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Painting With Spirits

The 53-year-old Whiskey Painters of America organization exhibits in Augusta, Georgia, this month.

One of the most exclusive painting groups in the world, the Whiskey Painters developed from Joe Ferriot’s practice of keeping miniaturized painting supplies with him when he traveled.

Ferriot, an Ohio businessman, created a small palette using an Aspirin box and divided it with plastic strips to hold his paints in place. He then devised a screw-together brush that would fit inside his case. Ferriot used watercolor paper sized at roughly 4×5 inches, so it would fit in the case. All of his painting supplies were designed to fit neatly into his shirt pocket.

While waiting for a meal or his transportation, Ferriot would take out his small paint box and work on his watercolors. He would often use whatever he was drinking at the time, which was usually a martini, to wet his brush. Ferriot named his miniatures “whiskey paintings.”

When Ferriot returned to Akron, he told fellow Akron Society of Artist members about his paintings. Some of the painters started going to pubs together and painting after regular society meetings.

In 1962, at the Tangier Night Club in Akron, about 14 members met and formed a charter with bylaws governing the organization. They elected Ferriot as president.

The members decided on rules relating to admittance and participation:

  • Membership is limited to 150 painters
  • An artist must be sponsored by an existing member
  • A genuine Whiskey Painting consists of painting a miniature piece of art no larger than 4×5 inches with watercolor
  • The artist must dip his/her brush in some form of alcoholic spirits

You can see the unique miniature watercolors from these talented artists on exhibit this month at the Gertrude Herbert Institute of Art in Augusta, Georgia. The Whiskey Painters of America Art Show runs from November 20-December 15, and the show opens with a fundraising event from 7-10 p.m. that includes whiskey tasting of course.

Fall Trees. Whiskey Painting by Lou Ann Zimmerman. Courtesy of Lou Ann ZimmermanIn addition to hosting the Whiskey Painter Show this month, Augusta is also home to Lou Ann Zimmerman, one of the 150 Whiskey Painters in the club. She was sponsored by her father, Marc Moon, one of the original painters.

“I grew up knowing and respecting the artists that formed the group, never dreaming of becoming one myself,” Zimmerman recalls. “But, as my career in art developed, my father suggested that I become a member with his sponsorship. This was huge for me because members are limited in the number of artists they can sponsor. I knew that, although the group is social and a lot of fun, my father also took it seriously since so many talented and well known artists were part of the group. I had to create two whiskey paintings to submit for membership. If accepted, one goes to the sponsor and the other to the WPA permanent collection. Happily, I was accepted and became a member in 1999.”

Zimmerman’s time as a Whiskey Painter has offered her the chance to grow as an artist and engage with fellow creatives — while also keeping her on her toes.

“Knowing the other artists that are a part of the group has helped to focus my professionalism,” she says. “It is also actually more difficult for me to do the tiny paintings. I think they are much harder than working on a full sheet painting. They are done in watercolor traditionally, and I normally am working in acrylic these days.”

Laines Cove. Whiskey Painting by Marc Moon. Courtesy of Lou Ann Zimmerman

Since there are no rules governing which alcoholic beverage the Whiskey Painters use, each artist is free to experiment and determine which one he or she likes best.

“I normally use Jack Daniels in my water,” says Zimmerman, “but any alcohol would do. One Whiskey Painter came to the show to demonstrate and he used Peach Schnapps!”

Photo credits, from top: “Southern Mountain” by Lou Ann Zimmerman, courtesy of Lou Ann Zimmerman; “Fall Trees” by Lou Ann Zimmerman, courtesy of Lou Ann Zimmerman; “Laines Cove” by Marc Moon, courtesy of Lou Ann Zimmerman.

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