It’s a Saturday night in North Hollywood, and I’m about to take a painting class. It’s not just a regular painting class, though. Everyone involved will be at least a little bit stoned. There’s a big sign on the storefront with a cartoon joint and the words “Puff Pass & Paint.” I have a pre-roll in my purse, ready and raring to go.
Upon entering the studio, I’m welcomed by instructor Austa Martin, whose clothes are endearingly completely covered with paint. Beautiful paintings created by Austa and the other instructors lined the walls of the studio, even the bathroom. Along the tables, easels are set up with canvases, paint palettes, water cups, brushes, and of course, ashtrays. There are also a few completed reference paintings, each one a little different: a version of a cityscape sunset scene. This is the painting we’re going to be creating tonight.
As we wait for more class-goers to roll in, I chat with Austa about how she started teaching these classes. “My friend saw [the job opening] and was like, ‘I think you’d be really good at this!’ and I was like, ‘That sounds like the perfect job.’ I hit it off with the owners and it’s worked out really nicely.” After teaching in Oakland for two years, she moved to LA and now teaches at this North Hollywood location. On top of this more traditional style of painting class, the studio also offers a mixed media collage class, abstract fluid painting (happily taught by Austa, as well, who is primarily an abstract artist). An “X-Rated” figure drawing class is in the works, too, with porn stars as models.
“Before, for wine and paint classes, you’d smoke in your car before, you know? But now you can [smoke in class] and fuel your creative fire as you go, so it makes it really fun,” she says. “You’ll see…this class is a little different. Cannabis makes you so creative, so people really go off on their own whim a lot. Every painting is gonna turn out different. There’s always someone who goes rogue, who doesn’t paint what I’m painting at all, which is cool. I support that!”
As the other class-goers arrive, joints are being lit, and Austa let’s everyone know her name (“Austa, like pasta”) and offers up a bong for anyone who’d like to use it to smoke their own flower, as the classes are bring-your-own-bud. Once everyone’s settled, she begins to demonstrate at her easel in the front of the class, teaching us how to paint the background of the scene and blend colors to create a beautiful sunset gradient. She ensures us that we don’t have to worry about making our paintings look exactly like hers or any of the other reference paintings–they’re just there for inspiration.
For the most part, I decided to stick to the instructions and try to not mess up too badly. I was very serious about art in high school, and I’ve been wanting to get back into painting, but I always find myself being too critical of my own work, feeling like I need to create something perfect and that nothing I make is ever good enough.
But in this particular class setting–especially after taking a few hits of my joint–I’m smiling, peacefully running my brush back and forth across the canvas, creating my sunset. Not perfect, but it’ll do. I’m content, painting and creating without judgement.
Austa came over to check on me and my painting’s progress, and I told her how zen I felt. “It’s almost meditative, right?” she said. I agreed.
Next up, she taught us a couple different methods to create stars in the sky, if we wanted to include them–either making tiny dots with the hard end of our paintbrush or getting a little more daring and using a splatter paint approach. After waiting a little while for the background to dry, she gave us some pointers for how to paint some palm trees, mountains, and buildings. The instructions were broken down simply, step-by-step and we were encouraged to take our time and to add (or not add) whatever we wanted.
When we were all waiting for our paintings to dry at the end of class, we got to walk around and check out everyone else’s creations. It was clear that, as Austa said, people had “gone rogue.” I couldn’t stop giggling at the accuracy of the prediction. One girl’s canvas was almost half painted black, with plants that looked like they were on fire. One guy decided to add a UFO and a floating phone booth into his scene. An older man had scribbled a motivational quote across his sky. Everyone was happy and smiling, complimenting each others’ masterpieces. I decided there was no other way I’d rather be spending my Saturday evening. This is exactly what I was looking for–a laid back environment that fostered creativity for me to get back into art.
So, who’s behind this awesome class concept? I spoke to founder Heidi Keyes about how Puff Pass and Paint got its start. As a Carthage College Bachelor of Fine Arts graduate, Keyes was doing rather traditional artist things right out of school. “I was selling my work, doing commissions, and a little bit of teaching,” she says. “A friend jokingly suggested I should ‘start weed and painting classes…like those wine and painting classes’ and I started them as something that I thought would be fun. The rest is history. They just took off!”
Took off is an understatement. She joined forces with Colorado Cannabis Tours to create CannabisTours.com (which offers everything from these art classes to farm tours to cannabis infused dinner parties). Now, Puff Pass & Paint has grown to 13 locations, the newest being San Diego. They hope to expand to even more cities as they are “legally able.”
“My favorite part about the classes is the way they bring people of all different ages, backgrounds, and experience levels of cannabis (and painting) together,” Keyes shares. “Cannabis is such a communal thing, and to see strangers laughing together, passing joints, making art, is so amazing and uplifting. As adults, we aren’t really encouraged to make art anymore, and Puff, Pass & Paint (and all of our classes) are about enjoying the process of being creative, instead of making a perfect work of art.”
That was exactly what I got out of the class – a creativity boost and motivation to enjoy the process rather than stress about creating a museum (or Instagram) worthy painting.
Keyes continues, “We want to continue to help remove the stigma of our favorite plant, and encourage people to make art, laugh, get creative, and enjoy themselves, even for just a couple of hours.”