DIY Winter

Tap into your creative side — with guidance —
at these southside classes

By Rebecca Berfanger

As Kurt Vonnegut wrote, “Practicing an art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow, for heaven’s sake.” This winter, when nothing else is growing, why not grow your soul by creating some art? Whether it’s for a gift, a group outing or if you’re just putting the “y” in “do-it-yourself,” here are some options for creative outlets in Johnson County and the southside of Indianapolis to check out this winter.

Various classes at Southside Art League, 299 E. Broadway, Greenwood. (317) 882-5562,

Local artists share their skills at the Southside Art League Inc. with weekly courses available for different experience levels, as well as open studio sessions for those who want to just get out of the house to have some extra studio time without an instructor, says SALI President Duane King.

Beverly Mathis teaches a watercolor class that incorporates traditional and experimental techniques and designs on Tuesday evenings and Wednesday mornings.

For students looking to get started or learn more advanced technique in oil painting, Ron Mack instructs students in a six-week course on Tuesday mornings.

SALI will also offer workshops and other courses, including a recent six-week Conscious Design Class taught by Roy Boswell, in which students will learn “to create better designed and more aesthetically pleasing pieces of art,” according to the course description.

Class costs don’t include supplies, but students can work with instructors to do group orders or find out where to buy what they need before classes start.

Adults, King says, head to SALI classes for the guidance. “I think a lot of them wouldn’t do it if they didn’t have someone coaching them and pushing them on,” he says. “This gives them a reason to go. Once they do it, they realize it’s so much fun that they keep doing it. They wouldn’t go buy art supplies to do it at home, but in the class setting they have instruction and support.”

King adds that a lot of people will repeat the courses to improve their techniques and that the students tend to get to know each other over the weeks. Another benefit of taking the class from SALI is that students are encouraged to enter their work into the annual member show, which takes place in the fall, and may even win a cash prize.

Watercolor painting classes at PortalUnlimited, 10 Plummer St., Bargersville. (317) 458-0446,

Artist Dianna Porter offers art classes at her studio and gallery space at PortalUnlimited. While she also teaches classes at the Indianapolis Art Center in Broad Ripple, she enjoys instructing students who live in the area and may not want to travel so far north.

Her four-week watercolor course on Saturday mornings is open to beginners and repeat students. She also offers a weekly open studio session on Tuesdays, 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. At these sessions people with varying skill levels work on their favorite types of painting. The schedule may change for the winter, depending on the weather and interest, but last year she was surprised how many people were willing to brave the cold.

For her structured class, she says, she’ll ask beginners about their goals, including what they want to paint in the course. Most students will bring in a picture, and she will go from there.

Because compared to other methods “watercolor is harder, is unforgiving and spontaneous,” Porter says, “the first class is focused on just trying different techniques with the paper and paints. For the second class, students will paint an object, such as a flower, to get them to think about how to illustrate that object. At the end, I want them to have their own piece of artwork that they may or may not keep for themselves.

“A lot of my students do it for gift giving,” she says. “I have a couple students who could enter their work in a show or try to sell it, but they’re doing it for somebody and want it to be a great gift. Other students have wanted to be professional artists their entire lives, so we give them a crash course.”

While there is a social element, she says, there’s another potential benefit: Some students have been able to sell their art after taking her classes, including in an art show at the space last fall.

For groups that would like to set up a one-time class with Porter, she offers “Arts and Crafts Brew” at Taxman in Bargersville. For those classes, she provides the supplies, and students can eat and drink while they work.

Sign-making at Board & Brush, 200 W. Main St. Greenwood, (317) 750-5748,

Following a three-hour session, participants in Board & Brush workshops walk away with a custom-made, hand-crafted and hand-painted wooden sign based on one of 200 designs. They won’t go it alone: The instructor-led, do-it-yourself workshop takes customers through the entire process, including sanding, distressing, stenciling, painting and assembling, says Katy Smith, studio manager for the Greenwood location.

Students, Smith says, must sign up at least 48 hours in advance for most classes to request a custom stencil. Around Thanksgiving and through January, classes fill up with participants who are eager to create handmade gifts.

“Even if you think, ‘I’m not crafty,’ we’ve got you,” Smith says. “It’s guaranteed you’ll have a beautiful project.” She added that while a lot of first-time projects are used as a test run for customers, they often will come back to make gifts for weddings, birthdays or anniversaries. They also add new designs every month, which are created by the Hartland, Wisconsin-based Board & Brush corporate team.

If creating a sign sounds daunting, fret not: It’s meant to be a low-stress experience, says Smith. “It’s not three hours of hard-core instruction. We have music and can play videos,” she says. “We also sell beer and wine. Our goal is to make it fun if you’re here by yourself or with friends, for a birthday party or on a date.”

Candle-making at Middle Davids Artisan Candles & Gifts, 100 S. Jackson St., Franklin. (317) 738-3886,

What better way to light up the winter nights — literally — than with a candle you made yourself with the assistance of a local artisan? Middle Davids Artisan Candles & Gifts offers private candle-making courses. Participants can choose a scent from the store’s library of fragrances, and they can also mix fragrances. Each participant gets one pound of wax to work with, says Middle Davids President Tauria Catlin. 

She adds that the classes have been well-received by various groups, including a bachelorette party, a Girl Scout troop and other parties. Like all candles made for Middle Davids, the wax is all-natural, food-grade, organic soy that is grown sustainably in the Midwest.

Participants in the “Make Your Own” candle parties can also browse through the store and see the products of about 50 artisans, including some of Catlin’s creations hand-woven on her loom, jewelry, holiday cards, scarves and even gifts for pets.

Various classes at Garfield Park Arts Center, 2432 Conservatory Drive, Indianapolis. (317) 327-7135,

The next season at the Garfield Park Arts Center starts in January, along with several options for artists to satisfy their creative itch in standalone workshops, class settings and open studios.

Although GPAC’s schedule had yet to be finalized as of press time, Sarah Norman, assistant manager, says they expected to continue to offer sessions in hand-building clay sculpture, painting, photography and fiber arts. During winter break, the GPAC will offer a few open studio sessions for painting and pottery. Classes typically last no longer than six weeks, usually three or four weeks, she says, and students are expected to purchase their own supplies.

“The classes are open to anyone,” Norman says. “They’re meant to be for the community.” And, she says, GPAC students are also eligible to enter their art into shows at the center’s gallery, if their pieces meet the requirements of the exhibition call-outs, regardless of experience or skill level.

GPAC also offers Arts for All, a free weekly drop-in program every Saturday from noon to 5 p.m. Each project ties into that month’s exhibit at GPAC, and they are planned to be family-friendly in terms of skill and substance.

On Dec. 28, the GPAC will host the New Year’s Eve edition of Bad Art Night, also a free event. “The idea is we get random materials and put them out for people who are then tasked with trying to make the worst piece of art they possibly can,” Norman says. “I’m always impressed with what people come up with. We give out trophies made out of whatever materials we have.”