Last Saturday night my husband and I met Carol and her husband at the Paint Cabin located on Gerrard St. where little India meets Chinatown, at a little known cross-street, Degrassi.
Before I go on: full-disclosure. I don’t identify as artistic. I don’t do crafts. Therefore, when I set up this double-date I had mentally mapped out the evening as follows: paint for an hour or so, head to dinner for copious drinks and merriment. Home by 11 p.m. and asleep by 11:05 p.m.
Spoiler alert: as the saying goes, best-laid plans of mice and men oft go astray. And go astray they did.
When the four of us arrived at Paint Cabin we were greeted by Gord, the owner, and Anita. The warm hospitality we received was just as though we’d stepped across the threshold of their actual cabin. They both offered handshakes, food (delicious looking cupcakes and other confectionaries) and drink (a fully stocked bar: of the barista variety and the non-caffeinated kind as well as an assortment of artisanal beverages) and the immediate encouragement to doff our winter coats for something more suitable – a smock.
With shots of absinthe in our hands, our gracious hosts toured our small entourage around the cabin, which by all means is not an actual cabin but rather a regular storefront transformed into an artistic space with the cozy fixings of an actual cabin: plush leather chairs, reclaimed tinder, a substantial wood table and of course, the requisite canoe. Transfixed from the bustling streets of downtown Toronto to lakeside tranquility (with a solid playlist streaming everything from The Police to Lady Gaga) our creative juices were starting to run amok as we admired the paintings lining the walls, the woodcuttings on display and the stringboards propped up in a row.
Gord took his first woodcutting workshop many years ago and connected with the art form. It’s easy to see why. Patience and concentration is needed when using a tiny blade to carve out an intricate pattern. The focus required allows for everything else to fade into the background – every other stress and worry is temporarily on the back-burner. Gord wanted to share his experience with others but alas he recognized that there needed to be something else offered for the budding artist not drawn by the lure of the blade.
Gord extended the offerings of the studio to include string art – hammering nails onto a pattern and intricately weaving string to produce an image and paint. The paint workshops are extensive and include watercolour, acrylic and glow-in-the-dark.
While intrigued by all that Paint Cabin has to offer, the four of us chose acrylic painting and thumbed through a series of images for inspiration.
I felt relief. I had been harbouring a sense of dread that we would all be following the orders of an instructor, a glorified paint-by-number, if you will. I didn’t want my work to be compared to anyone else’s (ahem, my husband’s) nor did I want to end up with two very poorly executed sailboats in the sunset.
“We’re going to create one painting!” I enthusiastically said this to Anita. Anita is one of the resident art experts and she offers a helping hand, guidance and much encouragement throughout the process.
Her eyebrows shot up her forehead. I might as well have told her that I was going to paint a self-portrait using my teeth.
“She totally thinks that’s a bad idea.” Carol says this sparing Anita any further discomfort.
Anita looks relieved that Carol has stepped in.
“You think that we may kill each other? You’ve probably seen this before.” I say.
She doesn’t say but the fact that she doesn’t say anything says something. Gord sweeps in for the save. He suggests that we paint on two separate canvasses and then put them together as the final product. Or not.
These two seem to know what they are talking about. Avoiding potential art and martial disasters. Gord and Anita for the win.
Making that initial brush stroke was daunting. The canvas was so unblemished and pure, all I kept thinking was “what if I mess it up?” At Anita’s coaxing, I brushed a streak of blue straight down the middle. Her instruction of how to blend, what colours to put where and when to add more texture were most helpful but the most powerful teaching moments from my experience at Paint Cabin extend beyond the brushes.
Initially my husband’s and my side-by-side canvas plan worked and our colours blended harmoniously but in the end each of our paintings took a severe detour and they no longer fit together. Instead of fretting about it, we let it go and followed our own path.
My vulnerability was on full display for everyone to see. I agonized over what to paint, whether it would be “good enough” or if I would “do it right”. Whereas I marvelled at my husband’s confidence, also beginner, he picked up his brush and made bold strokes with brash colours without a concern about being “wrong”. On the other hand, I did recognize in myself patience and knowing when to stop – both necessary when tackling abstract painting and many other of life’s choice cards – and that made me feel good.
At the end of the night, after four hours of painting and a very late dinner, our heads were hitting the pillow just before 1 am and my husband said to me, “Your painting looks like you. The colours, the style, the energy, everything about it. I can tell that you did it.”
After 15 years together that’s a compliment.
Thank you Paint Cabin for hosting us. If you are looking for a great night out as a couple, with friends or even as a family, give Anita and Gord a call!