Creativity mixes with brushes and a little beer

For those who need a little liquid courage to get the creative juices flowing, Claremont Craft Ales and Otterspace Arts have the remedy. Art on Tap—an adults-only art class now offered once a month at Craft Ales—has the brews and the brushes necessary to lead its guests more calmly into the creative process.

“And if you are still struggling, you can always have another beer,” co-instructor Mary Beth Fletcher suggested.

With Art on Tap, art teachers and best friends Mary Beth Fletcher and Jen Rosen are taking a night away from the lesson plans for kindergarten through eighth grade students, the age range they cater to through Otterspace Arts, to team up with friends Emily Moultrie and Simon Brown for a special adults night out, alcohol and art included. They are pleased to find this latest leap is not so different from what they have been doing in classrooms for years.

“When you tell a group of kids they are going to paint they’re like yeah! And the adults are really no different,” Ms. Fletcher said. “There’s something so gorgeous about seeing that same joy in adults as we see in children all day long. At the end of the night they are really astonished by what they have been able to accomplish.”

Claremont Craft Ales opens on the second Wednesday of every month to fill its tasting room with easels and paint for its patrons, whether they be novice painters just looking to let loose after a hard workday or skilled artists seeking a change of scenery. Signed up for Art on Tap by his wife in January, graphic artist Ben Bull liked the change of pace so much that he has made a point to come back to every session since.

“It’s nice to not be sitting in front the computer for a change,” said Mr. Bull, who paired his night’s painting with a Roble’d oaked red ale.

Even Ms. Moultrie gets to indulge in a bit of art in between her usual task of filling glasses. While her 7-year-old takes classes at Otterspace Arts during the day, she gets to learn some of the tricks herself at night.

Beyond fostering her own creative whims, offering the class is one way she is honoring the her conceptual vision for her craft beer business.

“I wanted to provide a place where adults could be comfortable enough to be adult learners. To not worry about being perfect, but to engage,” Ms. Moultrie shared.

Art on Tap is just one of the ways Claremont Craft Ales is engaging its customers. During the school year, the brewery regularly welcomes professors and students to lecture at its facilities, hosting special “science on tap” sessions. And this Saturday, Craft Ales will be brewing as its guests participate in a memoir writing class from noon to 2 p.m.

Ms. Moultrie is pleased to have Ms. Fletcher and Ms. Rosen to share in furthering her vision, and to allow her to enter into a beer-induced artistry she didn’t know she possessed.

“I’m always so impressed with [Ms. Fletcher and Ms. Rosen’s] ability to give master instruction,” she said. “Whether it’s my 7-year-old or a 70-year-old in this class, they make it so easy to follow and you know that you are learning the correct techniques.”

Wednesday’s session began with a simple squished circle. The instructors broke down every element of the seemingly complicated Matisse painting from there, until each artist had their own unique interpretation of the original design. Lori Kiesling’s painting deviated from the original artwork to show her own artistic flair, a carafe-style fish bowl and ornately designed fishes. Her attention to deal hides well the fact that she only began painting 7 months ago. She set paintbrush to easel for the first time at an Art on Tap session in October.

“My stick people didn’t look like sticks,” she insisted of her prior talents as she recalled her terror in trying to recreate Van Gogh’s Starry Night. Her terror was turned around by the end of the night.

“I realized that I had talents I wasn’t giving myself credit for,” Ms. Kiesling said. “They really make art accessible to the most intimidated newcomer.”

The ability to making art more accessible in an age characterized by budget cuts and busy schedules is what first encouraged Ms. Fletcher and Ms. Rosen to create programming through Otterspace Arts—so named for the limitlessness of outer space and the sprightliness of the animal kingdom’s most playful character, the otter.

“It’s a creative classroom with no walls and no boundaries,” Ms. Fletcher explained.

Before setting off on their journey with Otterspace, the self-proclaimed soul sisters began as a teaching team in the art department of the Pomona Unified School District. It was a dream come true for the self-proclaimed “soul sisters,” who both had obtained master’s degrees in the fine arts and had found their calling in teaching children.

That dream quickly came apart with the introduction of budget cuts. Their program was given the ax in 2009 along with the Pomona Unified art department. The following school year the 2 teachers were reintroduced into the regular classroom, Ms. Fletcher teaching kindergarten and Ms. Rosen.

“My first day was 34-1, and that’s all I’m going to say about that,” Ms. Fletcher laughed.

They held out for a year and then, in true soul sister form, Ms. Fletcher and Ms. Rosen handed in their resignations simultaneously.

“We were living someone else’s dream,” Ms. Fletcher said. “So we decided to make our own dream.”

It meant trading in full benefits and steady pay to create Otterspace Arts, a way to give back the arts programming that had been taken away from elementary-age children.

“It was hard, but we were heartbroken,” Ms. Rosen said. “Our kids weren’t getting any of the arts, and even with our backgrounds in the arts, it was still hard to put it in the classroom. There just wasn’t enough time, art was not high on the district’s list of priorities.”

Though the transition was initially a challenging one, it has allowed them to fully embrace their philosophy of developing creative thinking through creative expression. And it has taken them on some surprising journeys along the way, such as with their latest venture at Claremont Craft Ales.

“It’s been amazing. We get to support ourselves in doing what we love. Our jobs are different every day and we get to create it,” Ms. Rosen said. “We get to drive the ship.”

Ms. Fletcher and Ms. Rosen welcome newcomers, 21 and older, aboard for the next Art on Tap session on Wednesday, June 12 from 6 to 9 p.m. at Claremont Craft Ales, 1420 N. Claremont Blvd, 204C. The teaching duo will lead the class in recreating a Picasso nude. $45 covers the class and all supplies needed. Beer is sold separately. For more information on Art on Tap or Otterspace Arts, visit

—Beth Hartnett


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