Trish Dempsey’s Saltair Images Art Studio makes art accessible to all ages.

“I have been an artist my whole life,” says Trish Dempsey, owner of Saltair Images Art Studio in Frisco. Dempsey is retired from a long career as a teacher working in deaf education, learning disabled and behavior management, and special education. She retired from teaching at the Cape Hatteras schools in 2013, and today she concentrates on enlivening her art studio with students who want to have a positive creative experience.

Visitors to Saltair participate in creating paintings working from themes including nautical, holiday, and coastal landscapes. Dempsey has tables set up in her studio where students of all ages work on canvases. They can sign up as groups, such as bridal parties, Girl Scout troops, or family reunions. Or they can come in and work as individuals.

“As a group, they decide what they want to paint,” says Dempsey. They choose a design from the ones covering the walls of the studio. “But I also take suggestions, if they give me notice,” she says. This gives her time to create a sample and work out the steps on how to paint it.

Dempsey remembers an individual who came to the studio for several days with requests to paint a beach scene, then an angry beach, and finally a marsh scene with an oak tree in it. “So, I go home and do my homework,” says Dempsey. “If I can make it up and figure out how to teach it, that’s what we do.”

Armed with an art education degree from the University of Georgia, Dempsey prepared loads of sample canvases from which students choose to create their paintings. Step-by-step, she teaches her students how to paint anything from a lighthouse or sea turtle to a Halloween or Valentine’s Day image.

It’s all about working in layers. You lay down a foundation, add background images, then add foreground images. For example, using acrylic paint, they could work on a wet canvas to lay in color to form a background of shadow and light before adding in, say, purple wisteria draping down from the top of the canvas. Next, they add a tree with limbs, then more wisteria to hang in front of the tree trunk, and then white to highlight the blooms. “Darker colors go in the back because they are shadowed and recessed, and lighter colors go in front,” she says.

Dempsey studied acrylic painting by Googling Pinterest. But she says her background in special education taught her how to break things down into tiny pieces. “To teach it to other people so they can be successful,” she says.

Depending on the chosen image, students can use various techniques to paint. “All the wisteria was made using Q-tips,” says Dempsey. They also can use a glue gun to adhere crayons to a canvas then a heat gun to melt the crayons to create colorful patters. Handprints work well when teaching small fry how to make a crab. Tiny foot imprints can be utilized in a sandy beach walk scene.

Dempsey works at making the studio a positive atmosphere where people on all skill levels feel comfortable. “At least one person says, ‘I can’t,’” says Dempsey. “I say. ‘You can’t say that. You can scream, you can cry, but you can’t give up.’ But when they finish, and the joy on their faces, it’s amazing.”

It’s her job, says Dempsey, to help them say, “I can create.” “It’s about encouraging them to step outside the box, to use a different color than we are using,” she says. “I don’t want it to be like mine. I want it to be theirs.”

Dempsey remembers working with an art teacher who was rigid and didn’t want the kids to make a mess. “So, I did art in my classroom,” she says.

She remembers one child getting paint all over her arms. “‘Let her go, let her do it,’” she recalls saying.

“My walls are dirty, my floors are dirty,” says Dempsey about her, actually, lovely studio, “I don’t care, I just want you to enjoy yourself.”

“Children attack it immediately. The adults are so afraid. But at the end of the night…’Wow, I did that!’”

Is it like therapy? “No, it’s therapy for me,” says Dempsey. “I’m in my element, totally,” she says. “I forget everything else. We could be in there for hours. God knows, this is what makes me happy.”

Dempsey offers class year round. All are scheduled by appointment. Classes cost $25 per person for about two hours. Everything is supplied. Generally, students work on 11-inch by 14-inch canvases, but you can request 16-inch by 20-inch canvases.

The designs from which students can choose are many, but they can include florals, mermaids, anchors, seascapes, boats, hearts, flip flops, rays, and much more. You can BYOB.

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