Sitting in Art Beat’s studio in Abu Dhabi, about to put a brush to canvas for the first time in my life, I find myself hoping that Van Gogh was right when he said: “If you hear a voice within you say ‘you cannot paint’, then by all means paint, and that voice will be silenced.”
I had been longing for a piece of artwork to display in our living room that reflected something personal. Not being blessed with much artistic talent, I decided to attend one of Art Beat’s painting classes for adults, designed for beginners and experienced painters alike.
Art Beat is a light-filled studio full of examples of the things produced there – brightly painted glass vases and papier-mâché animals that look professionally made but are actually created by children.
I feel uneasy at the prospect of painting alongside others, but the studio’s manager, the British-Palestinian Amanda Shehadeh, puts me at ease with a coffee and a few reassuring words: “Don’t worry, everyone is an artist.”
Shehadeh set up the business with her sister Samia in December last year. They offer decoupage, and painting on porcelain, glass, candle wax and even window stickers to customers of all ages.
The session I attend is the first in a series of seven with the resident artist, Rehab Abouelnaga, teaching us how to copy one of her pictures on canvas, step by step. Her paintings feature everything from a peacock to the sea, and are simple yet stunning, their colour schemes vivid enough to bring cheer to the barest walls.
The picture we’re going to copy shows the moonlit Abu Dhabi skyline. All the women taking this class are familiar with the capital’s buildings, and agree that our masterpieces will be something to treasure – a reminder of Abu Dhabi to take with us wherever we go.
I am seated next to Ruth Haboubi, a mother of two with a degree in fine art, but Haboubi says she hasn’t touched a paintbrush in more than 10 years.
We began painting and, depending on our style and imagination, add our individual stamp to our work. Haboubi puts in the building she lives in on the Corniche, as well as the ball-topped Etisalat building. Another participant, Stacey Al Darmaki, paints the tower where her husband works.
I panic slightly when it is time to bring out the black paint – the golden rule in our house when my young children paint is never let them near the black, because if not used carefully, it sucks up all the other colours in its path. But Abouelnaga tells me that mistakes can be painted over, and I manage to get away with adding black to my painting without ruining it. The trickiest part is getting the moon right, and the artist helps me redo it a few times.
At the end of the class, I can’t help feeling that my picture won’t match up to the original, but when I finally step away from my canvas, I feel quite pleased with myself.
Al Darmaki gets the ultimate compliment when she emails an image of her masterpiece to her husband.
“Did you buy it online or in a shop?” he asks, assuming that she had been shopping for art.
And that is the wonder of Art Beat – the products you end up making, whether a papier-mâché animal or a painting, really do look professionally done even though they are often created by people who, like me, don’t have much claim to artistic talent. Van Gogh was right, but I won’t be giving up my day job yet.