At Easel

At Easel

A blank canvas. An empty white rectangle. Wide open and, for a new painter, extremely intimidating.

Maybe some wine would take the edge off.

That’s Bella Zadore’s solution, anyway. At Art Plus Studio, Zadore’s social painting classroom on Chapel Street, you bring your own beverages and snacks, sit down at an easel and get painting, with a clear goal in mind and a good example to follow.

The instructor for each session—sometimes Zadore (pictured second), sometimes one of her staff teachers—begins at the front of the room with a finished target painting for students to attempt to recreate on their canvases. The instructor paints her own canvas, too, giving students a helpful live demo to paint along with. “We don’t want people to suffer and get frustrated,” Zadore says. “Everyone should be able to go home with a finished painting at the end of the day.”

sponsored by

Wine On9 - Friday, November 6

The day I went, our instructor, Rachel Rasfeld (pictured fifth), who has a fine arts degree from Ohio State University, first laid some ground rules. The first: “Be kind to yourself. Your painting will turn out fine.” The last: “When in doubt, take a deep breath or a sip of your wine.” Some took this as a cue to refill their wine glasses. I popped open my bottle of hard root beer.

Rasfeld taught us how to create a glowing background via simple ‘X’ strokes, and within minutes, canvases were glowing all over the room. As we moved down our bottles, a few cheeks began glowing, too. When we came to the crux of the piece, the tree itself, we took a collective breather and followed Rasfeld’s lead. She kept things fun and guided everyone with encouragement, advice and jams like “Pretty Woman,” “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” and plenty of Alicia Keys. After a little over two hours, and more than enough Alicia, we each had our own scarlet trees to hang (or hide) at home.

If you couldn’t tell by the soundtrack, Art Plus tends to attract a female crowd. By Zadore’s estimate, it’s a 10:1 ratio. And that 1 is usually part of a couple. While for some guys this might be a red flag, Zadore sees an opportunity. “I don’t know why more guys don’t come,” Zadore remarks. “There are a lot of single girls!”

sponsored by

Hopkins School

Although occasional classes featuring male nude models are just for women and “BFF classes” do have a girls-night-out vibe, the majority of class-types sound fun regardless of gender. There are couples classes where partners merge finished canvases to make a unitary piece; masterpiece classes where you paint your own Van Gogh or da Vinci; and special “Paint Your Pet” sessions where you upload a photo of your pet beforehand, then come into the studio to find a blank sketch of Fido or Mittens on your easel, ready to be filled in.

The idea for Art Plus Studio came while Zadore, a graduate of the Centro Universitário Belas Artes de São Paulo in Brazil, began teaching small painting classes in her New Haven studio to supplement her work as an independent artist. She offered the first class a glass of wine, and the next class her students brought a bottle for her. It soon became a tradition, and then, a Groupon. 800 people signed up and Zadore began cramming 20-person classes into a studio where before she’d only taught 10. In 2012, she moved the classes into her current Chapel West storefront, and Art Plus Studio was born.

Since then, Zadore has opened a second location in Norwalk and even taken Art Plus on the road, thanks to a van that caters to off-site events like bachelorette parties (where classes involving nude models are particularly popular). And Zadore regularly runs corporate team-building events where employees work together painting small canvases. When arranged together, the individual works form a team- or company-wide mural.

BYOB painting can be addictive. People get hooked and become regulars, Rasfeld says after class. Some students have brought her photos of projects they’ve begun at home.

“Art isn’t something only for those with inborn talent,” she says. It takes practice. And it seems like it’s never too early—or too late—to start. “Families come,” Zadore says. “Kids as young as seven, grandmothers too.”

“And do the grandmothers drink as well?” I ask Zadore.

Rasfeld answers from the other side of the studio: “They drink most!”

Art Plus Studio
1207 Chapel St, New Haven (map)
(203) 500-7352
Website | Class Schedule

Written and photographed by Daniel Shkolnik. Photo #2 depicts Bella Zadore. Photo #5 depicts Rachel Rasfeld.

More Stories