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Is art the new meditation?

The arts class has moved to a bar near you. And while you may not learn to paint like Van Gogh, you won’t be bitter and lonely either

HT48HRS_Special Updated: Jun 18, 2016 11:32 IST
Soma Das
Adult colouring books, painting sessions: revisit your childhood, and (presumably) live healthier
Adult colouring books, painting sessions: revisit your childhood, and (presumably) live healthier(Illustration: Shrikrishna S Patkar)

The arts class has moved to a bar near you. And while you may not learn to paint like Van Gogh, the promise is that you won’t be bitter and lonely either

It’s 4pm on a muggy Saturday afternoon in Bandra-Kurla Complex. The PizzaExpress outlet bears a desolate look, except for the Paint Party group at the far end of the restaurant. The plates, napkins and cutlery have been put away, and replaced with canvases. The tables are covered in plastic sheets.

Paintstorm’s Star Wars-themed session at Hoppipola (Photo: Kunal Patil/Hindustan Times)

Fifteen apron-clad participants are busy painting their version of A Walk in the Rain (a couple kissing in the rain against a vibrant backdrop), an acrylic artwork made using a knife and paint brushes by an anonymous artist. It’s a familiar-enough work, which gets reproduced on everything from cushions to wall paintings.

The instructor, a commerce student and a self-taught artist, is doing the rounds, checking each person’s canvas and giving tips. In between brush strokes, the participants sip on lime juice and take bites of pizza — the perks of being in an eatery. They also click photos of their works at various stages. At the end of the session, a group photo is taken of the participants with their works — the photos are uploaded on social media to give the participants bragging rights.

Paint the physical cover. Upload on Instagram, tag @ht48hours with #ColourWith48Hours

via GIPHY

For Oindrilla Purohit (42), a communications faculty member at Whistling Woods International, this was the first time she picked up a paintbrush since she was a kid. “It is a good way to unwind and connect with yourself,” she says. Nigel Ebenezer Griffiths (32), a real estate sales professional, tells us it’s his birthday tomorrow. “I gifted myself this session. This is my first painting ever,” he says proudly, showing us his work.

This three-hour-long session is a far cry from the art class in school, one where you were scolded for not drawing a straight line or colouring outside the lines. And it also makes art — always perceived as a lonely, solitary pursuit — a tool to bond with people.

Improvisational painting session by Bombay Drawing Room at Corniche (Bombay Drawing Room)

Mumbaikars can’t seem to get enough of such sessions. Apart from Paint Party (which organises two to four such events every month), there are groups like Paintstorm and Paint the Town (which hosts monthly sessions) and Bombay Drawing Room (three to four sessions a month).Venues like Artisans’ in Colaba and experiential groups like Seek Sherpa and BlueBulb also offer art sessions for beginners.

Such art meet-ups are being held at prominent eateries across the city such as Café Zoe, Chaayos, Jamjar Diner and Social. They see an average turnout of 20 to 30 people per session, a feat that few art galleries can pull off on a regular basis.

The themes are familiar — pop culture icons like Darth Vader (from Star Wars) or music bands like The Beatles, reproductions of The Starry Night (Vincent Van Gogh’s masterpiece) or even the scenery of a haiku.

Mindful Art: A No Eraser Art Therapy workshop by Kunjal Shah at Artisans’ (Artisans’)

The painting clubs

One of the frontrunners of the paint-and-dine concept in Mumbai was Paintstorm. Started in July last year, its founders are graphic designer Prerna Chhabria and marketer Viren Chhabria, along with fashion designers Aanchal Bubber Mehta and Sanjana Bubber. “The options for creative recreation are virtually non-existent in Mumbai. These events are great for family bonding, reunions, dates, or for those new to the city,” says Prerna.

Divya Chadha (34), a wedding planner, who attended a Paintstorm session, recalls how the session took her back to kindergarten. She also made a friend during one of the sessions and now, they attend events together. “We give a unique spin to each of the subjects we draw. For Darth Vader (the session held on Sunday), we made floral headpieces,” she laughs.

Paintstorm was followed by The Bombay Drawing Room (October 2015) and Paint Party (November 2015). Snehal Patil (28), founder of Bombay Drawing Room, an architect and a self-taught artist, says she wanted to create a space where participants could “shed the anxiety of making mistakes”. Paint Party, run by software engineer Pinky Panjwani and ex-advertising professional Mala Sharma, is modelled on the paint-and-dine sessions held globally.

While Paint Party charges between Rs 2,000 and Rs 2,500 per person (inclusive of materials, food and non-alcoholic beverages), Paintstorm and Bombay Drawing Room charge upward of Rs 1,500 (exclusive of food and beverages). “Our sessions are held during the slow hours at eateries. People pay for food and beverages, which is good for the restaurant, and we get space in return,” says Sharma.

The Baagh-e-Bahar colouring book for grown-ups (Good Earth)

Claim to fame

While art and art galleries are often projected as catering to a select audience, informal sessions such as these are for everyone. Most groups are clear that the primary purpose is to unwind, and there is no judgment or criticism imparted to the participants. “The idea is to spark creativity and entertain. So we don’t get technical,” says Sharma.

But in the absence of feedback and critical evaluation, are you actually making art? Curator Jasmine Shah Varma feels that such sessions may be the first step in developing a deeper interest in art: “The quality might vary in each session and there is no set curriculum, so it’s hard to assess. But it can be a stepping stone for amateurs who may eventually read books on art, attend exhibitions, and speak to curators. I am all for it if it makes art accessible and fosters curiosity.”

These painting sessions are also in keeping with global trends. Over the last few years, the concept of mixing food, drinks, painting and socialising has become a bit of a micro-phenomenon internationally. Boston and New York have dedicated paint bars (step-by-step painting lessons meets Guinness on tap). Los Angeles has the Paint and Sip Studio. London has its share of art pop-up painting workshops where people with no prior experience come together to recreate an artwork.

Paintstorm’s session on The Beatles (Paintstorm)

Art that heals

The big draw, though, isn’t just the opportunity to paint without the pressure of producing something impressive. These sessions stem from the idea of art as a form of escape or therapy, even a psychological return to childhood. And that has led to a slew of workshops on mindfulness in art.

In May, Kunjal Shah, an art therapist from Inner Space Counseling, hosted a session at Artisans’. Termed as A No Eraser Art Therapy workshop, it encouraged people to face up to their reality while creating intuitive art. “Art helps people who are unaware of inner conflicts explore them without revisiting painful details,” says Shah. At times, she admits, art can work better than a psychotherapy session in dealing with issues.

“Art therapy is helpful for people who have been through traumatic experiences. Trauma is stored in isolated portions of the brain in the form of images. Art therapy helps access those images and start the process of healing,” says psychotherapist H’vovi Bhagwagar. Painting also stimulates the release of endorphins (pain-relieving neurotransmitters) and dopamine (stimulates the brain’s learning process). “These chemicals boost your mood and alleviate depression, anxiety and other negative emotions,” explains Bhagwagar. Perhaps that explains the high participants talk about following a session.

Fill in the blanks

Coinciding with the rise of painting clubs, there has been a parallel interest in colouring books for grown-ups. A more intricate and elaborate counterpart to the colouring books of your childhood, these have become a craze globally (Nielsen Bookscan estimates that 12 million books were sold in 2015 in the US, a sizeable jump from 1 million sold in 2014).

While Secret Garden: An Inky Treasure Hunt and Colouring Book set off the trend globally, India now has local variants. Artist Sujaya Batra released an illustrated version of Khalil Gibran’s The Prophet this year, while Good Earth and Penguin India teamed up to release Baagh-e-Bahar, a Mughal-inspired colouring book for adults.

Nimish Shah (31), fashion designer, who runs the label Shift, is a fan of the Baagh-e-bahar book. “I have two left hands. For me, this book was an impulse buy. It was brought as a mocking exercise, thinking ‘I will never do something like this’. Once I got started, I was hooked. It’s always there on my coffee table now. When I am babysitting or just bored, this is what I turn to.”

At a time when people’s attention spans are at an all-time low and socialising conjures visions of people huddled together browsing their phones, art might just be the game changer.

Upcoming events

Moon Gazing — Paint and Dine by Paint Party
The next session involves painting a serene moon-gazing scene.
On: June 25, 3pm
At: PizzaExpress, Andheri (W)

Art session by paint the Town
A two-hour paint lesson that includes a glass of wine or chilled beer.
On: June 19, 6pm
At: The Little Door, Andheri (W)

Zentangle
A meditative art form that involves making structured patterns called “tangles”.
On: June 25 and July 2, 2.30pm to 6pm
At: Artisans’, VB Gandhi Marg, Kala Ghoda, Fort

Art gig by Bombay Drawing Room
A session on painting golden daisies.
On: June 19, 4pm
At: AKA restaurant, Dr AB Road, Worli