Art class gets creative juices flowing

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Latrobe resident Janna Kuhn admits she’s not creative by any means.

But when there’s a paint brush in one hand, a wine glass in the other, and a blank canvas, something amazing happens, she said.

“Each time, my picture looks like something I never thought I could create. Somehow, it all turns out so well. I’m sure the wine helps,” she said.

Ms. Kuhn is among area residents who have taken “Pop the Cork” group painting lessons at Latrobe Art Center since they began last October. Students — all amateur artists — paint the same easy subject with step-by-step guidance from an instructor.

The art center provides the paints, brushes, a pre-stretched canvas, bottle openers and wine glasses. Students only need to bring enthusiasm and his or her favorite bottle of wine (or non-alcoholic beverage).

Art center director Gabrielle “Gabi” Nastuck, who teaches the monthly classes, said each session offers adults a bit of “me time” to be creative, have fun, and de-stress. Students won’t become fine artists by class end, but they will become “tipsy and relaxed,” she said.

“That’s the fun of it. Everyone starts off very serious and quiet. Then by the end of the class, they all think they’re Picasso or Van Gogh,” she said.

Pop the Cork falls into a category of art classes that make up the apt-named “paint-and-sip” industry — a rapidly growing trend across the country that gives inexperienced adult artists a fun night out and a self-created masterpiece to take home. Typically a nominal fee is charged for a couple of hours of instruction and supplies; students must be of legal drinking age.

Paint-and-sip studio classes are offered by individual artists, franchise-based businesses and others in venues that range from art centers and storefronts to bars and private parties. Currently, there are an estimated 200 paint-and-sip companies in the United States and Canada, according to comments on the U.S. Small Business Administration’s website, The vast majority of them are small and owned by individual artists.

At Latrobe Art Center, 819 Ligonier St., Pop the Cork is geared to the over-21 crowd. Registration fee is $35 per class ($20 for art center members).

Classes are held each third Thursday from 6 to 8 p.m., with changing subject themes. For Feb. 20, it’s “Wine”; for March 20, “The Irish”; and for April 17, “Flowers.”

To preserve an intimate setting with one-on-one instruction, class size is limited to 35 students. Waiting lists are common.

Ms. Nastuck teaches from a wheelchair; she has osteogenesis imperfecta, commonly called brittle bone disease, a genetic condition that causes bones to break easily and that stunted her growth. She doesn’t drink wine due to medication issues.

“I’m usually the designated driver in the class,” she said, laughing.

Popcorn is provided for snacking, and students are welcome to bring items from the center’s Neighborhood Café and espresso bar to class.

The idea for Pop the Cork came to Ms. Nastuck four years ago when a patron mentioned taking an out-of-state painting class with wine, she said. She loved the idea of offering a non-intimidating art class, but put it on the back burner until center renovations were completed last year, she said.

Ms. Kuhn said the BYOB classes provide stress relief for herself and co-worker Kristi McMahan, also of Latrobe. Both bank auditors, they take turns bringing a bottle of Moscato sweet white wine.

“If my painting doesn’t look as good as someone else’s, it’s okay. We’re just there to have fun,” Ms. Kuhn said.

Ms. Nastuck said she plays Motown songs to lighten the atmosphere. Last month, all of the students were singing and humming as they painted and sipped, she said.

“I thought it was hysterical. They didn’t realize they were doing it. They were all in their own zones having a good old time,” she said.

Loyalhanna Township resident Sharon Shepard, who brought Wild Horse Pinot Noir for herself, made last month’s class a girls-night-out with five friends.

“None of us were any good at art. But once we got a little wine in us, it was, like, ‘Okay, I can do this.’ It beats going to a bar, sitting and drinking,” Ms. Shepard said.

Plans are to expand Pop the Cork this spring into an option for those who rent center space for non-art events, Ms. Nastuck said. For example, individuals who book space for wedding or baby showers can also hold a Pop the Cork class with painting subjects tailored to their affair.

The center also plans to offer similar “kid-friendly” sessions this summer, Ms. Nastuck said.

Throughout the year, the art center offers serious art classes for children, teens and adults. It also houses a gallery for more than 90 local artists to showcase and market their work.

For more information on Pop the Cork, visit or call 724-537-7011.

Kathy Samudovsky, freelance writer:

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