The paint brush wavers over the blank white canvas, hands shake in hesitation and bold colors wait patiently in their palette to be created into a masterpiece.
Many people come into Date & Paint, a local painting studio, with no painting experience. Instructors, like founder and owner Lorea Hokanson, teach customers step by step how to paint their own masterpieces, melting away the fear that people come in with and allowing them to surprise themselves, Hokanson said.
“People can do so much more than they give themselves credit for,” Hokanson said.
Hokanson started Date & Paint in July 2013. Even though she didn’t have any business experience, her vision was to give back something to the community that helped her through one of the hardest times in her life, she said.
After 27 years of marriage, her husband, David Hokanson, was diagnosed with terminal colon cancer. Painting became a way for Hokanson to stay calm as she watched her best friend fade away, she said.
“Painting saved me from just giving up. It gave me peace that let me go to a different place and focus on something different,” she said.
Hokanson never considered herself artistic, but as she started doing water- color painting with her husband as he went through cancer, she was able to find tranquility, she said.
It was devastating having her husband pass away, but Hokanson said she knew he would have wanted her to move forward.
“Painting really got me through. After he passed, I wanted to be able to give that to the world,” she said.
Date & Paint is meant to be a place where people are given simple instructions and can take their painting home with them, she said.
Chris Roselli, assistant director of the Western Alumni Association, hosted an alumni event at Date & Paint last winter.
The event sold out right away with 30 alumni packed into the Date & Paint building, located in Hannegan Square. Roselli said everyone, without hesitation, told him they couldn’t wait to go again.
The Western Alumni Association offers 40 to 50 events a year, and Roselli said they were excited to support and work with this local business.
“There’s 15,000 students and 14,000 alumni in Whatcom County, so Western impacts the local economy a lot and we want to support business — good, local business,” he said.
Along with group classes open to anyone, Date & Paint offers private parties and travels to customers to hold painting classes at their houses or businesses.
For Western’s Back2Bellingham event next spring, Roselli already has plans to bring Date & Paint in for the Western community to experience, he said.
Western alumna Katie Andringa was at the opening night of Date & Paint in the summer of 2013.
Andringa was surprised to be able to walk out the door with a painting she was actually proud of, she said.
Andringa has always seen herself as an analytical person who just didn’t have artistic capability, she said.
“Now that I’ve gone quite a few times, done quite a few paintings and taught a few classes, it’s helped me see that [people] aren’t just one type of person. You have all these other options available to you; you just have to test them out and figure out what works for you,” Andringa said.
She has seen how painting has been a healing factor for Hokanson after working with her over a year now, she said.
Before starting up her own business, Hokanson worked a full-time job at a sports bar and casino and was busy being a mother to her three kids.
Some people told her to wait at least a year to grieve the loss of her husband, but Hokanson had high hopes for the challenge in front of her.
Eight months after her husband passed away, she started the business with a lot of help and support from friends and family, she said.
The first six months of business were slow, and Hokanson wasn’t sure how she was going to make rent for the building, she said.
Giving out coupons through The Bellingham Herald’s “Deal Saver” program helped bring in more customers and spread the word about her business, Hokanson said.
Now she has up to four events in one day, when before, four events would have been Hokanson’s whole week, Andringa said.
“When people first come in they feel a little awkward. They’re not really sure, if they’ve never been before, what they’re going to experience. By the end of the session people are laughing, people are smiling, they’re saying, ‘Look what I did!’ … Encouragement is all it takes,” she said.