by Lynn S. Schwebach
A lifelong friend who knows me quite well, called me while I was living in Chicago this past summer and asked me if I wanted to go with her to a party. “I know you’re going to love this. The party involves eating, drinking, and PAINTING.”
“I’m in,” I said, hearing painting and party in the same sentence. The party, my friend said, is a SMocK party. (Huh?)
Even though I’ve been a pastel painter for about 15 years, I’ve never painted with acrylics on canvas. And I usually paint in my home studio, alone, without 15 others painting alongside me. So, I admit, I was a bit nervous.
As I walked through the door of a funky Chicago condominium, my nervousness was eclipsed. I was in an old pencil factory converted into condos. I was drinking wine (helps the nerves), and meeting women with diverse backgrounds, careers, and talents. I was talking to the host, artist Yianna Angeloupoulos, a spunky, intriguing woman whose unlimited creativity sparkled behind her dark, Greek eyes.
Soon, Yianna yelled above the chatter. She took a crayon to a canvas and sketched for the group a very loose outline of the Chicago skyline. It wasn’t anything close to a masterpiece. In fact, she did it while hardly looking at the canvas.“This is what we’re painting tonight.”
Yianna stressed the importance of sketching creatively, of not trying not draw in every window of every skyscraper, of not trying to sketch in every building, every light, every cloud, every blade of grass – of not seeking perfection. “Go fast, and don’t worry.”
Then she marched us out of her condo and up the stairs to the roof of this amazing building, where the breathtaking Chicago skyline sat just beyond a few rooftops. She had us pick only one crayon, and said “draw.” A few of us watched others get started. The pressure began to subside. We were laughing and having fun. We were sketching with crayons!
Then we marched back down to the condo, where for the next few hours we continued to drink, eat, and paint “in” our skylines.
The results were as idiosyncratic and interesting as the assortment of people who Yianna gathered together on this hot July evening.
I was enchanted – and captivated. How did Yianna come up with this idea? What was her background? Looking around her condo, I could see she was an accomplished artist. I wanted to know more.
I caught up with her after I returned to Colorado, noticing recently on her Facebook page a new product – uniquely tied into her “SMocKing” concept. Bravely creative are the only words to describe Yianna.
Bravelycreative: What is the meaning of SMocK?
SMocK is my idea of when parties and painting mix.
Bravelycreative: Why and when did you start SMocK parties?
SMocK is really a new venture. The idea of SMocK was four years in the making, but work and life kind of gets the best of you, and often ideas are set aside. It wasn’t until February of 2012 that a couple of wonderful friends re-lit the fire and pushed me into having my first party. Thank goodness they did because it’s truly transforming into something special.
I started SMocK as a way of combining two of my favorite activities: art and entertaining. I love having friends come by and throwing parties, and I love sharing what drives the motor in me…painting. So I combined my teaching background, my art background, and my party planning into one – and SMocK came out of it.
Bravelycreative: What do you most enjoy about SMocKing?
I really enjoy watching people become artists. For one day, for 3 hours, they lose their inhibitions and embrace their creativity. I love watching how SMocKers start with “oh I can’t paint” to “look what I did!” It’s great!
Bravelycreative: Do any of your SMocKing participants start painting more and becoming more interested in art?
I think all of my SMocKing participants are interested in art but seem to have repressed their creative pursuits. I don’t know if they go off and buy canvases, paints and brushes, and set up shop at home, but I do have repeat SMocKers, which tells me that I have unleashed something – a wonderful creative beast.
Bravelycreative: Tell me your background. Where did you go to college? What got you interested in art? What is your medium when not SMocKing?
Well, I’m from a nice Greek family!! I am an art teacher going into my 13th year. I teach elementary-aged students.
I went to The University of Iowa in Iowa City, Iowa, for undergraduate studies where I was a little ambitious. My studies led me to have three majors, and surprisingly enough, completed in 4 1/2 years. I have a BA in art history, a BFA in drawing and, of course, a teacher certification. I continued my studies in graduate school at New York University, NY, and was a student in the study abroad program for painting. I had the most amazing opportunity to spend two incredible summers in Venice, Italy and one summer in New York City. There is nothing like living the life of a Venetian painter in a city that surrounds you with magic, wonderment and beauty.
I really can’t pinpoint what started my interest in art. It’s just something in you. I tend to think it’s the creative side in all of us, but in some people it screams a little louder. Art, in my opinion, is engrained in everything, and it is something that you can’t avoid – from people, to places, to objects. It’s what links us as humans.
When not SMocKing, I do a little bit of painting, but mostly I am a metalsmith – I love creating wonderful silver jewelry. There is nothing more relaxing than lighting up a torch!
Bravelycreative: What do you enjoy about teaching art?
Every day there is always a new discovery, whether by my students or by me. I love seeing the smiles on my students’ faces when they have finished art projects and they are so proud of them. I love to see them making connections between art and the world. And I love knowing that my students’ experiences in my classroom affect them positively. And what’s not to love about teaching art? I have the wonderful privilege to be creative and make stuff every day, while passing my own excitement and enthusiasm along to young people.
Bravelycreative: I’ve heard that you donate the proceeds from your SMocKing parties to teaching art in Chicago Public Schools. Is this true? If so, why?
Yes, I do. I was collaborating on a separate project with a Chicago Charter School and I found out these kids did not receive any formal art education: no art teacher, no art room, nothing. I was just heartbroken. I thought to myself how can I take what I am doing and make a difference in the lives of these young students? And then I thought, “I’m gonna SMocK’em.”
I did a little bit of fundraising and had a couple of SMocK parties and before you know it, I transformed a third-grade classroom into an art studio for the day. Thirty-two wonderful students walked into their classroom bewildered but enjoyed a day of learning about an artist, painting on canvas and experiencing – for one day – something all children should have every day: art.
Bravelycreative: Anything you’d like to share with me regarding your life/art/smocking?
There is nothing more special than doing what you love every day. Whether in my classroom, a children’s birthday party, or painting with adults…I get my SMocK on.
xoxo, SMocK you. Yianna
Note to my friend, Susan Esbrook: This was one of the best gifts I’ve ever received! Thank you for taking me to a SMocK party!
Yianna now offers SMocKboxes!
What’s in it? a canvas, paints, brushes, markers…most importantly a 5 step simple guide to get you started on your drawing and painting. Packaged in a fabulously cute box -ready to give as a gift.
Each SMocKbox has a different guide to create something new and different every time!
Contact Yianna for more details and JOIN THE CLUB:
have fun, be creative, get your SMocK on!!!