Artful Fun

By Gabrielle Fimbres

John Mayer bursts onto the iPod and artists pause for a moment – paint brushes and wine glasses in hand – to sing along.

It’s a typical night at Creative Juice Art Bar, which was the first business of its kind in Tucson. Artists – from novice to experienced – sip wine and paint in a relaxed atmosphere. Classes are led by resident artists who provide step-by-step lessons in painting, with no experience required.

It’s all about fun at Creative Juice, which was launched in May 2012 by Tucson teachers Chellie Krajnak and Kristina Valencia and consultant Preston Pingry.

“We have had people give us hugs with tears in their eyes saying ‘I’ve always wanted to paint,’ ” said co-owner and artist Valencia. “This was our goal – to create a place where people could come and have fun and feel comfortable.”

Classes provide an artistic escape for groups of friends, moms, couples or individuals looking to try something new. Adult classes include a glass of wine, beer or soft drink and lively music, with nibbles and desserts available for purchase.

Also offered are classes and camps for children and teens, sans the wine. Corporate teambuilding events, fundraisers and private parties – everything from children’s birthday parties to groups of engineers and bachelorette parties – are also popular.

“People can be intimidated by the blank canvas, but you are guided through it,” Valencia said. “You hear people say, “Gee, it’s so much fun.’ And they walk away with beautiful paintings to hang on their wall.”

Valencia, who is the art teacher at Castlehill Country Day School, and Krajnak, who spent a dozen years teaching at Castlehill, mulled over the possibility of opening a business together for a couple of years.

Nothing clicked until Krajnak traveled to Denver to visit family. There, she found a fun place to paint and relax with an adult beverage. Valencia traveled to Phoenix to check out a similar business there.

“We knew it would be a hit in Tucson,” Krajnak said. “We both walked out and said, ‘Oh my gosh, that was so much fun.’”

Krajnak and Valencia did their homework and found nothing like it in Tucson. They took the plunge – along with Krajnak’s brother, Preston Pingry – and opened the 2,500-square-foot fun and lively business in La Plaza Shoppes on Tanque Verde Road.

The spacious painting room is frequently packed with up to 48 artists. A smaller adjoining room is available for private parties.

Leading the artistic endeavors are art teachers Valencia, Katie Branson and Valencia’s son, Dominic Valencia. Both Branson and Dominic are fine art students at the University of Arizona.

A different acrylic painting is featured Wednesday through Saturday evenings. Each of the paintings is a Creative Juice original. Customer favorites boast a local flavor – with Tucson Starry Night, Desert Life and Day of the Dead paintings popular year-round.

“We have people who come in who are very talented artists and we have people come in who have never done anything like this,” Valencia said. “Going to art museums is for everybody. Why can’t making art be for everybody?”

Participants have total creative freedom if they wish to change up the painting or go rogue and paint their own design.

Cost is $35, which includes the canvas, all supplies and a drink.

Also offered are daytime open studio sessions as well as wine glass painting and other events.

On a recent night, the art bar was packed with a book club, husband-and-wife teams, groups of girlfriends and more. The evening was filled with laughter, and painters stopped to pose for photos with their finished Tucson Starry Night works of art.

Tucson counselor Cathy Zipperian painted with a group of girlfriends from her book club.

“After my first wonderful experience at Creative Juice, I saw it listed as one of the Top 20 Things to Do in Tucson,” Zipperian said. “I completely agree. The climate of fun and carefree creativity is palpable. From squirting pretty paints on my own palette to bringing home my own impressive ‘Van Gogh,’ my experiences have been both joy-filled and priceless.”

Pharmacy technician Stacie Mason is a Creative Juice regular who had never painted before.

“Kristina and Chellie have created an environment that allows you to explore your creative side – even if you think you don’t have one – and have a blast while doing it,” Mason said.

“Painting, good music, yummy snacks and wine? Yes please! I know when I walk into a class I am in for two-and-a-half hours of fun and laughter. My husband calls Creative Juice my happy place and it kind of is,” she added.

That climate of fun and creativity is what sets Creative Juice apart.

“It’s therapeutic,” Krajnak said. “You get to escape for a little while.”

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