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Bottles and Brushes Paint Night at Circle Gallery

Madera County Arts Council Columnist Jim Glynn applies paint to his canvass along with others at Paint Night at Circle Gallery. Did his horizon list to port? You be the judge.


“First,” she said, “we have to establish our horizon. Take your paint brush and mark a spot, a little less than half way down on the right side of your canvas. If the spot looks right, hold the brush at the top of the canvas so that the end of the brush is on the spot. Now, put the brush in the same position on the left side and make another mark. If you draw a straight line connecting the two marks, that’s the horizon.”

This was Elaine Blake’s first instruction to us, after we had settled into our “artist” mode. The mode involved putting on disposable plastic aprons, familiarizing ourselves with a variety of brushes, and surveying a spectrum of acrylic paints that had been deposited on our palettes by a number of assistant instructors.

The frazzled nerves of the aspiring artists seemed to be quieted by the simplicity of the initial chore. Still, there were some nervous chuckles as the class realized that drawing a straight line with a paint brush was not as easy as it might have seemed. Personally, I thought that my horizon was listing to port; others commented that theirs seemed to sag in the middle; and still a few more asked if the horizon ever had a “wavy” line. Bottles & Brushes The occasion was Bottles & Brushes Paint Night at the Circle Gallery of the Madera County Arts Council, an event that extends the artistic experience to the general community. The “bottles” part of the promotion refers to the wine that was served to those who imbibed; the “brushes” part is self-explanatory.

Paint Night is a fairly new activity that, like the formation of bocce leagues, seems to appeal to thirty-somethings, although people of all ages benefit from the experience. Restaurants, bars, retirement communities, wineries, and social clubs, as well as art galleries, across the nation are finding a new clientele, one that is interested in creating something personal and original. But, without the step-by-step instruction, the finished product appears to be mysteriously complex to the untrained eye.

Elaine held up her palette and poked her half-inch brush into some paint, saying, “Now load up your brush with cerulean blue.” To those of us who had never put brush to canvas before, this is called “blue.” Elaine told us that this would be the basic color of the evening sky in our masterpieces. However, our first task would be to use the paint to draw a circle that would eventually be the moon. After looking at the work of several students around me, I understood that there were many interpretations of exactly what a circle looks like.

There’s an urban legend that concerns Michaelangelo and Pope Julius II. The Pope, according to the myth, was looking for an artist to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Michaelangelo confronted the Pope and said that he could do the job. The Pope looked at the artist and asked, “How do I know that you’re good enough?” At that point, Michaelangelo bent down, picked up a piece of slate, and drew a perfect circle.

It’s a cute story, but entirely false. In fact, Michaelangelo had worked in the Vatican for many years, and was invited in 1505 by the newly-elected Pope to build the Pope’s tomb. In all, the great Renaissance artist worked forty years on the project, taking time off to work on the ceiling of the chapel between 1508 and 1512. But, the lesson to be learned from the myth is that it is beyond the ability of the average individual — possibly any individual — to draw a perfect circle. I think our class proved that point. But, at the end of the night, eggs, inflated pancakes, and lopsided ovals all looked like the moon in any of its various phases. Close enough, good enough As we proceeded to add a mountain range on the horizon, a river running toward the viewer, swamp lands on the periphery, and fireflies circulating among the cattails, it became apparent that not every brush stroke had to mimic the professionalism of our instructor. In fact, Elaine continually emphasized the casualness with which we should approach our endeavor.

Simply approximating our instructions produced truly amazing results. The woman who sat across from me broke into laughter after almost every brush stroke. Finally, curiosity got the better of me, and I had to get up, walk around the table, and look at the horrible errors that sent her into near hysterics. Actually, her painting was quite good. Maybe the wine was better.

I began to realize that there were no such things as mistakes. Anything that could be done could be undone. That accounts for the popularity of acrylic paint. Moreover, some errors add to — not subtract from — a painting. When I accidentally got a little red on my brush, I worked it into part of the blue sky, producing a sort of violet-purple tinge to a section of the heavens. Why not?

In fact, I used the errant paint to place some red fireflies among the yellow ones because, when I was a kid growing up on the east coast, I knew that fireflies (or lightning bugs, as we called them) were red when they weren’t alight. Little differences like these made my painting unique. Still, at the end of the evening, I took my canvass and placed it next to Elaine’s, saying, “Look. Mirror images!” Elaine smiled, tolerantly.


The next Bottles & Brushes event at Circle Gallery (1653 N. Schnoor Ave., Ste. 113) will be a SPOOK-TACULAR paint night on Tuesday, Oct. 4, at 6 p.m. The fee, which includes all materials, is $40 per person, $35 for MCAC members, $75 per couple, and $65 for MCAC couple members. For more information, see the MCAC website at or phone 559-661-7005.

Participants will be provided appetizers, wine, beer, and bottled water. Because the month encompasses Halloween, Elaine will lead us in recreating “The Night Raven.” As I look at the painting, the opening line of Edgar Allan Poe‘s poem runs through my mind: “Once upon a midnight dreary ...”


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