At first, the concept of going to a bar to paint was intriguing, but also a little daunting. So when David Poytinger and Marla Hahn invited me to their relatively new venture, Splash Studio, 184 N. Broadway, I wasn't sure what to expect. Sure, I would have no problem with the drinking portion of the evening – I've been perfecting my imbibing art form for years – but was I a good enough painter?
Marla ensured me artistic level didn't matter, but I still wondered if I would feel a little out of place. I mean, I do occasionally paint, but I'm not a painter. It turns out, artistic skill level really doesn't matter, and all painters, from beginners to professional, will feel comfortable in the environment. Phew.
Splash's Third Ward space is ideal, with plenty of space for painters to work closely, but not too closely, and the lighting is soft but plentiful.
"We worked really hard on the lighting," says Poytinger.
People sign up for a three-hour painting session online. Sessions run multiple times a week, Wednesday through Sunday, and range in price from $28 to $33, which includes the canvas, paint, the use of an apron and instruction from a local artist. There are also assistant artists who walk around and give direction, if you want it, and provide encouragement.
Groups of friends and / or coworkers can sign up together and Splash is available for birthday parties, bachelor / bachelorette parties and other private events. Painters must be at least 15 years old, and minors, ages 15 to 20, must be accompanied by an adult.
Beer and wine is moderately priced and available for consumption during the painting process. Splash offers about 10 different wine options and glasses range in price from $6 to $8. Beer ranges from $3 for a Miller Product (David is also employed by MillerCoors) to $4.50 for a Riverwest Stein.
Splash functions independently as a bar and invites folks to stop in for a drink and to observe the painters in process or just to hang out in a creative, art-filled environment. Splash also offers $10 mini paintings that are painted casually at the bar without instruction.
On a recent Friday night, local artist Dena Nord directed a group of about 12 painters through a session that, for the most, resulted in paintings of a mermaid.
It's up to the painter if he or she wants to closely follow the artist's instruction or not. Some people chose to follow Nord step-by-step whereas other painters delved into their private creative worlds. One woman painted an octopus wearing pink boots instead of a mermaid and another added a large treasure chest to the composition.
Personally, I followed Nord's instructions pretty closely but added a couple of my own details, like punk-rock pink hair on the mermaid instead of the suggested red.
Even though the session technically lasted three hours, painters were invited to stay as long as they needed to finish up.
The vibe was really good. Nord did a great job providing conversational, upbeat, yet technical, instructions. Painters chatted a lot with one another, some wandered around during the session to glean inspiration or to give compliments.
Katherine Juchemich was at Splash for her third time.
"It's addictive," she says. "I'm usually more of a crafter than a painter, but it's surprising how much I actually like my paintings."
David and Marla opened Splash in 2012. The couple met during their junior year at Kalmazoo College in Michigan, and both received MBAs from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. (Marla's MBA focused on arts / nonprofit management and David's focus was logistics and supply chain management).
"The painting bar idea grew out of several dinner conversations, dreaming about what we could do together as entrepreneurs. I'm 'art' and he's 'beer,' and we live in the Third Ward, so there had to be something pretty cool that we could do with that skill set," says Hahn.
Neither David not Marla are painters, but, ironically, that's what they loved about the idea.
"Even though we aren't painters, we knew we could create something that promotes and supports local Milwaukee artists and the vibrant, dynamic work they are doing right now in this community," says Hahn. "A space that gives 'non-artists' a fun, accessible glimpse into the creative process and offers the community an alternative, social, night-out experience. And we could do it together."
The couple feels that the Third Ward is the ideal location for Splash.
"I fell in love with the Third Ward the first time I saw it, and we never even looked at living anywhere else in the city," says Hahn. "David talks a lot about the fact that, had we chosen to open Splash in Chicago or New York, we would not have been able to truly make our mark there. Here, we can be a part of building something unique and special, and provide Milwaukee with a new concept that the city can get excited about."
Overall, the Splash experience reminded me of a more advanced version of painting a pot at a ceramics' studio. It also reminded me a little bit of kindergarten. Experimenting with art is not something most adults do enough of in my opinion, and it felt good to use my hands and brain in a new capacity.
All of the positive comments I received – even though my mermaid's arm looked like it wasn't properly connected to the rest of her scaly body – reminded me that grown ups just don't get enough positive feedback in the "real" world.
However, the most surprising aspect of the evening for me was that even though I enjoyed a couple glasses of wine I didn't once dip my brush in my wineglass. Now that's an art form.
Molly Snyder started writing and publishing her work at the age 10, when her community newspaper printed her poem, "The Unicorn.” Since then, she's expanded beyond the subject of mythical creatures and written in many different mediums but, nearest and dearest to her heart, thousands of articles for OnMilwaukee.
Molly is a regular contributor to FOX6 News and numerous radio stations as well as the co-host of "Dandelions: A Podcast For Women.” She's received five Milwaukee Press Club Awards, served as the Pfister Narrator and is the Wisconsin State Fair’s Celebrity Cream Puff Eating Champion of 2019.