It's a Friday night in downtown Champaign. While many people file into bars and restaurants, others head to 111 S. Walnut St.
There, at the top of a long flight of stairs, welcoming them is a large sign reading "The Art Party Studio."
This evening, 26 people have come to Art Party Studio, which co-owner Chance McDade bills as "half art lesson, half party, 100 percent fun!"
Most are employees of ABC Counseling and Family Services. Eight are graduate students in the master's of social work program at the University of Illinois. Another three are a mother and her grown daughter, plus a friend.
They all arrive shortly before 7. They mingle, snack and sip wine and other beverages that they've brought to Art Party Studio, a cool space with a 16-foot-high ceiling, exposed brick wall and other features, among them McDade's large-scale, colorful art pieces.
Soon McDade calls the party to order.
"Ladies, do you want to take a seat?" she says as she steps up to a dais where an easel holding a blank canvas awaits her. On another next to it is a finished painting, the task for the night.
The Art Party-goers eventually sit at four tables covered with blue cloths. Easels, all the same size and each built by McDade's husband, Kevin Bunn, a woodworker and her Art Party Studio partner, are neatly lined up on the tables. Also at each station: a white paper plate covered with six dabs of different colored acrylic paint, a plastic container of water and three brushes of varying sizes.
McDade mentions a couple of "housekeeping articles":
"When you use a paintbrush, you always want to swish it really good in the water and then leave it in the water. There's kind of a balance when you're mixing paint with water, a balance between too much water and not enough water. You'll feel your way."
Telling them not to worry about how their paintings look at the beginning, McDade explains to her students the paint will be applied in layers.
"You always start with a background," she says. "You always want to know where you're going."
She's already helped in that regard, having made rudimentary sketches of mountaintops on each canvas.
"Take your largest brush and swish it around in the water," McDade continues. "Take a little purple and add some white to it. Then you're going to paint in the sky.
"To represent clouds, take your brush and take a little white and swirl your brush around in a circular motion so it looks like a whitening sky."
"How do we do the clouds?" one student asks.
"Just take the white paint and swirl it around in the sky," McDade answers.
For the next two hours, she takes the Art Party participants step by step through the painting, titled "Autumn Twilight."
While classic rock songs by Elton John and others play over small loudspeakers, the painters-for-the-night chat, joke, laugh and sip wine or other beverages while working on their canvases.
"Try not to dip your paintbrush in your wine, and don't drink your paint water," McDade jokes.
She offers tips. To get rid of visible brush strokes, swipe the brush all way across the canvas. To create tree branches, use the edge of the brush.
Most of the participants this evening are not artists. A few took art classes in high school. Most are there because half of the proceeds from Art Party Studio fees that evening will go to ABC Counseling and Family Services, which helps families grow through adoption and helps families heal from the trauma of sexual abuse.
Knowing that, Megan Murphy, a 22-year-old master's degree candidate in social work, organized the group of her fellow students for Art Party Studio.
"I think this is a really cool idea," Murphy says. "I don't know of many areas that have something like this."
Meghan Gentry, also a grad student in social work, says she loves the idea of Art Party Studio. She also loves art and painting.
"It's difficult to carve out time to paint," she says. "I like that this is a scheduled thing: You have this amount of time dedicated to your painting, and you have an instructor here."
Gentry has no problem with everyone leaving with the same painting, give or take a few subtleties.
"Next year we'll be interning and we'll graduate so we can all take our paintings with us and put them in our offices as a memory," she says.
Yoli Holmes, a therapist for ABC Counseling, views Art Party Studio as a "good way to relax as a work family."
"I think it's a good time for us to take care of ourselves and connect with each other. I think it's special because the goal is the same for everyone but they all turn out different. It might not turn out as we expected but they're all beautiful, and I like that."
McDade, who grew up in Urbana and who's always been an artist, first heard about the concept of art party studios when a niece from Alabama visited. As soon as the niece saw McDade's studio, she said that it would be perfect as an art party studio, something the niece had participated in in Birmingham.
"I did some research online, and I found out it actually started in the South and it's been really popular down there," McDade said.
So she took the plunge, buying supplies and moving all hers to her husband's woodworking shop on another level several steps up from her studio.
"Then I opened in March, and it's been rolling along," she said.
Art Party Studio is generally for people age 18 and up, though McDade opens it for birthday parties for kids, teen parties and other private events.
Art Party Studio takes place Wednesday through Saturday evenings. All Art Party Studios including fundraisers and excluding private parties are open to the public.
McDade likes that Art Party Studio is interactive and participatory — and that it's simple enough for nonartists to do. It allows them to move out of their comfort zones and try something new, she said.
And, "You're engaged in a creative endeavor and you're having fun at the same time. It brings you into the present moment, and everything else falls away."
If you go
What: The Art Party Studio, co-owned by Chance McDade and Kevin Bunn
When: Wednesday through Saturday evenings
Where: 111 S. Walnut St., C.
Cost: Adult classes are $35 for each participant, and $60 for any two persons who sign up together; private parties are $40 per person (The studio provides canvases, paint, brushes, easels, aprons, music and instruction; participants bring their own drinks and snacks)
Information: 239-8896; theartpartystudio.com/