Wendy Carr, who owns Amigos as well as Prime Time Café in Pawcatuck, said she’d heard of these types of classes in larger towns, like Providence, but never in Westerly. With the help of a friend, Stephanie Shawn, Carr offered the first painting class in December, and sold out.
“I knew they were popular,” Carr said of the painting sessions in other cities, “but I didn’t think it would be so popular here.”
On Thursday, Carr and Shawn offered a second class, painting sunflowers with guest artist Michael Bryce. Sold out with a waiting list, the class packed 55 students into Amigo’s banquet room.
Some people came just to get a lesson from Bryce, a Providence artist who sells his work at the Virtu Art Festival in Wilcox Park in May. A former professor of painting and illustration at several colleges in Rhode Island and Massachusetts, Bryce now paints for a living.
“I sell hundreds of sunflower paintings a year,” he said.
Andy Elie, a 12-year-old painter from Providence, said Bryce is his favorite artist. One of his Christmas presents, according to his mother, Loni Elie, was a Bryce painting.
Andy was probably the youngest student in the room, and one of the few males. Another was Tom Silva, also a Bryce fan, who was painting sunflowers with his wife, Diane. “My wife wanted me to come. I’m very supportive of her,” he said.
The class was a Christmas gift from Diane. The Silvas already own a Bryce painting, which Tom bought for Diane as an anniversary gift.
“We decided to come and see if we can do it ourselves,” he said. He’d never painted anything before, he added.
For others it was a girls night out.
Pam Salimeno of Westerly and three friends ate dinner at the restaurant first, then had some drinks while learning to paint sunflowers. Salimeno had attended the first class in December, and enjoyed it so much she came again.
“I just had a blast,” she said. “It was so much fun. I actually painted something that was recognizable.”
Laughing, she added: “When I tell you I can’t paint, I am not being falsely modest.”
The evening is about camaraderie, she said, and about accomplishing something she didn’t think she could do. She’s already signed up for a Feb. 5 class painting wine glasses, to be taught by Shawn.
Sharon White of Pawcatuck was also a repeat customer. “I loved it,” she said of the December class. “It was awesome.”
Like Salimeno, she knew no one at the first class but made friends before it was over.
White paints and repurposes furniture, and also wanted to pick up some new techniques. She has also signed up for future classes.
“I’ll be doing them all,” she said.
Bryce, a college friend of Carr’s, said there would be three phases to the class: underpainting, margaritas, and overpainting. That was slightly off; the drinks were flowing from the beginning. Although Carr was showcasing her mint strawberry and cucumber cilantro margaritas, Bryce was having a Dos Equis beer instead.
“If I had a real margarita, I probably couldn’t paint anything,” he joked.
However, if it helped the painters loosen up, it was probably helpful, he said.
Because of the popularity of Bryce’s class, Carr scheduled another sunflower class for Feb. 13. Bryce is already scheduled to lead a class of mermaid painting in March.
As Bryce taught, the students painted, chatted, ate and drank. They munched on beef taquitos and corn fritters as Bryce walked them through the painting. Carr and Shawn walked among the students, helping, while Shawn frequently cheered them on.
Shawn suggested that people wanted to do something different when they go out, and this was a chance for them to be creative.
Carr said she’s going to give the public what it wants. “We’re going to continue this as long as we can,” she said.
For more information on artist Michael Bryce, visit mikebryceart.com. For more information on Amigos Taqueria y Tequila, visit amigosri.com. For more information on future classes, contact the restaurant at 401-315-5800.