When it comes to unbridled artistic expression, we need merely to look at elementary school students and the enthusiasm they have for trying something new, for making something they find beautiful and worthwhile.
While the technical skills of most elementary school students still have room to grow, the young artists’ general openness to the experience and lack of self-consciousness about making art allows them more creativity in their work because they don’t hold themselves back for fear of embarrassment.
It’s a skill we’re all born with but generally erodes as we grow and socialize. By the time we are adults, many of us haven’t picked up a paintbrush since middle school or possibly a high school art class.
This, Raette Meredith believes, is the reason her Tipsy Brush painting parties and classes have become so popular in the Flathead Valley. Since opening her studio in 2014, Meredith has been able to quit her other jobs and focus fully on art and how it makes others feel.
“I am thrilled that so many people are discovering the love of painting. I’m actually blown away by how many people have told me how much it has transformed their lives,” Meredith said last week. “It’s really cool to see other people doing that.”
Meredith’s studio hosts groups of people who want to unwind with a drink or two while learning to paint a certain scene or subject. Meredith walks them through the process as she creates the same painting up front.
Each group starts the same: with protestations of not being artistic, or the inability to paint, or other worries about how they’ll do in class. And each class tends to end the same way: with a reawakened love for art and the knowledge that they can create it in a relaxing way.
“I always say, ‘You have no idea what you can do; you can do this,’” Meredith said. “I have a lot of repeat people. The first visit they’re nervous — they kind of don’t want to be there. Then they come back and they get more comfortable with it and they have more freedom in their creativity.”
Other painting studios in the area have offered similar classes. What started as
Kalispell Cork and Canvas is now The Artisan Oyster, and owner Ashley Lindemann celebrated a year in business last August. She also picked up a studio space at Kalispell Center Mall for classes.
Up in Whitefish, Morgan Cawdrey teaches watercolor painting every other Friday at Cypress Yard and the Nancy Cawdrey Gallery. Participants get a drink, some charcuterie, and the freedom to paint whatever they’d like, Morgan Cawdrey said.
“It’s a little more freeform,” he said.
And of course, Whitefish’s Stumptown Art Studio has offered painting classes for years, along with other artistic courses open to the public.
For Meredith, the journey to opening a painting studio started in California, where she worked as an artist. She also worked with a local arts council, and through that she supplemented her family’s income by building websites for other artists.
When her family moved to the Flathead, an artist here contacted her about a website and ended up talking to her about painting parties. Meredith was working the night shift at a hotel, performing the night audit, and was working on her bachelor’s degree in accounting.
She asked her hotel manager if she could host a painting class there, “to test the waters.”
“It just took off. Before I knew it I had too many people, and I knew I had to get my own place,” Meredith said.
She moved into the studio space on North Meridian in Kalispell, and has since expanded it to be able to fit up to 30 people at once. Eventually, painting got so popular she was turning down parties to be at her other job, which she eventually left to pursue Tipsy Brush full-time. Now, she teaches six classes a week.
It’s been a wonder, she said, because she’s seen how doing art not only makes her own life less stressful, but she’s seen it work in others’ lives as well. Having successfully earned her accounting degree in 2016, Meredith is now ready to pursue a degree in art therapy.
“Art for me has always been therapeutic. If I sit down and I have a little bit of time to paint, it completely transforms my day,” she said. “Being able to share what art’s been for me my whole life is probably the biggest reward for me. Make something beautiful and you’ll surprise yourself at what you can do.”