something new and realize that it can turn out pretty good," she said.

"I haven't had art since eighth grade, and it was required. That was many, many, many years ago," she added. "I didn't think it would look any good, and now it's awful, but in a few hours it will look pretty, I'm hoping."

The wannabe artists at the sessions are overwhelmingly female. Although some men have attended as part of a couple or on a daddy-daughter date, one participant said there's only been one time when two males have been in the same session.

Wine is not required, and participants of all ages are welcome, substituting soda or milk for the usual beverage.

Looking across the seating area at Cafe Indigo, there are many different variations, more or less like the finished product that stands on display. Any deviation from the original work is encouraged, Gillette said.

"Yes, I'm walking you through a painting step by step, but I in no way, shape or form want my students to make an exact replica and stress themselves out to that point," she said. "I want them to do their own interpretation of it, with their own amount of experience and their interests."

After more than an hour of conforming to the set pattern, Stockwell decides to forgo a bit of the detail on her lilies.

"I'm a rebellll," she giggles, increasingly satisfied with her artwork.

Bauer said the next step for Vino van Gogh might be painting on something other than canvas, which may be attempted sometime in the new year.

As the artists complete their works, they get together for a Vino van Gogh tradition, a group picture of the painters and their works.

The final touch is the artist's signature.

"We get to sign our name?" Stockwell exclaims. "Awesome!"

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