Oil painting lessons in Dubai

Make like Matisse and try an arty workshop at the jamjar gallery

The idea of attending an oil painting class after a hectic day in the office is both exciting and a little exhausting. Getting to spend two-and-half hours in an apron playing with paints is, let’s face it, quite fun. We say ‘playing’ because there aren’t many times in our adult lives that we can just sit back, relax and mess around with a bunch of paint pots and brushes and go crazy using them on canvas. Maybe that isn’t the purpose of the class, but the notion of being an eccentric artist is thrilling – even if it is just for a day.

Before the session even begins, we find our imagination drifting off into a future where we see ourselves sitting on a little stool on the embankment of a lake, blissfully painting some picturesque scene. Perhaps we’ve been reading too many Nicholas Sparks novels. Arriving at thejamjar’s studio – a warehouse-type venue in Al Quoz – we are greeted by the sight of colour-splattered easels and people setting up their canvases and mixing paints. We quickly discover that the class isn’t so much like taking a lesson, but more of a workshop that you can drop in and out of between 6.30pm and 9pm. It’s run by two wonderfully skilful ladies – Zoe Notara, who leads the class, and Alison O’Grady, who assists. Both offer advice and demonstrate useful oil painting techniques, but it’s entirely up to attendees whether they want to join in or continue on their own.

Many of those taking part are experienced in painting or have a background in art, but not everyone. The range of ability and skill in the class is diverse and there is friendly chatter among the group, helping to break the ice. Throughout the evening, people wander around the studio glancing at each other’s work offering helpful tips and suggestions. But most of all they compliment each other, and when it happens to us, we feel satisfied.

As a complete beginner, we gratefully accept all the help we can get. So with our apron on and a canvas chosen, we join Zoe around a table where she demonstrates various oil painting techniques with different sizes of palette and painting knives (spatula-like blades). We use the side of our knives to spread paint across the canvas and it’s as easy as spreading butter, even if it does feel strange at first. Once we get over the absence of brushes, the techniques start to feel more natural with each stroke. We also learn that using the tip of the blade will produce small dots and pressing the edge of the knife down will create fine lines. After learning various techniques, we feel confident to approach the canvas. While Zoe has several pictures of flowers and vases along with other beautiful scenes of nature, we opted for our own photograph – a stunning seaside setting.

Pinning it in front of us, the ladies advise us to break the picture into sections and quickly sketch each third onto the canvas. We start with our sky and move down to the mountaintops and shoreline before we eventually get to the bottom of the canvas where we paint a grassy embankment and a rocky setting to the right.
At first, we struggle to get the right shade of blue for our sky, but after many mixing attempts, we finally find the right colour. This sequence of trial and error continues with each section until our canvas has no white space left. The instructors advise us to get the colours onto the canvas so that we have an idea for how it will look before we attempt to use different techniques to add detail.

By the time the two-and-a-half-hour session draws to a close, we have what resembles a decent start to an oil on canvas and are even keen to return to complete the piece. We feel a little glimmer of hope that one day, we will indeed find ourselves painting at that embankment after all.
Dhs80 (canvas is charged at additional fee depending on size. Participants must bring their own oil paints). Wed 6.30pm-9pm. thejamjar, Al Quoz, www.thejamjardubai.com, info@thejamjardubai.com (04 341 7303).

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