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Read the article from the Union Tribune about Art Aerobics!

Painting your Wall Street blues away

[Reprint of from San Diego Union Tribune Sunday Edition]

Need to blow off steam? Try doing it creatively

by Karla Peterson

Test subject: Playtime for adults at Expressive Arts San Diego.

Tish Sjoberg (left) prepared the painting room for an evening of Art Aerobics at her Expressive Arts studio in North Park. — Earnie Grafton

The big picture: Between the stock-market mambo and the global economic meltdown, this was a very bad week to be a grown-up. So I fled to Expressive Arts in North Park, where the studio’s weekly Art Lunch classes ($20) and Art Aerobics workouts ($15) offer stressed-out adults the chance to doodle while the real world burns. Artistic ability is optional, but plan on leaving your inner critic at home with a sock in its mouth.

Art Lunch is served: “How does everyone want to feel today?,” studio owner and artist Tish McAllise Sjoberg asked our table of five. The answers ranged from “free” and “happy” to “powerful” and “grounded,” leading Sjoberg to determine that constructing sand trays was the artistic order of the day.

Each of us got our own dish of sand and access to a room full of the stuff magpie dreams are made of. Glittery plastic beads. Fluffy feathers. Smooth beach rocks. Many Day of the Dead figures and a fair number of mini Disney Princess figurines. Snow White looked happy to have so much company.

Because Sjoberg told us to pick without thinking and arrange without judging, I ended up with an explosion of twee that included shiny neon beads, a mini Buddha, a wee kitten and dolphin, a china fairy and a Corona bottle cap. Apparently, my inner artist is a debauched 6-year-old named Bunny.

And for dessert? Perspective: As goofy as my totems were, the meditative act of creating my sand land was one of the most soothing things I’ve done in a long time. And judging by the hum of contented activity that filled the small studio, my Art Lunch mates felt the same way.

Should the Buddha go under the feather or next to the purple flower? Should I use the pink marble or the ceramic sun? Is it possible to have too much turquoise? Sjoberg insisted there were no wrong answers, so I put my china fairy on top of my sand-land mountain and told Wall Street to take a hike.

Painting with the oldies: “Move fast so the critic won’t have time to jump in!” That is the spirit behind the evening Art Aerobics classes, which are 15 minutes longer than Art Lunch and a lot rowdier. Also messier. Singing and booty shaking were encouraged, and aprons came in very handy.

Our group of 10 included kids and teens, as well as escape-hatch seeking adults. After leading us in a quick stretching session, Sjoberg cranked up a classic-rock mix on her iPod and turned us loose in the painting room. Once again, the no-judgment rule was in full effect, hence the outbreak of singing and booty-shaking.

Artistic intervention: What happened when I let my art-freak flag fly? Nothing good, at least not at first. Attempts to incorporate the songs into my abstract painting resulted in random color blobs surrounding even more random lyric fragments. Also a big pink heart. Apparently, my inner painter is a sentimental hippie named Sunny.

Then Sjoberg suggested I texturize my kaleidoscopic mess with the edge of an old credit card, which blended the heart and the blobs and the lyrics into a surprisingly evocative blur. It almost made up for the alarming realization that I still know all the words to “American Pie.”

The verdict: Cheaper than therapy and more fun than screaming into your pillow, playtime at Expressive Arts is a novel but effective way to blow off a lot of doomsday steam. Our Art Aerobics evening ended with an impromptu showing of our collective works, which we all decided were equally awesome. And we were right.

karla.peterson@uniontrib.com • (619) 293-1275 • Twitter@karla_peterson

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