DECATUR -- It's hard to know exactly what kind of cocktail goes best with a particular piece of art.
Is a Manhattan too brusque and bold for the soothing colors of pastel portraiture?
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Would a zippy Tom Collins be overshadowed while making Japanese kokeshi dolls?
What, if anything, goes with absinthe?
Thankfully, the Decatur Area Arts Council doesn't take these pairings too seriously, according to education coordinator Jenny Cowgill. They're just trying to invite local adults into the Madden Arts Center to learn a new art style and, with a twist, with their favorite cocktail in hand.
"We're modeling this series after a program in Springfield that also encouraged people to bring their own cocktails, wine or beer and snacks," Cowgill said of the new "Cocktails and Creations" series of adult art classes. "It's supposed to be something fun and social. Sometimes, I think adults who don't consider themselves `artistic' but do like to socialize are intimidated to come here for a class, so we wanted to present the class in a way where you just come and have fun with friends and leave with something you've created."
And it doesn't hurt that participants are encouraged to bring along their own liquid courage. Several classes have already been held on subjects such as pastel painting. The next class on Thursday night will focus on the Japanese kokeshi dolls, and is taught by Cowgill. Five more classes are scheduled over the next two months including Oct. 25, Nov. 8, 15 and 29, and Dec. 1.
"They're (the Japanese kokeshi dolls) usually made of wood, but we're making them out of papier-mâché," she said. "They're sort of reminiscent of the Russian nesting dolls. They're really cute, and in Japan they're meant to be given as gifts to convey good luck."
Class sizes cap at around 20 people to make sure everyone in attendance is able to discuss their own work with the instructor, and the pieces being worked on are meant to be "quirky, fun things people could give as a gift," such as the dolls.
Another upcoming class features "wine and cheese trays," for instance, and will involve the adults decorating trays that have been made from melted wine bottles. Prices for the classes range from around $12 to $25 depending on the materials involved, but all are meant to give adult members of the arts community a way to get involved, possibly for the first time.
"I think that a lot of adults are more used to bringing their kids here for classes and think of them as stuff for kids," Cowgill said. "This is an opportunity for them to be introduced to the full extent of the arts council if they've been here but never been out of the gallery. People overlook the arts as a fun outlet for average people."
Residents who have already attended "Cocktails and Creations" courses were surprised by the talents they discovered within themselves. Mary Abbott of Decatur participated in the pastels class and said she had no idea about making art prior to sitting down and beginning to work on her pastel self-portrait.
"I'm actually very pleased with my little profile so far," Abbott said, taking a sip of champagne. "We all came in here thinking that we didn't know how to make these portraits or how to even begin, but they've turned out better than any of us would have expected. When I started I thought it was going to be very difficult, but it's fun and easier than I thought."
Abbott said she had never taken an adult arts course before, but relished the opportunity to socialize with friends and learn something new while getting out of the house.
"I like experiencing new things and I have kids, so it's nice to get out and have a little girl time," she said. "I thought an arts class sounded like fun even though I didn't really think of myself as artistic. But I think this is better than just a dinner at a bar for girl's night out because you've got something to show for it and you've learned something when you're done. It's nice to just let your creative juices flow."
Instructor Kelly Naschert was the teacher for the pastel portraiture class, and said it was a nice change of pace to teach adults, as she often works with children for the arts council and the Decatur School District. She believes pastels work particularly well for introducing students to artistic concepts because their bright colors alleviate the pressure drawing a realistic-looking image.
"They're so vibrant, they jump off the page," she said. "People don't feel compelled to make their drawing look like a photograph because the colors are bright and exciting. They're good colors for an uplifting, fun environment, which is what the arts council wanted for these classes, I think."
Like Cowgill, Naschert does her best to encourage adults to experiment with the arts, even if it is for the first time.
"We're never too old for the arts, but for many people it's harder the older you are to get back into it if it's something you did in the past," she said. "It's good to think about the most basic skills and just do them whenever you can. When you're sitting at a restaurant waiting, grab a napkin and draw the salt and pepper shakers. If you're home in your kitchen, draw one of the objects on your counter. It's definitely worth the time to try."