B454-ART2y Alyx Chandler


When disbelieving first-timers sign up for a session of step-by-step painting at Tuscaloosa’s locally owned Uptown Art studio, new owner Kelly Magadan assures them that they’re in for a  surprise. With her promise of “no artistic ability required,” new customers grab a 16” by 20” blank canvas, some excited to give painting a try, others expecting the worst. Every masterpiece takes some time though. At Uptown Art, a few hours can transform anyone’s blank canvas not only into a personalized keepsake, but a tasteful house decoration.

“It’s like baking a cake, it’s going to have to go through some ugly steps first, but then it cools, you put on the icing, decorate it, and look what you have at the end—that’s painting,” Magadan said.

The family friendly environment of an Uptown Art session instructs everyone, experienced artists and non-experienced artists alike, in a no-pressure painting class Tuesday through Saturday at 6:30 p.m. until however long it takes to finish. The classes are taught by Magadan or a teacher guiding people through each step, so the painting is almost a guaranteed success—or at least much more beautiful than people envision.

Either way, Magadan’s homey studio is an opportunity to get to know basic painting knowledge and some new people in the community. Curious people can pursue a new creative outlet for the night without buying their own supplies. It provides a rare chance to develop artistic confidence.

When groups take their seats, Cassidy Pedram, the painting teacher with an art degree, sometimes jokes that every person is their own worst critic.

“It depends on the personality of the person. Those that come in as a Type A tend to be a bit nervous and stare at it for 10 minutes. Once they get into it though, they have fun, even let loose,” Magadan said. “We want it to be entertaining.”

Located at 2008 Paul Bryant Drive, Suite A, Uptown Art is relatively close to the University of Alabama campus while still far enough away from the college life to attract people of all ages, even some from surrounding Alabama towns. Ages vary all the way from four-year-olds with families to college students ready to de-stress. Anyone from retired couples on a date to practicing artists have painted with Uptown Art.

All paintings are original creations by either Pedram or Magadan. Painting subjects range anywhere from vibrant crosses or angels to funky landscapes or Alabama football themed paintings. Some favorites include a New York cityscape, a uniquely painted elephant by Pedram and puff-paint portraits of religious crosses. Holiday options are always available and popular certain times of the year.

“It’s the social aspect, you have nothing to do? Grab a friend and come over,” Magadan said.

A session includes a take-home painting, all necessary supplies and interactive instructional painting. Regular night sessions are $30 a person, while a discount code is given on Uptown Art’s Facebook page during the last couple days of the month for half-off any painting the next month. Adult parties are $25 per person. An in-studio session holds up to 24 painters at once, including a back area for a party. In addition, if the group is too large to fit in the studio, Magadan said Uptown Art can “bring the party to you.”

They also host painting sessions for children, with $20 for the first ten children, then $18 for the rest. They work deals with local schools and instruct classrooms in painting paper canvases. In the last year, Uptown Art catered events for Midtown Village, huge groups of sororities in multiple colleges and held the Splash of Crimson event for UA students.

For beginner painters, this is an inexpensive way to learn techniques for simpler subjects before tackling more intricate challenges. Real acrylic paint is used for each session, along with the option of puff paint and glitter pens. For some paintings, this extra step provides the finishing touch that brings their art to life.

“People always come in and tell us that they can’t draw a stick man. Then they’re amazed by what they can do,” Magadan said.

After just one session, Magadan said both men and women painters usually come back—with friends.

“They don’t know what we’re are all about. They’ve seen what their friends have done, they don’t believe it…We sometimes get a group of families, inevitably there’s a group where one person drags the other one, and thats how we get first timers dragged in with families,” Pedram said.

Magadan said business ebbs and flows depending on what’s happening in Tuscaloosa. Word of mouth has sent more and more people to check out the “secret magic” behind Uptown Art’s painting. Friends are left impressed. UA organizations continue to book parties, along with groups of hundreds of sorority girls from different universities.

For some people, a session at Uptown Art is just a lazy afternoon getaway or a way to mix things up for friends and family from their usual routines. For others like Susan Depappa, a Northport mom of three kids, it means much more than a family activity.

“You have a keepsake,” Depappa said. “I want all my kids to come try it, I’ve always been big on memories.”

After being diagnosed with cancer, she realized that painting with her children and fiance will give them a physical memory of her to keep. She said instead of going to Longhorn Steak House, people might as well go somewhere that costs the same but leaves a souvenir. After bringing her skeptical fiance and one of her sons to paint an angel for her last birthday, she returned the second time with even more of her family, and a more enthusiastic response. Both her son and fiance agreed how surprised they were after their angels turned out so well.

“It’s kind of neat to compare how everything comes out so different,” Greg Sartain, fiance of Depappa, said.

This family, along with many other Uptown Art regulars, plan to stop by for a painting night at least once a month. Depappa said she is serious about the hilarious competition of their family, and how it brings them together. For some of her family, the result of painting is relaxation. For her, painting brings more of a thrill.

Despite her success at Uptown Art, Magadan is working on a popular plan for spicing up her paint studio.

So far Magadan managed to go from a stay-at-home mom to a part-time paint teacher to the proud business owner of Uptown Art, all in under three years. When the previous owner offered her the store, Magadan was thrilled, but she knew it would be challenging.

“I have never been trained, but painting eventually became therapeutic for me,” Magadan said.

“The cool thing about here, people come in almost ready to prove to me that they just can’t paint. It’s great to see them at the end of the night with a masterpiece,” Pedram said.

In addition, Uptown Art’s old business focused on more of a pre-drawn painting for people, but Magadan said she doesn’t want her place to be a sketch-by-numbers experience, she wants each customer to experience a personal satisfaction. Step-by-step guidelines allow everyone to mimic the teacher with a similar stroke, yet with individual style. At any time during the session, painters have the choice to switch up colors or try different techniques. They’re always encouraged to get creative with it.

Magadan said there’s no such thing as the same work of art painted twice, so huge groups paying to paint the same thing shouldn’t worry that the canvases will come out too similar.

“Just cause you have four [of the same painting], they aren’t going to remotely look the same, trust me,” Pedram said.

The shocking experience for most people is when their final products dry.  She said 99 percent of people leave the studio satisfied with their creation, and many of them come back again. Just in case of accidents, an indistinct mixture of white and yellow paint is blended into each of the acrylic colors. This trick allows it easy for customers to paint over colors on their canvas and start fresh.

“If you don’t like it, you let it dry and paint over it. There’s happy little accidents, but there’s no such thing as mistakes,” Magadan said.

Check out their website calender to see what paintings will be offered in March. Book online for a party or night to paint or call Uptown Art for questions and scheduling at 239.1285.

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