Category: Craft

I Went To One Of Those Painting Parties

Painting parties. You know what I’m talking about.

You’ve seen them all over your Facebook feed. Groups of ladies possibly sloshed on wine, gleefully posing in that standard school picture formation (two rows, one standing, one kneeling), holding their version of the same painting.

These parties are all the rage around here. They’re blowing up my Facebook newsfeed and I’ve heard rumors that in bigger cities, they’re so popular that they have waiting lists. When a North Iowa Blogger offered us an opportunity to join a painting party, I knew I had to experience it.

Crafts and painting projects typically aren’t my thing. I’m impatient when it comes to making things that aren’t food and I like to create things I can eat. However, I do like to spend time with my friends and try new experiences. Pus, I had a jolly time at the wreath-making class even though I couldn’t eat my wreath. It’s still hanging on my front door and makes me happy every time I see it.

This particular painting party occurred at Country Heritage Bed & Breakfast in Hampton, Iowa. The company Creative Spirits of Ames, Iowa facilitated the class. Beforehand, our blogger group browsed through their gallery of paintings and voted on recreating a farmhouse on the prairie.

We arrived at the bed and breakfast and found it transformed into an art studio. After we chose a spot with an easel, we paid our $35 admission and the Creative Spirits staff outfitted us with an apron and a paper plate pallet dotted with squirts of paint.

IMG_4306

I felt a little apprehensive while I waited for the artist to begin. I remember sending out a tweet that said, “Help, I’m at one of those painting parties and I don’t know how to paint and I don’t have any wine.”

With my limited art skills, I wondered if I could actually create a painting that resembled a real object. Would I spend $35 and end up with a blob? Barn or blob, barn or blob, I wondered. And about that wine. . . seriously, where was it!? It could either help or hurt my painting abilities. Bottles of Iowan fruit wine were available by the bottle, so we shared.

Time to begin. Our artist guided us through two versions of the barn painting one small step at a time. For example, her first instruction was to draw the horizon line with a medium brush dipped in green paint mixed with a little bit of black. Then, she walked us through painting the outline of the barn.

For a moment I got behind. I considered tossing in the towel and painting a giant smiley face. The thought of revealing a smiley face at the end of class cracked me up, but then I remembered I paid $35 and did my best to catch up.

By the time we began painting the prairie, I had sipped half a glass of blackberry wine and felt slightly footloose and fancy free. “Have a flappy wrist” the artist suggested as she demonstrated how to draw big green X’s.

Barn ex marks

Already there.

Barn almost done

In the end, my little prairie farmhouse did, in fact, look like a little prairie farmhouse. Totally not a blob. Donna and I took a sister photo with our finished paintings. Someone once thought we were sisters so now we roll with it.

Donna and Jeni Painting Party

Concluding Thoughts:
From start to finish, we painted for about two hours.

I produced artwork that resembles an actual “thing” and hope this encourages even the most hesitant of painters. The artist walked through the two versions of the painting slowly enough that everyone in our group really did create pieces that looked close enough to the example. Of course, our paintings varied and some added their own flair such as wind turbines and tractors. My barn looked like a barn, so there was no way I was attempting a wind turbine without step-by-step instructions.

The $35 price seems fair. The Creative Spirits team sets up all of the easels and makes sure that everyone has what they need like refills of paint or fresh cups of water to rinse off paint brushes. Country Heritage provided a relaxing location, beverages, and snacks. Because of liquor license laws, the B&B could only sell wine by the bottle rather than glass, but each bottle was about $12 making it an affordable share. If you attend a class at one of their locations, you can BYOB. They’ll also travel offsite if a big enough group RSVP’s.

Participating in this class taught me that I’m in the company of perfectionists which made me feel less neurotic. Because I struggled with wanting to make each feature perfect, I can’t say this experience was relaxing, but it sure was fun. Obviously, a glass of wine helped with that whole perfectionism thing.

Have you ever taken one of these group painting & wine parties? What was it like and what did you paint? 

Put A Bird On It: Wreath-Making Class & Fried Mushrooms At West Fork Wharf

Earth be still, I tried to make a craft!

I have all of the patience in the world for putzy baking projects like lefse and pita bread-making, but feel my temper and blood pressure rise when I make crafts. Growing-up, I loved crafts. I spent hours making friendship bracelets and pot holders woven with those stretchy bands. Of course, we 90’s children also loved Shrinky Dinks and those Perler beads we arranged on a plastic grid and melted together with an iron. I’m not sure what changed between now and then, but suspect my fondness of crafts is related to whether or not I can eat the finished product.

This week, I joined some North Iowa Blogger friends at Carlson Tree Farm in Hampton, Iowa and tried to get crafty with holiday wreaths. I noticed Sophie the dog the moment I walked into the wreath lodge and became distracted. Dogs always take precedence over crafts;)

Dog Sleeping wm

I spent a lot of time with Sophie who’s expecting puppies in a couple of months. Sophie got lots of pets while we waited for a wreath station and when I became impatient with my wreath-making skills. Very few things in life make me happier than a dog.

dog Collage

Left photo taken by Beth Ann Chiles.

Beth is one of my first North Iowan friends and frequent partner-in-crime, so it’s fitting we were paired as wreath-making partners (you can read about her experience here). Tree farm owner Michelle provided a wreath tutorial. She showed us how to arrange three types of evergreen into neat, little bundles. Each bundle fits into a space around the wire wreath “mold” where a quick push on the foot pedal clamps the branches together. Finally, the long branch ends get a little snip-snip so the next bundle can fit around the circle.

Putting together these bouquets is a perfectionist’s nightmare. Many thoughts like these filled my mind as I sorted through the evergreen piles:

“Ooo, this branch is a little too wide.”

“This branch is a little too short.”

“This branch is kind of curvy.”

We struggled through our first wreath, but, as you can see, laughed a lot through our trials and errors. Our instructor took one gander at our asymmetrical wreath and commented on its whimsical appearance. This made us giggle because we hypothesized that whimsical was a code word for wild, floofy, or lopsided, which our wreath most certainly was.

Making the wreath with Beth Collage

My wreath had a tail. The Carlson family did not seem too concerned and promised they could disguise it with decorations. I doubted them, but they were right. Our second wreath turned out much better. We had gotten the hang of the process by then. Our instructor explained how her family turns the branches we toss aside into the most beautiful wreathes.

We each paid $35 for our wreaths which included our choice of decorations from ribbons to bells. Beth, their resident bow expert turned my favorite ribbon into a stunning bow which balanced out my wreath’s tail.

Basket of supplies wm

Decorating and coordinating colors are not my strengths, so I added a few pine cones and a bird. When in doubt, put a bird on it. Now, if only I could figure out how to hang the wreath on my front door!

Jeni Wreath Collage

If you knew each of us, you could easily match us with our wreaths. They’re almost like holiday Rorschach tests.

Wreaths wm

Beth and I had arrived at class hungry and missing our afternoon naps (I’m an old soul). We were thrilled to find the Carlson’s stocked their workshop with hot cider & homemade cookies. Even so, we had all worked up an appetite for dinner at West Fork Wharf in Sheffield, Iowa, a restaurant several people have recommended.

West Fork Wharf is located along the town’s main street. Bob and Kim Jensen opened the supper club in June 2013. The inside of the restaurant feels both classy and comfortable. I found it fascinating to learn Bob’s hosted the local fishing show Fishing In The Midwest for over 20 years and that he constructed the tables and bar from the community high school’s old gym floor.

Several friends suggested we order the fried mushrooms. West Fork’s are unlike any I’ve tried before. The batter was thin and crispy and the mushrooms almost melted in my mouth. They’re served with ranch and the group favorite, a sauce resembling a combination of barbecue sauce, honey mustard & french dressing.

The cheese curds (or cheese balls, as they’re often called in North Iowa) had a delightfully chewy texture. Of course, they were served with ranch too. I mean, we are in Iowa, right? Both appetizers were fried well so that neither were greasy.

West Fork Wharf serves good ranch. I explain my definition of good vs. bad ranch in this post

WFW Food Collage

I ordered the fish sandwich for my entrée. The Chef toasted the sandwich bun and battered the fish in a thin coating, similar to the fried mushrooms. It tasted very fresh and I liked its moist, flaky texture. Most sandwiches come with the restaurant’s version of french fries called “propellers,” battered potatoes shaped like propellers. My dining companions’ green salads looked fresh. Next time I’d pay a few extra dollars for the fish platter my friend Amy ordered which comes with a salad and side.

The evening steak special appeared to be a popular choice. I saw many people enjoying large steaks drizzled with homemade cheese sauce and what looked like sautéed mushrooms. You can certainly find healthier options on the menu, but I was in the mood for splurging.

West Fork Wharf is a gem. The restaurant’s emphasis seems to be on scratch-made food prepared with thought and priced reasonably. The city of Sheffield is located about 30-minutes from our Mason City home and I’d like to return with Jake. If you find yourself in Franklin County, I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend stopping here for dinner.

Adult craft projects may test my patience, but I enjoy new experiences like this wreath class. Next month, we’re taking a group painting class from Creative Spirits of Ames, Iowa where an artist will walk us through one painting, step-by-step. There might not be a big friendly dog like Sophie to calm my nerves, but at least there will be wine.

*Thank you to the Carlson family for showering us with warm hospitality. 

Reader Question: Do you prefer crafting, cooking, or both? I’m curious if any of my non-crafty readers have taken a group painting & sipping class and how their painting turned-out. Does wine help or hurt? 

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