Ray Tennyson’s Paint & Wine Workshops make art a viable way to earn a living 

click to enlarge Ray Tennyson poses for a photo in his studio in Edmond, Tuesday, July 5, 2016. - GARETT FISBECK
  • Garett Fisbeck
  • Ray Tennyson poses for a photo in his studio in Edmond, Tuesday, July 5, 2016.

When it comes to painting Russell Westbrook or Tupac Shakur, Ray Tennyson doesn’t need a guide. He is the guide.

Tennyson began hosting his Paint & Wine Workshop series in March. The three-hour instructional courses are open to participants of all — or no — skill level. For $45, guests can enjoy wine and walk-through instruction from Tennyson on how to create their own portrait of the night’s featured celebrity.

Capturing the features of a face might come easy to the artist, but finding a way to communicate that skill to someone else is a challenge.

“It’s nothing for me to paint these portraits,” Tennyson said. “I can do these all day, but it’s a whole other process creating them for someone who’s never painted them before and is painting for the very first time.”
The series started with Russell Westbrook and has gone on to feature celebrities like Marilyn Monroe, Kobe Bryant, Prince, Beyoncé, The Notorious B.I.G. and Muhammad Ali.

Participants in the course start out with a rough sketch of the figure they’re about to paint, much like a paint-by-number sheet. Tennyson takes the painters step by step, starting with the lighter shades and progressively moving to the darker areas.

Tennyson easily adapted his art style to template form.

“I realized in my technique, nothing blends,” he said. “I’m able to make lines for people to follow to eventually make a portrait.”

Most people come into the class a little intimidated, despite the outline. That fear is easy to understand looking at Tennyson’s work, which so effectively captures the essence of its subject.

“They’re like, ‘How’s this guy going to get us to paint this portrait? It’s impossible,’” the artist said. “I’d say everyone is really skeptical all the way to the very last hour, and then you just see everyone start smiling more and by the end, everyone’s just clapping and laughing.”

He said a lot of the celebrities they paint are based on what’s timely. Prince was featured in Tennyson’s most popular workshop yet, occurring shortly after the artist’s death. He often gets suggestions from people online or at the workshops and adds those to a running list of future options.

Drawing board

Tennyson started drawing at a young age. He began his professional life as a commission-based artist struggling to get by after returning home from a stint in the Army. He grew to some local prominence after a time-lapse video of him painting a portrait of Westbrook was picked up by several blogs and eventually noticed by the Oklahoma City Thunder.

The recognition was good, but Tennyson was still making barely enough money from commissions to survive. Finding a way to live comfortably as an artist began to seem like an impossible dream.

That’s when his girlfriend, Brittney Mangrum, suggested he try a new approach. Why not take his talent and use it to help others create?

“I said, ‘What’s there to lose?’ and went back to the drawing board,” Tennyson said. “It took about a few days to figure out how I would get someone who never painted before to paint.”

He eventually realized he could turn an outlined sketch of his work into a virtual coloring book page. Mangrum was the first one to test out the process, doing her best to fill in a Westbrook outline with Tennyson’s instructions.

She did it. Even Tennyson was impressed by how smoothly it went. Making a living from art suddenly seemed more doable.

“It opened my eyes to a whole other world, and that’s when we just started knocking them out,” he said.

Standing out

Paint and wine events of different kinds, though available across the country, were a new concept to Tennyson when he started in March.

“I’m having to learn how to do an entirely new process,” he said. “Commission painting is something where there’s a blueprint out there for people to follow, but these paint and wines is a whole other business that I know nothing about.”

The artist said seeing the success others have had with the format is promising. He believes his workshops can be as or more successful than any other because his series is one of the few that offers celebrity portraits as opposed to landscapes or other still lifes.

One of the main challenges Tennyson faced early on was finding a consistent venue for his classes. Lacking a permanent home limited the number of workshops he could do in a given month. He recently secured a space at 9210 S. Western Ave. and will be upping his output from a few workshops a month to two or three a week.

Developing the pre-made outlines is the biggest time-consuming obstacle. It also limits the number of people that can be in a class.

“Lately, we haven’t been able to have any more than 30, 35 or 40 [participants],” Tennyson said. “The reason is I have to pre-sketch every single one.”
The artist said once he figures out the best way to mass produce his outlines, his workshops will be elevated to a new level. He hopes to turn his series into one of the biggest paint workshops out there and would eventually like to franchise his concept.

Unlike other date night offerings, Tennyson said his workshops give couples a chance to come away with a tangible memory.

“You go to clubs and bars and you leave with just a hangover in the morning,” he said. “With what we do, you actually leave with something you can have as long as you want.”

For a schedule of Paint & Wine Workshops, visit raytennyson.com.

Print Headline: Profitable paint, Ray Tennyson’s Paint & Wine Workshops have made art a viable way to make a living.

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