Well Hello, Dalí

I walked into the Portuguese-American Club in Oak Bluffs on a mild Monday evening with my mom in tow and was greeted by a blast of music and a mix of excited twenty-somethings. We were all there for one reason, and one reason only – to learn how to paint. Well, maybe two reasons: we could enjoy some refreshing alcoholic beverages as we channeled our hidden Caravaggio or, in mom’s case, awakened her previously undiscovered inner Dalí.

Paint Corner Art Bar, a business based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, has made a home away from home on Martha’s Vineyard. Founded and taught by Leslie Roberts-Belkner, the class is designed to offer an artistic experience for painting newbies or seasoned vets. There are step-by-step instructions, and each person works on his or her own version of the same “painting of the night.”

Roberts-Belkner laid down the law as soon as everyone was settled into their seats with beers in their hands. Or in my mom’s case, a cosmopolitan. This was a zero-negativity zone, she said. Unconstructive criticism would have to be atoned for either by buying the entire class a round of drinks or by publicly dancing to Beyoncé.

But unconstructive criticism toward painting – especially my own – is kind of my thing. You see, I was an art major for my first year and a half of college and I managed to not take a single painting class because it scared the hell out of me. Composition was one thing, but mixing the paint, shading, and highlighting, the fact that you can’t just erase a line – it was way too stressful for me. I switched to another major and never looked back.

Yet here I was, years later, in a painting class where the brushes we were given all had cute, stress-free names like Big Bertha and Little Willy. With high hopes we started with the sky. And my first setback. Halfway through the large space at the top of the canvas I ran out of paint, which meant remixing more, which in turn meant I now had two different colors of blue. Sip of beer. Deep breath in … no negativity … deep breath out … no negativity. This was only the first step. Sip of beer.

As the class progressed, we learned the proper technique for highlighting and the correct form to achieve different brush strokes. As most listened, I held back laughter as I watched my mom go rogue. She simply refused to listen to the proper way to make the petals, and boldly moved steps ahead to add additional elements out of her own imagination. Maybe mom was cut out for art school more than I was, I thought. Or maybe I should have had a cosmopolitan too.

As the class put the finishing touches on their paintings, I took a walk around the room to assess my fellow students’ work. Some, like mom, went completely out of the box with mixed results. Others stuck with the instructor, which resulted in a pleasant colorful mix of flower patches. All, it seemed, were having fun; no one looked likely to cut off an ear any time soon.

And me? With my finished product in front of me, I can now say I’m happy with what I achieved. But did the class awake in me the urge to paint again? The answer would be, alas, negative.

Paint Corner Art Bar will hold classes weekly in the summer at its new location at the Portuguese-American Club in Oak Bluffs. For more information visit,