Paul’s soirees paint a colorful twist

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There’s a party going on downtown on Fifth Street. It’s a paint party, and it’s happening the first Friday each month at the San Benito County Arts Council’s ARTspace.
“This is something we started last year as a way for local people to get together to paint for a couple of hours and have a good time,” said Jennifer Laine, executive director for the San Benito County Arts Council. “We have an artist we work with, Paul Loughridge, who comes in. He brings in all the materials. We have wine and desserts and everybody goes home with a unique painting that they created themselves.”
Paul’s Paint Party is a traveling show, of sorts, where Loughridge goes between Morgan Hill, Gilroy and Hollister to teach non-artists how to paint.
“We had the first paint party October last year,” Laine said, “and now we have it once every other month. The interest has been really great.  We have a series from September to December. We will resume in the New Year.”
Those who attend the parties pay $45, which goes toward acrylic paints, a canvas and apron.
“We have between 14 and 18 per party,” Laine said. “Our space is limited so the parties quickly sell out. It’s a cozy atmosphere.”
Those attending enjoy company, wine and desserts as they follow Loughridge’s instructions on a step-by-step bases to complete the painting in two hours.
“We have everything from people who have never painted before to hobby painters,” Laine said. “It’s a good opportunity for them build on their skills and experience. But really the party’s going to accommodate all levels of artistic ability.”
Every month there’s a different image. Beforehand, Loughridge paints the master image. He then recreates it at the front of the class as the students follow his example. After completing a step in the painting process, he walks around to observe and help each student.
“We’ve had everything from florals to landscapes. I believe there’s a lot of interest in doing birds. We’re open to feedback and trying new things. There’s lots of room for improvisation, but the students are also able to just paint as closely as possible to the master image,” Laine said.
So, how does someone get into the paint party business?
“I’ve been a graphic designer for 35 years,” Loughridge explained.
One of six kids, Loughridge grew up in Los Altos. His father was an engineer and his mother was an artist. He said his mother would often keep the six occupied by giving them pads of paper and crayons. It must have stuck because there are now several artists in the family.
Loughridge’s artistic endeavors initially leaned toward production designing.
“I started working for IBM doing lots of manuals, really boring stuff,” he said. “Then I went to Specialized and did clothing and packaging.  That got me down to Morgan Hill. That was 25 years ago. Then I worked for Tandem Computer, which was bought by Compaq, which was bought by HP. Six years ago, I was laid off at HP along with 60,000 other people.”
Loughridge did what many writers and artists do when the full-time work suddenly disappears—he freelanced. He also applied for a job at large paint party companies and they said they didn’t need anybody in the South Bay.
“I asked them who does Morgan Hill, Gilroy and Hollister.” he said. “They said nobody, and, thus, Paul’s Paint Party was born.”
He said he keeps busy working with several galleries and recently did an event at Apple. The money’s not huge, so why does he do it?
“When working with folks, painting is kind of a secondary thing. They’re having a good time. I’m having a good time. And I take a little money home. It’s a win-win.”
Loughridge has expanded his artistic reach in Hollister beyond adults out to have a night of wine, desserts, good cheer and a splash of color on canvas.
“The Arts Council has hooked me up with some local schools where we teach three-dimensional robot building to little kids with cardboard tubes and stuff. It’s so much fun,” he said. “They’re hilarious and fun. The thing is, adults are kind of saying they can’t do it. Kids have no qualms. They’ll do anything. Different crowds, same enjoyment for me.”
Laine said the arts council first began collaborating with Loughridge four years ago.
“We first connected with him through an exhibition we had put on called ‘Materiality,’” Laine said. “He makes these wonderful sculptures made out of used and recycled materials, metal and old car parts. He’s extremely creative and really more of a 3D artist. We asked him to come down here and try out a party and it was real successful, so we built it into a series.”
Laine said the Paul’s Paint Parties are casual and fun affairs.
“They’ll often have a glass of wine and chit-chat,” she said. “Once everyone arrives they start the painting. We have music going and it’s just a very fun and joyful atmosphere. People get up and walk around to look at other people’s work. We have hair dryers on hand so they can speed up the drying process if they’re doing a lot of layering. It takes about two hours and people take their paintings home. Sometimes they will continue working on them at home.”
Vivian Romero has been coming to the paint parties for the last four months, she said.
“It all started around Christmas time when my daughter and son-in-law bought me some acrylic paints,” she said. “I do it because it’s fun and relaxing and I don’t have to think about anything else, but having a good time.”
After four months, she talked her daughter and son-in-law into joining the party.
Romero’s daughter, Ginger Elrod, who said she had about two minutes of art experience, said, “It sounded like fun,” and then blamed this reporter for distracting her. “See what you made me do. Now I’ve got to go from that,” she joked.
At the easel next to her, her husband, Paul Tucker, blamed the two women for his presence, but admired his wife’s efforts.
“Look at that,” he said, pointing at his wife’s painting. “It looks great. I’m impressed. I just wanted to learn how to use a brush and paint something.”

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