Paint parties

Oak Bluffs library helps bring out the Picasso in all of us.


On a dark December Friday night, a great time was had by all the aspiring painters — almost all novices — who were out for a good time at the Oak Bluffs library’s first “Paint Night at the Barn.”

No one knew exactly what the event would be like, but 25 eager Picassos went upstairs at the Barn Bowl and Bistro, to be warmly greeted by library program coordinator Hannah Burbidge and the sounds of her rocking playlist. Long tables were set up in the large space, and each place had a small personal easel with a primed canvas, a plastic palette with paints, a thick and thin brush, and a glass of water to clean them in. 

The location was a boon, as we could order enticing food and libations to make the night even merrier, as we settled down making friends with our neighbors while waiting for Burbidge to set us off on our artistic journey. Chatting with just a few participants, it was clear that folks were there for a good time. Heather Boyle heard about the event from the library newsletter, and thought it would be a really fun Friday night out with friends, a way to get out of the house and leave the little ones at home. Avery Hazell, pointing to her friend Ally Ferland, who was happy to tag along, related, “I said, Let’s just try something new.” And for most, it was indeed a novel experience. Sheila McHugh Hazell added, “It’s so amazing that they’re putting it on for free.”

When Burbidge began, it was clear she was a born teacher and very comfortable in front of groups. She also has an appealing comic bent, which immediately puts everyone at ease. Right off she told us that if we felt one of the songs was not doing it for us, we each got one “next!” — which she could override. With the fun mood set, we looked at the two large screens in the front of the room that projected enlarged images of the painting Burbidge had done that she was going to teach us to pull off ourselves. Appropriate to the season, it was a scene of a snowy night with a large moon hanging in the sky over distant mountains, and a white foreground with a black bear walking across the picture frame.

Burbidge took us step-by-step through how to create our own version of the painting. Although she used black, white, and blue, Burbidge invited us to choose other colors, and some folks went off in all sorts of directions. After demonstrating each step on her own new canvas, we would set to painting, chatting with neighbors, and laughing a lot. Burbidge showed us some artistic tips like the exact way to create the look of snow falling from the sky, hitting the tree branches, or sprinkling onto the back of our bear. We also learned how to animate our sky so that we attained a gestural, Vincent Van Gogh–like aesthetic that was very cool.

Perhaps the most fun was when it was time to dry the paint between applications. Up we stood, the music rocking, as we waved our canvases back and forth over our heads, boogying in time to the danceable tunes. Being lighthearted together definitely enhanced the communal atmosphere. “I measure the success of my programs by the amount of connections that people make during an event,” Burbidge said afterward. “I would consider Paint Night a success because of the genuine smiles I saw, and the conversations between people who hadn’t known each other when they walked in the door.”

Before we knew it, our masterpieces were done. And by smiles and good humor in the room all night long, clearly a good time was had by all. “I want folks to be able to look forward to a night where they can forget about any stress they may have or work they need to do. For two hours, it’s all about being creative, the music, the drinks, and having a good time,” Burbidge said. “People walked away asking when the next one will be, so that’s always a good sign!”

Oak Bluffs library director Allyson Malik, who was making her own masterpiece at the party, summed up the evening perfectly: “This has been an amazing time, and Hannah is as much a showman as she is an instructor. I think that it has been awesome for people to come together as we enter the winter, and just keep this place alive.”

Future Paint Nights at the Barn will be held at 7:30 pm, Saturday, Jan. 7, Saturday, Feb. 4, and Saturday, March 4. Register via the newsletter, which you can sign up for at or by emailing Hannah directly at