Judy Brown was channeling her inner Vincent Van Gough.
The Irrigon woman was streaking blue and aquamarine paint across a canvas at Desert Lanes Bowling Alley in Hermiston on Thursday, creating a backdrop for the jellyfish she would add later.
“I’ve never even held a brush,” she confessed.
She showed up at a “paint party” on Wednesday, however, because she knew the artist, Kathy Spears, and thought it would be fun to try.
“I decided I need a hobby,” she said. “I’m stretching my brain.”
Paint nights have become a popular phenomenon, the latest beginner art trend on the heels of coloring books for adults. Participants show up to a party where the paint, brushes, easels, canvas and other supplies are provided and then are led through creating a painting step by step.
The most famous step-by-step painting instructor was Bob Ross, an American artist who hosted an instructional television program from 1983 to 1994 on PBS. Since his death in 1995 his legacy in pop culture has grown, aided by his show’s availability on Netflix and the Instagrammable nature of paint nights with friends (and, usually, wine).
Kathy Spears has been hosting “paint parties” around Umatilla and Morrow counties for about three years now, including one Thursday a month at the bowling alley.
She started painting after she finished treatment for cancer.
“I needed something to think about besides the cancer,” she said. “I’m five years cancer-free. I don’t want to think about it every day — is the cancer going to come back? Every cancer survivor needs a hobby.”
Eventually she attended a couple of paint nights with friends up in the Tri-Cities, and decided it was something she could do. She started building up supplies and creating paintings that she could teach others to recreate.
“Pinterest is a great inspiration,” she said. “Or someone will say to me, ‘I want to paint a tree,’ or whatever and I’ll see what I can come up with.”
Thursday’s participants — 10 women and one man — had a choice between painting a sunflower or a jellyfish, both of which rested on the same streaked background in various shades of blue and green. A couple of participants brought their own picture they wanted to reproduce and Spears merely helped them as needed.
Alyia Munoz said it was her second paint night she had attended.
“It’s just relaxing,” she said. “It’s something fun to do with my mom and grandma, and it’s not something you would do every day.”
She said she didn’t try to worry too much about doing everything exactly right, but just had fun.
When the group was arriving, Spears told the newcomers that some people were more abstract and would finish sooner and others were more meticulous about trying to recreate the painting exactly.
“It’s your painting,” she said. “It’s not going to look like mine and it’s not going to look like Tom’s.”
Tom Daulton and his wife Carol Daulton both chose to paint the sunflowers. They each worked on their own canvas, but shared tips back and forth. Tom said it was his fourth time at one of Spears’ paint parties.
“I don’t count last time,” he joked. “Last time was a disaster.”
He said when Carol wanted him to come to one he was curious to see if he was “expressive that way” and found himself enjoying it so much he kept coming back to learn new techniques. A previous week, for example, they learned how to use Q-tips as small daubers to create a picture of lilacs.
Carol said they are “running out of wall space” at home and will have to start rotating which of their paintings they display. Originally she started coming to paint nights because she had done some painting many years ago and thought it would be fun to try again.
“I’m so glad I did because it gives us something to do together,” she said.