Our easels stood along the walking paths, overlooking one of the streams that flowed through the 1,300-acre park.
Spanish moss dangled overhead from the ancient live oak trees. The splash of an incoming pelican echoed under the stone bridge.
The peal of children’s laughter floated across the water from the playground slightly hidden behind a stand of palmettos and towering cypress trees.
We had just popped the cork on a bottle of champagne as our Paint Dat instructor began passing around palettes ladened with vibrant acrylic paints. Such is a day in New Orleans City Park.
Artists and New Orleans
Like many great cities throughout the world, New Orleans calls to and inspires artists of all kinds. Ornithologist and water-colorist, John James Audubon, called New Orleans home for many years. There he painted several of his life-size images for his The Birds of America collection.
Famous French Impressionist, Edgar Degas, also spent a short spell in New Orleans where he produced over 20 paintings including A Cotton Office in New Orleans. And let’s not forget contemporary Cajun culture artist and Blue Dog creator, George Rodrique, whose famous canine icon has graced Absolut Vodka ads, New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival posters, and even official Presidential Inaugural posters.
The Inspiration for Paint Dat
So it’s no surprise that New Orleans’s charm beckoned to Gloria Willis, ex-corporate consultant and founder of Paint Dat. Gloria found herself new to town and unemployed. “I moved to the French Quarter in April and by December the market had crashed and I was out of a job along with my 52 other fellow business coaches.
New Orleans is so unique that I didn’t think I really was quite done so I elected to stay for a while,” explained Gloria as she handed out canvases to the three of us. “I started Paint Dat just because I fell madly in love with painting and wanted to share the experience with others…to have them experience the artist that is within.”
Taking a Class with Paint Dat
Our private Paint Dat painting session began in a cloud of powdered sugar bliss.
Tucked into the heart of City Park and only a few minutes’ walk from our easels, stands a New Orleans legend. Morning Call Coffee House dishes out hot, pillowy beignets 24 hours a day. Add fresh cafe au lait, perfect for a pre-painting brunch.
A brown paper bag of beignets and a couple bottles of bubbly pair perfectly with a day spent painting in the park.
The lesson began with a relaxing exercise meant to calm the mind while familiarizing yourself with the brushes and paint. Colors slowly blend together and the brush strokes are carefree and spontaneous. You, the artist, are encouraged to go with what feels right and experiment with the colors that speak to you.
“The parks are quiet and painting requires a slowing down—which we seldom do—so one can really “see” the beauty all around.” Gloria says. Once the initial exercise is complete, Gloria guides us each individually as we decide on our compositions.
After an initial rough sketch, paint meets canvas. Brush strokes are now deliberate and planned. Gloria patiently walks from canvas to canvas, instructing and guiding.
There’s no rush or pressure to speed through the painting. We are free to walk around, pour another drink, and refresh our paints. Eventually, signatures are added and brushes are rinsed. We raise our glasses one last time to toast our masterpieces and a great afternoon.
Join the Experience
Locals and visitors alike are welcome to experience the Big Easy through a paint brush with Paint Dat. New Orleans offers countless painting opportunities. And Gloria is more than happy to suggest a destination or meet you at your preferred location.
You can find Gloria and her work on Facebook (@PaintDatNewOrleans), Instagram (@willisgloria), www.GloriaWillisFineArt.com, or painting alongside fellow artists in Jackson Square.
Looking for a place to stay in New Orleans? Read Theresa St. John’s review of Old 77 Hotel and Chandlery in MilesGeek.