Open Paint classes at the Banyan Tree Garden and Boutique in Islamorada have united artists of the Upper Keys, providing an easygoing and welcoming setting for creative expression. Rather than the “sip-and-paint” classes commonly seen throughout the Keys, where every student must paint the same image, the Banyan Tree’s Open Paint classes have taken a different approach to cultivating students’ artistic abilities. These classes encourage students to find their own inspiration and paint whatever satisfies their artistic vision.
“It’s very individualized… we’re all doing different things and the teachers just run around helping everyone throughout the class,” said Anthony Leffler, a recent Coral Shores graduate.
Leffler has participated in one of the weekly paint classes held at the Banyan Tree- led by local artists Susan Jankowski and Robin D’Ambra- which have ignited a spark of artistic passion in a niche of the Upper Keys community. Surrounded by lush greenery, art, and music, The Banyan Tree holds classes in both landscape design and art. Open Paint classes are held most Wednesday nights from 5:30 to 7:30 pm.
The paint classes are designed to allow creative freedom and expression, rather than following the more common structure of a methodized, cut-and-dried approach to learning the nuances of painting. Any adult or high school student is welcome to attend Open Paint classes, regardless of prior experience. With the help of supportive teachers and peers, an emphasis on individuality and self-expression is made clear throughout class.
“We let people be themselves, and something that we tell our students is that [painting] is like yourself in art,” Jankowski said.
D’Ambra and her daughter Pauline Moreira run the operations at the Banyan Tree. Together, they have made their business into a welcoming destination. Surrounded by an ornately lush garden with winding pathways leading to the art studio, the intimate space has been adorned with paintings, candles, and hanging plants, creating a homely atmosphere.
Jankowski’s daughter and assistant, Julianne Jankowski, explained that the class is less about learning the technicalities of painting and more about expression.
Leffler said he felt as though the Open Paint class greatly fostered his aptitude to visualize artistic concepts, as well as provide the steps needed to reach the final product of his vision.
“I’ve always been better at pre-planning and visualising [concepts], rather than the dexterity of it,” Leffler said. “But after having the class, I feel like I actually can paint and have fun with it.”
Beginning artists are started off by tackling a simple image of their choice, usually a still-life or a landscape, and the instructors guide them through the process, providing paints, paint brushes, and advice as needed.
“A lot of people come here that didn’t know they could paint, and then they take a few lessons, and they’re shocked because they realize they can paint,” Jankowski said.
Jankowski, D’Ambra, and assistant Julianne Jankowski work to facilitate an atmosphere of relaxation and encouragement to quell any sense of nervous or negative emotions in the room, especially for beginners; as artistic pursuits may seem initially daunting to some.
“If art were to be personified as a group of people, this is the group of people.” — Anthony Leffler
“At first I was scared, and then Ms. Jankowski started me off by showing me a little technique and then I just carried through with it,” Leffler said. “She gave me a lot of confidence and boosted my feelings for art.”
Jankowski said that the motto of their teaching studio is that they “grow” artists and want their students to walk away feeling satisfied with their work after a night of laughter and creativity.
“Your painting doesn’t have to be perfect, it should just add a little joy to your life,” Jankowski said.
“It’s a learning place, it’s an expression place, and it’s also just a fun place- just a great night,” Julianne Jankowski said.
Banyan Tree Garden and Boutique is located at MM 81. Classes are Wednesday evenings at 5:30 p.m. and cost $35 per session, per person. For more information, contact (305) 664-3433 or take a look at the Banyan Tree FaceBook page.