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Delightful winter sky? Or upside-down turkey? You be the judge. Photo by Jeni Krieger.
Delightful winter sky? Or upside-down turkey? You be the judge. 

Once upon a time there lived a little girl named Danielle. Like many girls her age, Danielle loved horses. Like many children her age, Danielle loved to draw. And, as the law of syllogism might suggest, Danielle loved to draw horses most of all. 

So it was with the boundless enthusiasm and creativity of an 8-year-old that little Danielle took a seat in art class one day, gathered the appropriate crayons and construction paper, and dove headlong into yet another horse drawing. Never mind that she wasn’t a naturally talented artist; she simply loved to draw. Never mind that her pictures all turned out exactly the same; she was more than happy to create the same scenes over and over (and over) again. And this particular day was special: no specific assignment from the art teacher, just free reign to draw or paint anything she wanted. Anything at all.

We can all predict what this meant for Danielle.

But the class period ended before our young artist could finish her picture, and the students were asked to hand in their artwork. Danielle’s lovely chestnut horse, neck arched so it could graze in an equally lovely green meadow, hadn’t yet acquired its head.

“That’s okay,” the artist thought to herself. “I’ll finish it next time.”

But there wasn’t to be a next time. When the wicked art teacher peered down at Danielle’s drawing, she gave an evil laugh and a sneer.

“This looks like an upside-down turkey,” she bellowed in her beastly voice, loud enough for the entire class to hear.

Some children giggled. Others’ eyes widened. A clap of thunder roared in the background.

And little Danielle’s happy artistic world of chestnut horses and green meadows crumbled at her feet.

A drawing by Danielle, one year before the life-changing incident. Note that this horse does have a head and therefore does not resemble a turkey.
A drawing by Danielle, one year before the life-changing incident. Note that this horse does have a head and therefore does not resemble a turkey.

Life went on, of course. Danielle eventually found new hobbies, new interests, and, thankfully, new teachers. But she was forever wounded by the sting of the Evil Art Teacher, and she never willingly drew or painted again.

Then came one bright January afternoon, when the sun was shining and the birds were singing and the art world opened its arms to embrace the child it lost all those years ago — by way of a magical event called “Paint & Sip” and its fairy godmother instructor, Linda Sperruzzi.

On this day, Danielle and one of her oldest friends, Jeni, attended the monthly class offered at Palmer Vineyards in Aquebogue. The premise: bring a friend, drink some wine and paint a picture. This is undoubtedly a recipe for bliss for many adults, but for someone traumatized into thinking her horses look like inverted turkeys, only two of those ingredients sound appealing.

But from the moment she stepped inside the vineyard’s cozy tasting room-turned-classroom, that all began to change.

Ms. Sperruzzi, who also runs these classes weekly at The Painted Canvas, her studio in Wading River, believes anyone can paint — and everyone has natural artistic ability, they just need to learn how to develop it. Positive reinforcement, she said, goes a long way towards doing just that.

(Please read that last line again, Evil Art Teacher.)

She calls her classes “art entertainment” – a perfect blend of relaxed instruction and casual socializing. Maybe it’s the wine and crackers, maybe it’s the supportive atmosphere (most likely it’s both), but Ms. Sperruzzi has coaxed many a self-conscious adult into releasing their inner critic and discovering their inner artist.

Linda Speruzzi at the January event at Palmer Vineyards.
Linda Speruzzi at the January event at Palmer Vineyards.

By the end of that Sunday afternoon, even Danielle was no longer a captive of her old artistic insecurities.

Not that the transformation was immediate, mind you. At first, a daunting blank canvas smirked up at her, daring her to fill it with something worthwhile. But Ms. Sperruzzi guided her class patiently, explaining each step, each brush stroke, each paint color so thoroughly that Danielle’s loud internal critic was eventually muted.

“Ahem. Are you sure you want to do that?” gradually gave way to, “My god, this is heading straight for the Louvre!” 

“Is everything I draw, for the rest of my life, destined to look like poultry?” was slowly drowned out by, “My god, what’s next for me? Touch-ups at the Sistine Chapel?!” 

And so the paintbrushes flowed. The words of encouragement flowed. The Cabernet flowed. The class of 26 adults laughed, painted and sipped their way through the instruction, which culminated in 26 museum-ready winter scenes.

Twenty-six years later, little Danielle had finally been redeemed.

Palmer will host Paint & Sip events again in February and March.
Palmer will host Paint & Sip events again in February and March.

ABOUT THE CLASS

Palmer Vineyards’ events coordinator Jessie Sidewitz hopes to offer the Paint & Sip event in the summer, too, so that participants can paint outdoors overlooking the expansive vineyard and more students can be accommodated.

For now, though, it is offered once a month through March.

The next class, February 2 from 3 to 5 p.m., will paint “Fields of Lavender.”

The March 16 class is called “Beach Sunset.”

The $50 admission includes instruction, all materials and the first glass of wine. For more information visit palmervineyards.com or thepaintedcanvas.org.

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