Staff Photo by Allison Carter/Chattanooga Times Free Press Priscilla Simms, left, paints as her sister Tiffany Simms looks on during a Gogh Paint N Party class. The two sisters attended the class along with their parents.
Leslie Lakey flutters around the small studio in the back of her Art Warehouse business a couple times a week, showing people how to paint.
But her new venture, housed within her Brainerd Road retail business, isn't the typical painting class.
"I like to say it's not an art lesson," said Lakey, referring to her Gogh Paint 'N Party classes that started about five months ago. "It's more of a social thing for people. It's more about the fun and the party than the painting."
As about 15 people each sit in front of their own canvas, dabbing bits of paint onto their works that look similar to -- but not the same as -- the piece Lakey herself is painting at the front of the room, she takes the time to visit each person. Jumping from the platform, she glances over the shoulders of several "partygoers" and stops at one that catches her eye.
"That is delicious, that high contrast white," she tells one woman.
"OK, so are you comfortable with what you're doing?" she asks another.
Lakey, who never went to art school, might not use the most technical terms or techniques -- encouraging people to use the tips of their pinkie finger rather than a brush to create a small dot with some texture -- but she likes it that way.
"I just want to make people feel comfortable," she said.
After about 11 years working in the art business with her husband, and three of having a retail presence in Chattanooga, Lakey decided to expand her shop's offerings.
In May, she attended a similar painting class in Atlanta and later decided she wanted to bring the concept to this area.
The Gogh Paint classes break down a painting step by step so that anyone can paint the picture, no matter their skill level, Lakey said.
"People come in who haven't held a paint brush before," she said. "When you break it down step by step it's not a big deal. Everybody gets so expressive."
Lakey said it's easy to think the classes are meant just for women, but she thinks the men who are "dragged in by their wives or girlfriends" end up having some of the most fun.
Her husband and co-owner of Art Warehouse, Mark Lakey, said he gets a kick out of seeing the men come in.
To sign up for a class, visit goghpaintnparty.com and click "Calendar Reservations."
"From the male perspective, it's almost like dance lessons," he said. "You don't really want to go, but when you get there you end up having more fun than you thought you would. Typically when I see a guy coming in it's comical because they don't want to be here, but guys get competitive and by the end they want their painting to be the best. It's kind of comical to see the guys turn full tilt."
For now, classes are kept to a maximum of 25 participants, but Leslie Lakey said she would like to be able to offer larger classes in the future if she can figure out a way to keep them personalized. She said she likes the small sizes because she can give each person attention as they're working through the best way to complete their painting.
"To me the fun part is having fun with the people individually, kind of getting to know people," she said. "To do that, I need to be able to take the time with people."
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Brittany Cofer is a business reporter who has been with the Chattanooga Times Free Press since January 2010. She previously worked as a general assignment Metro reporter. In the Business department, she covers banking, retail, tourism, consumer issues and green issues. Brittany is from Conyers, Ga., and spent two years at Kennesaw State University in Kennesaw, Ga., before transferring to the University of Georgia. She graduated from the university’s Grady College of Journalism in December ...