Painting for the people

Everyone’s an artist at the Paint Corner Art Bar.

Sydney Mullen and Linley Dolby attend a previous Paint Corner event at the Wharf last fall. — Photo courtesy of Leslie Belkner

“No experience required.” That’s the main thing that art instructor Leslie Belkner stresses in describing the Paint Corner Art Bar classes that she has been leading on the Vineyard for almost a year now. Amateurs as well as absolute newbies to painting are all guaranteed to “walk away with an awesome painting,” according to Ms. Belkner.

However, you might want to brush up on your dance moves. There is a penalty for vocalizing any negativity about yourself or your artistic abilities. “You have to come up in front of the class and dance to a Beyoncé song,” says Ms. Belkner. She’s half kidding, but also half serious. (Students have actually followed through on the punishment.)

That should give you some idea of the nature of the Art Bar, a trend that’s proliferated recently, especially in urban areas. According to Ms. Belkner, it’s a hands-on learning experience that will yield a professional-looking finished product, but it’s also a lot of fun.

Through her classes in Cambridge and here, the Paint Corner founder and director has made artists out of novices and believers out of nonbelievers. “We hear it all the time,” she says, “People walk in skeptics, saying, ‘I’m not creative at all.’ They walk out more than pleased with what they’ve produced.”

For each three-hour class, Ms. Belkner selects a picture and walks the class through the techniques necessary to make their own versions. Participants will learn skills along the way that they can take to future projects.

Paint Corner Art Bar has been operating out of a studio in Cambridge for two years now. Ms. Belkner and her roster of seven instructors offer six classes a week with a variety of paintings. Paint Corner has also hosted numerous private events, including birthday and bachelorette parties, corporate team-building events, holiday parties, meetups and fundraisers.

Since an offshoot of the Cambridge business was launched on-Island last May, almost all classes have sold out. The weekly summer sessions were held at various locations, including restaurants, inns, and private clubs. The once-a-month off-season classes have taken place mainly at the Portuguese-American Club in Oak Bluffs. A core group of devotees has developed, and some have gone on to more advanced projects.

“It’s a great mixer,” says Ms. Belkner. “People are encouraged to walk around and talk and see what their friends are doing. It’s called social painting.” Generally, as is the case in the off-season events at the P.A. Club, alcohol is involved. Participants can order drinks from the bar, and there’s plenty of time for socializing.

But drinking, joking, and the occasional dance presentation aside, participants are learning real skills along the way.

“Although we do make it fun, we layer in painting techniques,” says Ms. Belkner. “You will learn about perspective and design, mix your colors, and make your brushstrokes. You will absolutely learn about painting.” Art Corner provides all of the materials.

You don’t have to make an exact duplicate of the selected painting either; there’s room for individuality. “We say at the beginning of every class that you can follow along to the letter, or you can change things up. You can make the color palette anything you want. You can make a sunny or a stormy sky.”

Ms. Belkner has a background as both an artist and a teacher. Before opening Paint Corner, she had her own graphic-design business, and was a senior designer at Sam Adams and a museum teacher at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston. She is also an established artist in her own right: “Paint has always been my first love. I work mostly in oils.” Ms. Belkner has shown her work in galleries in Boston and Cambridge. “I’m an artist. I really want to bring art to everyone. I make it fun and easy and a way for people to explore their creativity.”

Ms. Belkner has a strong connection to the Island. “I met my husband here. We got married here. We have a home in Oak Bluffs. I’m really so happy to be bringing this to the Island. I knew that there were a lot of people who have a creative spirit on the Vineyard.”

The artist/teacher recently started volunteering at the Food Pantry, and she would like to get more involved with Vineyard organizations. “I want to give back to the Island,” she says. “I’m aware of the issues that the Vineyard faces.”

A portion of the proceeds from the April 13 Paint Corner Art Bar event at the P.A. Club will benefit the National Multiple Sclerosis Society’s “Bike MS: Ride the Vineyard” event, happening on May 2. “As an MS patient myself, I find this cause extremely personal and important, and we are happy to help support this longstanding fundraising tradition,” said Ms. Belkner.

The next Paint Corner Art Bar event takes place on Monday, March 9, at 7 pm at the P.A. Club, and will feature a painting of a “Flower Patch.” Tickets are $40. Visit for more information and to purchase tickets.