She calls it her “kit,” and it looks like an ordinary, everyday attaché or personal organizer: a wine-colored leather case with a zipper and two handles. Very few people would guess that when local artist Lou Ann Zimmerman unzips that case it contains a flask full of Jack Daniels and a shot glass.
A member of the Whiskey Painters of America since 1999, Lou Ann is one of the 15 or so members of the organization of 150 who will show their work in an exhibition at the Gertrude Herbert Institute of Art (GHIA) that will hang in the gallery November 20-December 15. She will also lead a November 19 workshop that has already reached capacity (and has a waiting list), as well as demonstrate whiskey painting at the November 20 Whiskey at Ware’s event that will feature a whiskey tasting.
“We’ll have anywhere from five to eight whiskeys and Lou Ann’s going to do a live demonstration for us,” said GHIA Executive Director Heather Williams. “We’re going to have live DJs playing some background, ambiance-type music and we’ll have heavy hors d’oeuvres. It’s going to be a lot of fun.”
So what exactly is whiskey painting?
Well, it all started a little more than 50 years ago with a man named Joe Ferriot, an Ohio businessman who traveled a lot and wanted to paint while he did so. It’s not easy to travel with full-sized painting supplies, so he invented his own kit from an aspirin box, a take-apart brush and notecard-sized pieces of paper, all of which he could carry around in his shirt pocket.
After a full day of work on his business trips, he would, of course, treat himself to a drink and, while at the bar or waiting for dinner, take out his kit and paint. Instead of water, he would dip his brush in whatever he happened to be drinking.
Ferriot’s small works became a hit with fellow bar patrons and hospitality workers, and he began calling them whiskey paintings.
Ferriot was also a member of the Akron Society of Artists, and he and other members of the society began going to bars after their meetings to paint. After doing this for a while, Ferriot and friends decided to formalize their outings and, in 1962, formed the Whiskey Painters of America.
One of the original members? Lou Ann Zimmerman’s father, Marc Moon.
“You’re a member for life because not everybody can get in. You have to be sponsored by another whiskey painter and I’ve heard a couple of different ways this is said, but the last thing I was told is that they can only sponsor one during their lifetime. So you’re very particular about who you sponsor,” Lou Ann explained. “I haven’t sponsored anybody yet. My father sponsored me and he was one of the original whiskey painters and he didn’t sponsor anyone for a long time; 1999 is when I became one and it started in 1962.”
Besides being sponsored by an existing whiskey painter, there are very few rules to which members must adhere. Canvases can be no larger than 4 x 5 inches and the artist must dip her or her brush in some form of alcoholic spirits. Lou Ann uses Jack Daniels almost exclusively, mixing it with water, but they aren’t limited to the type of alcohol. One whiskey painter she’s encountered used Peach Schnapps.
“It was kind of odd, but it worked,” she laughed.
Membership, which includes artists from all over the U.S., as well as Canada and Mexico, is limited to 150 and they are at capacity, she said.
“They have a waiting list and, it’s a horrible thing to have to say, but somebody has to die before someone can get in, to open a space,” Lou Ann said. “There is a waiting list of people who have already been sponsored, but a slot hasn’t opened yet.”
There are also no rules about how much a member of the organization must paint. The Whiskey Painters of America have a permanent exhibit with works from all members on display in Ohio, but members can choose whether or not they participate in shows like the upcoming one at the Gertrude Herbert.
“They send a prospectus out, like a application, just to the members, and if you would like to participate then you can always participate,” Lou Ann explained. “There are different parameters but they’re always the same size print. No larger than the equivalent of 4 x 5 inches. They can’t be framed any larger than an 8 x 10, so you have to stay within those boundaries. They’re watermedia, of course, because you’re dipping your brush in a liquid of your choice.”
Of the 15 or so whiskey painters who contributed works, most contributed 5-8 pieces each.
“They are completely varied, which is really surprising,” Heather said about the styles of the works. “I did look online at the permanent gallery and it seems not at all like what I was looking at there. There’s one artist whose images are almost like Japanese postcards and we’ve got some that are landscapes.”
All the works, which come from artists all over the country, will be for sale.
And though Lou Ann feels that painting on a smaller area is a lot more difficult than on a larger canvas, she explains that perfection isn’t the goal of the Whiskey Painters of America.
“It’s supposed to be a social event because the artists get together and do this,” she said. “It’s not a serious, ‘get a fabulous painting at the end’ kind of thing. It’s different than painting a miniature. When you paint a miniature, you should be able to take a magnifying glass and see all the detail. These are just small paintings.”
There’s not much socializing for Lou Ann, who is the only whiskey painter in this area, but she hopes to be able to one day attend some of the group’s social events in Ohio.
“Terry Milk, the membership chair, she is trying to reinvigorate the organization with the old way it started, where they got together in a pub and painted,” she said. “They’ve just started that up again and they are posting pictures online all the time of the artists getting together and painting. Those are the ones who are there locally and I hope I can be there one day when they’re doing it.”
When she does, her kit — complete with a flask of Jack Daniels — will be ready to go.
Whiskey at Ware’s
Gertrude Herbert Institute of Art
Friday, November 20