Bright Day Art Classes in Cape Town

Learn to draw and paint (almost) like a pro

You can spend your whole life thinking you can’t draw anything more complex than a stick figure, but after a few hours at Bright Day, everything will change.

 “Learning to draw and paint is like learning a language,” says founder Ross Chowles, who started the Woodstock-based creative space in early 2014 because he believes the world doesn’t need another shopping mall, but a place where we can learn to feel human again.

“Business is sucking the humanity out of us,” he says. “We love to control the world, and that suffocates us. Here you get to let that all go.”

At Bright, you’ll find a welcoming place where you can unleash the inner artist that you didn’t know existed (if you’re a beginner) or explore your potential (if you already know your way around a canvas); there’s a variety of classes on offer to suit all skill levels, from life drawing lessons to impressionism tutorials to kids’ sessions.

Ross loves teaching, and he gives everyone his individual attention during the I Know Nothing classes. This is a good place to begin if you believe you have the artistic talent of a caveman. “The first thing we will teach you is to look,” says Ross. “At the world, and at what you want to draw.”

He demonstrated, making it look easy of course, then put a piece of charcoal in my hand and a big, scary sheet of blank paper in front me. I froze like a deer in headlights. “Don’t worry,” he said kindly. “I’ll come back in five minutes and tear it up.”

All part of the process, apparently. Funny thing was, armed with a few simple techniques and instructions and egged on with a healthy dollop of encouragement, I was able to render a fairly good likeness of a bottle. The ostrich egg, not so much. And I didn’t even want to attempt the apple.

While still life is perfect for novices, those who are more confident can bring in their own references or resources – such as photographs – and Ross and his team will help students reproduce the images as paintings. At Bright Day you use oils. Apparently watercolours and acrylics are for “girls”, and oils are for real artists. I have to admit, they are a very forgiving medium as they can be layered and layered until the desired effect is reached. Plus, it’s quite easy to fix mistakes, which is useful when you still lack brush control.

Once the charcoal drawing was in the bag, Ross brought me a (thankfully) small canvas, a palette with paints and lots of brushes. “Right, now you’re going to paint the same thing,” he said. Unmoved by my terror, he gently coaxed me along until I relaxed and began having fun. “Keep looking at your subject matter,” he advised.

With a glass of wine and music ranging from Frank Sinatra to Cole Porter in the background, and with Ross checking in every few minutes as he moved around the room from artist to artist, it was all very soothing. Eventually I had a decent painting of the bottle and an egg that looked like a giant pimento olive. Why didn’t I do the darn apple?

I Know Nothing classes are suitable for anyone who believes they literally know nothing, and just one session will instill confidence and the desire to paint some more.  They’re also ideal for fairly accomplished artists who wish to learn more while painting in a supportive group. The next step is I Know Something. “These classes are for the painter who wants to push him or herself,” says Ross. “You think this is scary? I assure you a blank canvas is just as terrifying for someone with experience.”

Good to know.

By Bianca Coleman

Opening Hours: Bright Day offers classes Mondays to Saturdays, in the afternoons and evenings. For a full schedule, visit BrightDay.co.za.

Tip: The comfortable environment at Bright Day provides a place for artists of all skill levels to meet, mingle and share. There is a fully operational kitchen if you want to bring something to heat and eat, as well as an honesty bar. Art supplies are on sale, as well as a wide variety of beautiful original artworks painted by students. On sunny days the huge high-ceilinged studio is filled with glorious natural light that streams in through the windows.

The Bill: The average cost of classes is R200, which includes some materials. Canvasses for the I Know Nothing class cost extra, and after the first class you are required to bring your own oil paints.

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Keen to further immerse yourself in the Cape Town artist's life? Read about the free monthly First Thursdays art walk.

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