Celebrating a friend’s birthday and looking for something that is a tad different but still involves food and beverages? This was the dilemma we faced the Friday night before the Carnival of Flowers parade. Being a birthday that didn’t end in a zero meant that the night wasn’t going to end with a keepsake of a drunken tattoo or a police record. However it was still a birthday of a very important person and we wanted to mark the occasion accordingly. This was a hastily planned celebration meaning I received only a last minute text to report to one of Toowoomba’s newest businesses, Picasso and Pinot. As the name suggests it is an amateur art class that combines painting and and alcohol. These two things have been happy bedfellows since nearly the dawn of time.
Under strict instructions not to bring anything I didn’t know what awaited. Were they running low on nude life models? If so it was still bitterly cold in Toowoomba and I thought that I may be unfairly misrepresented on the canvas and now I regret missing those sessions at the gym (for the last 32 months).
Traffic was horrendous, all the tourists for tomorrow’s parade clogging up the sidewalks of Margaret Street, sampling Toowoomba’s nightlife. My normal five minute drive from home was bloated to twenty-five minutes because of those invading our sleepy little city. More chance of finding a bucket of gold bullion in the middle of the road than a carpark tonight but at least the walk from what felt like Charleville will do me good. The beauty of tonight’s activity was you bring you own food and drinks and the studio supplies all your arty-farty needs (providing that those needs are limited to a chair, easel, paints, a paper plate, jar of water and three brushes). Pro Hart worked with less so if I was ever going to make my name in the art circles I had to follow suit. Tonight’s class was at full capacity, thirty-three wannabe artists. Our party of five was joined by a hen’s night with the balance being groups of twenty-something woman on their monthly gals night out.
Everybody got the memo to bring our own libations and foodstuffs however it was only our group that took the directions seriously. Most came armed with a single bottle under one arm and a packet of Jatz under the other. Others opted for Tim Tams and a block of cheddar. Our birthday boy had conjured up handmade pulled pork rolls, an impressive meat and cheese platter, four bottles of wine as well as the necessary dips and crackers. Given the amount of people attending, space was already at a premium. Our pile of food was carefully wedged between the easels and paints. One false move reaching for a chunk of brie could bring down three people’s efforts, covering them in red wine and a selection of cured meats.
Apparently when you book online, you are given many choices of possible paintings and each is graded based on its level of complexity. Our Friday happened to be Flamingos. From this day forward it will be known as “Flamingo Friday” but you could easily argue that it should be named after the collective noun, “Flamboyance Friday” (yes, that is the term for a group of flamingos). Handed an apron we were ushered to the far wall and lined up to get our paints, squirting blobs of each colour we wanted onto a paper plate, our makeshift palette for the night. Thankfully we had seen a completed picture before choosing the colours so we didn’t have to get one squirt of everything. Times like this I wish I had paid more attention in Year 8 Arts & Craft class at school.
So you have an idea of what we were trying to replicate, here is the one they had prepared earlier. We will see in approximately two hours how closely our interpretations match with the one that was prepared earlier as the guide.
It was like being back at school all over again. Some people didn’t listen and opted not to follow the teacher’s guidance. Some wanted to go off reservation and change up the colours and even the type of bird. I broke it down into six steps which I thought should make the whole task more…. palatable. I remember the SBS “Bob Ross – The Joy of Painting” marathon on Christmas Day last year and tried to borrow some of his learnings but unfortunately Bob specialised in landscapes and mountains. Not one of his 20,000 something paintings had a giant flamingo front and centre.
Step 1: Cover the easel with colour
This should have been the easiest of all the steps, cover the whole canvas with a background colour. And don’t neglect the sides of the canvas. Nowhere in our inventory did we have a roller and it is hard to paint when you have a glass in one hand and a selection of charcuterie in the other. I have seen those elephants paint using their trunk and for a while there I was thinking about jamming one of the bigger brushes up each nostril and moving my head to make the magic happen. Getting the paint at a similar consistency and colour was difficult than first thought and this stage has to be completed in smart time as it needs to dry before the bird makes an appearance. In my haste I forgot to paint under the clip holding the canvas to the easel. My masterpiece has a white patch on the top which is my nod to David Attenborough’s hair and his efforts in bringing the plight of the flamingo into the mainstream consciousness? I know it’s a long bow to draw but I need to say something to retain any skerrick of credibility. And remember these arty types will lap up wild, random explanations all day, every day of the week.
Step 2: Paint the Flamingo outline
The flamingo outline is similar to the number two. Being an accountant you would think that this would have been easier than shooting fish in a barrel. My flamingo is the first in history to have the extra thick neck of a burly security guard and sport an Adam’s apple.
Step 3: Colour the Flamingo body
My flamingo also had blue plumage. These are very rare, that unique that one has never been seen by human eyes.
Step 4: Beak and Head/Nostril
It was hard to do a nostril with an inch wide brush. For all the rookies at home, turn it around and use the pointy end of the handle. Brett Whitley gave me that gem of an idea when we were trading brushstrokes in the mid ’70s. The eye is virtually identical to the Mona Lisa, it appears like the bird is watching you as you move around the room.
Step 5: Flowers?
Next step was trying to replicate the flowers in the original. One, these are bloody hard to paint and two they looked shit. Opted for reed and long grass more in keeping with their natural surrounds. Something to tickle its undercarriage, giving it that glint that I captured in its eye. Apparently flamingos feed off blue green algae so maybe they should think about Australia’s first breeding program at Lake Annand in Toowoomba?
Step 6: Sign it and pose for the group photo
I didn’t sign mine in the hope that it may drive up the price if my art career takes off. For the statistically minded mine was smack bang in the middle of the bell curve. There were some incredibly talented students whose talents were honestly wasted in such an elementary class. But on the other hand there were just as many that spent more time indulging in the Pinot rather than partake in the Picasso.
I had previously entered the Archibald Prize as a joke drawing a portrait of a local singer who was bald, cheery and (at the time) chubby. Look at the photo below and I could argue that I am making slight improvements. I gifted the painting to my Grandma who was shocked that I was able to make something somewhat recognisable. She did have to ask whether it was a swan or another type of bird. When I replied, “Flamingo” there was a silence as she was searching for the most diplomatic response as possible. I will make sure I pay a visit on Tuesday night and go through her rubbish bins when I drag them to the kerb to see if the flamingo hasn’t been released into the wild.
Toowoomba gets an unfair wrap as being a city that is uneducated and lacks a cultural side. As we headed to Sante to finalise the birthday celebrations with a cheeky nightcap there was no shortage of locals keen to give us their “feedback” as we walked down the street with our bright pink birds for all to see. Damn armchair art critics, no wonder Mr Squiggle decided to pack it in after a while.
Less food than normal and something a bit different. A great way to waste a Friday night and most likely we will return, ready to take on the next challenge the art work sends our way.
Art Class: Pinot & Picasso https://www.pinotandpicasso.com.au/toowoomba/
Post Paint Drinks: Sante https://www.santecocktailbar.com.au/