The room is filled with folding tables whose tops are clad in sheets of black plastic, and Marci Freede is standing on a step ladder in one corner.
She’s looking at a wall that’s lined with scores of cheerful, colorful 16-inch by 20-inch paintings, and when she takes one down, it leaves a gap like a missing tooth.
Marci, an enthusiastic woman with honey-hued hair that shines like the sun, wants me to examine it closely to make a very important point: You can learn to paint one just like this and have a lot of fun doing it.
In fact, the work, a version of Banksy’s portrait of an innocent little girl reaching for a blood-red, heart-shaped balloon, was executed by a novice during a class at Marci’s artistic business endeavor, The Paint Place.
It’s an accurate rendition of the British artist’s chic, tongue-in-cheek street art. So are the other works, which channel the masters from Monet to Van Gogh and reproduce iconic images from popular culture.
Although Marci chooses which paintings are copied in the classes, she’s quick to point out that she, like The Paint Place’s students, is an amateur when it comes to applying colors to canvas.
She has painted a portrait of Jax, her cute little Shichon.
“It’s hanging in my bathroom,” she says, adding that it’s a pretty good likeness.
When Marci was growing up in Cinnaminson, New Jersey, she had no artistic ambitions or interests.
It wasn’t until she was at Drexel University, where she majored in designer merchandising and minored in art history, that she fell under art’s spell.
“I loved taking the exams where you had to look at a slide and identify the artwork,” she says.
Even so, her first career, as a retail buyer for Burlington Coat Factory, was a study in practicality.
“When I turned 40, I didn’t want to do corporate America any more,” she says. “I’m a single mother, and I wanted to show my twin daughters, who are 14, that they can follow their dreams.”
Her first venture, a children’s spa in Ridgewood, New Jersey, was a success.
When she and the twins outgrew it, Marci sold it.
“Then, I did some soul searching,” she says.
The idea for The Paint Place came to her while she was pondering her next move.
In the winter of 2013, she happened to take a paint-and-sip class in Manhattan, where she lives.
“It was a paint-your-pet fundraiser,” she says. “I liked the fact that everybody in the class knew each other. It gave me the warm and fuzzies. I thought, ‘I could do this.’ And I could get back to my roots in art.”
In 2014, she opened The Paint Place on the Upper West Side. The Astoria studio was added in the spring of 2016.
“We’re a word-of-mouth business,” she says. “People come here to paint, listen to some music, have some wine and hang out together.”
In each class, which is taught by a professional artist, students learn the basics and focus on a particular painting that is simple to copy.
“Everything is achievable to the beginner who has never picked up a paintbrush,” Marci says. “People in the class cheer each other on. They sign their work, and when they walk out with the painting, they are smiling.”
For Marci, who divides her time between the two studios, The Paint Place is a fun yet demanding way to make a living.
“I’m pretty much always working,” she says. “I’m always busy, and it’s hard. My driving force has always been being an example for my girls, Hannah and Alexa.”
Which is why she’s thinking of opening a third studio.
“I’m not sure where it will be,” she says. “I want to get the Astoria one more situated.”
Speaking of getting situated, one of Marci’s artists walks in, puts on a black apron and starts setting canvases on easels for the incoming class.
Nancy A. Ruhling may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org; @nancyruhling on Twitter; nruhling on Instagram, nancyruhling.com, astoriacharacters.com.
Copyright 2017 by Nancy A. Ruhling