Two Delaware women have combined paintbrushes and wineglasses to create something more than just masterpieces. Their new business, Kennett Design, reinvents happy hour and makes art more accessible to the masses.
Every variety of artist shares a universal commonality: When inspiration strikes, get to work. But, what about two women whose artistic background lies only in the artist endeavors of their children? Well, they, too, know that there's no time like the present when the heart's happiness is magically discovered.
At least, that's how longtime friends with finance backgrounds Marion Hess of Hockessin and Laura Ashby of Newark describe the ah-ha moment that occurred for the two last August when they decided to try something new for Hess's birthday. They visited a painting studio that emphasized a good time more than technique and at the end of the evening, they had this new self-created work of art to take home.
"It was such an amazing experience," said Hess. "We spent the next several hours talking and we realized that this might be something we could ourselves."
Those hours spent talking quickly spurned action and the two women began looking at how they could bring their experience to people in Delaware.
"We really wanted to open our business in Delaware but the state has very strict liquor laws," said Ashby. "BYOB [bring-your-own-beer] is not allowed but it's not something we could consider excluding because it adds this extra element of fun to the classes when customers have that option."
So, the women expanded their search and found a solution in Historic Kennett Square, whose thriving art community and modern liquor laws immediately looked like a good fit. And, with the help of the historic preservation group, within six months of that initial concept conversation, the two women opened the doors to Kennett Design, a "social art studio," located just over the Pennsylvania state line and a short six mile drive from Hockessin on Friday, March 1.
What is a "social art studio?" The concept is simple and one that works for individuals as well as groups. Pack your favorite beverage, alcoholic or otherwise, and maybe a little snack. Then, with provided materials (paint, brushes, canvas) and some step-by-step instruction, spend the next two to three hours discovering that everyone has an inner Monet or Picasso.
"You don't have to have any previous experience or even any real talent for it," said Hess. "But, you'll still have this great painting at the end of the class. It always surprises people what they're able to produce."
To help people get the most out of the experience, Ashby and Hess go to great lengths to interview and hire experienced artists.
"We have the best artists working for us," said Hess. "Part of the interview process requires them to walk us through a step-by-step painting and that's how we know if someone will work. We're no different from our customers and if you can teach us, you can teach the class."
So far, the studio sees a lot of women but as word spreads, men and children are starting to participate, too.
"I think sometimes that men are even more intimidated by the concept," said Ashby. "But, once they're here, all that goes away and they seem to have even more fun than the women."
It may take men a minute to warm up to the idea but kids take to it right away.
"Right now, we've got a couple of options on the schedule for kids and we're in the planning stages to do more for kids," said Hess. "It's so much fun for them and great for the parents because we take care of all the mess."
Business has been good these first six weeks but Hess and Ashby have no plans to slow down, finding themselves in a constant state of inspiration these days. The business will frequently go on the road with events at restaurants or businesses, like last night's "Ladies Night at Mike and Nick's Sports Bar," where customers enjoyed a few drinks, a bite to eat and step-by-step instruction to create Van Gogh's "Starry Night." They've also reached out to 55-plus communities and are open to all kinds of ideas from corporate team building to round-robin painting parties.
"It's fun and it's relaxing and in two hours, you have this tangible self-created product," said Ashby. "Every single class, we hear people say 'I can't believe I did that' or 'I didn't know I could do that.' Between that and the beaming smiles we encounter at every class, I don't know who's getting more out of the experience – us or them."