Whatcom Magazine

Uptown Art offers lessons, drinks, food and your own painting to take home

Think you can’t draw? Uptown Art would like to convince you otherwise.

The studio on Bellwether Way is a place where anyone can produce a painting in an evening or weekend afternoon while having a drink with friends. It’s a fusion of art, entertainment and personal expression, says owner Robert Mishkin.

“People walk in saying, ‘I don’t know how to paint,’” he says. “They leave saying, ‘Oh my god, I created this!’ It’s a transformation. We show them how to paint, layer by layer, stroke by stroke.”

Large groups can organize their own painting event, too. Groups can bring in food, or the studio can order in.

“You tell us what you want and we’ll have it,” Mishkin says. “It’s a form of entertainment that’s interactive. It’s socially oriented; you’re likely to interact with people.”

Uptown Art also offers after-school programs at some Bellingham elementary and middle schools, and offers events at restaurants, resorts and country clubs around the area.

To get started, people go online at uptownart.com to preview the paintings, because different paintings are offered on various evenings. Most sessions last three hours.

Cost includes instruction and supplies, including a 16-by-20 blank canvas, and a paint smock. People leave at evening’s end with a finished, dry canvas. Framing, food and drinks are available for purchase.

On a recent evening, Liza Jones was painting with friends Grace Henderson and Bianca Newbatt.

“I feel like a child again, expressing myself with uninhibited freedom,” Jones says. “There’s no pressure.”

“It’s something different,” says Sara Porter, who came with Erica Griffith. “It was scary because neither of us is artsy; but we’re not doing bad! We can still talk and enjoy each other as friends.”

Mishkin opened the venue in December 2013. As a licensee of Uptown Art, which has more than a dozen locations across the country, he has access to the company’s art library of 2,000 paintings. Attendance in Bellingham is growing, with 25 events per month of 20 to 30 people each.

Amy Hill, who holds a bachelor’s degree in fine arts from Western Washington University, has taught at Uptown Art since it opened.

“I like teaching people who don’t think they can paint,” she says. “They impress themselves.”

Bellingham residents tend to choose paintings that are more complex and sophisticated, with maritime subjects popular, Mishkin says.

“They want paintings with dimension and texture,” he says, “that are vibrant, colorful and impressionistic, with identifiable subject matter.”