Participants in The Progressive Palette's 'Martinis and Monet' party paint their own version of Monet's 'Water Lilies' on March 18.
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The encouraging words flowed as freely as the drinks: "Great job!" "It's so pretty." "You're doing amazing!"
The event was only the second of a new Williamstown business called The Progressive Palette, started by sisters Kira Guidon and Sarah Holland, but already they are making a splash.
"This is a genius thing," said Williamstown resident Jennifer Holey, one of about 30 people at the March 18 event at Hops and Vines dubbed "Martinis and Monet." "We need more women entrepreneurs."
What these two women entrepreneurs have done is certainly creative and ambitious: They are teaching novices how to paint, hosting "parties" at which people can learn techniques in a warm environment, have fun with friends, have some drinks and leave with a finished canvas to show off to friends and family.
"It's really exciting," Guidon said in an interview with her sister the day before the party as they recounted how the business has taken off.
The Progressive Palette was born just this past February. The sisters, who have degrees in arts and arts management, have been doing murals around North County for a couple of years now, including the one along the lobby wall of North Adams MoviePlex 8, and several private residences. Then this winter a friend mentioned a painting party she had heard about in a larger metropolitan area, and they wondered if it could work here in the Berkshires, too. After all, this area has a strong cultural backbone.
"This area is culturally rich already," Holland said. "We're in the habit of looking at art. Why not do it yourselves?"
And the idea to give it a shot was born.
"I'll put it on Facebook," Guidon remembered thinking. "If I get 10 people, it will be great."
Within 12 hours, she had sold out all 30 seats and was frantically emailing Holland, who was on her honeymoon in New Zealand.
The women have sold out all of their parties through April 8 and are planning well into spring and summer now. While their parties are primarily for adults, they are doing a special Mother's Day afternoon session May 10 in North Adams to which kids age 8 and up are invited. They also want to give back to the community in the form of fundraisers; their first attempt at that is an upcoming event for Zumba in the Berkshires' Relay for Life team. They also do private parties, including bridal showers, and have recently signed on to do corporate events and conferences at Jiminy Peak Mountain Resort.
So far their geographic focus as been on Northern Berkshire County but they do plan to branch out into the rest of the county and Southern Vermont, as well.
Their formula is pretty simple: Get a group of people together (so far mostly women, but there were a few men at the first two events) at a venue that can provide munchies for free and drinks for purchase, making it a win-win for the venue; give them a canvas, a palette of paint and a little direction in the form of painting an example in the front of the group as well as personal interaction - and watch their creative juices flow, especially at an event like "Martinis and Monet," which involved fingerpainting.
"There's more than just the traditional way to paint," said Holland, who is the younger of the two sisters and a graduate of Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts.
"Art making is a lot about the process and not about the product," said Guidon, who also has taught are in various forms for 17 years and so is a natural at offering advice and assistance to novices.
As for the painters, they might be novices when they enter a party, but when they leave, they go home with the proof that they created, and learned, something. And that something will be different for everyone, even though they are all looking at one example (in the case of the March 18 event, one painting in Claude Monet's "Water Lilies" series).
"My favorite part is at the end," Holland said. "Everyone has their own idea of what it is supposed to look like."
And at the March 18 party, Holland and Guidon were very supportive of the budding artists' own vision, offering advice and guidance but ultimately reminding people this was their own work of art.
"If you want to go your own way, go your own way!" Guidon said, raising her own glass at the beginning of the party. "Cheers!"
After two hours of painting, laughing, repainting, drinking, repainting again, munching and then repainting some more, there were indeed 30 different versions of "Water Lilies" to be taken home to admiring family and friends.
And to possibly spark future creative endeavors, which is the sisters' main goal with this new business.
"I'm an artist," Holland said she wants people to think when they leave a Progressive Palette party. "It's not something that's reserved for people with a degree.
"We just give them the tools and hope they take it home and do it again."
Find information about upcoming parties on progressivepalette.com or on Facebook.