Art 2 Go at Casa Manila: Discover the artist in you

Community News & Features Dec 8, 2017 at 5:48 pm
‘Artists’ proudly display their masterpieces of Toronto’s skyline on a dark starry night.

‘Artists’ proudly display their masterpieces of Toronto’s skyline on a dark starry night.

By Irish Mae Silvestre

While it’s often synonymous with girls’ night and wine bars, Casa Manila is recreating the concept of paint night. Wednesday nights are about to get more colorful as paintbrush-wielding guests can now enjoy a sampling of Filipino cuisine, while learning an art technique or two.

The idea was a collaboration between husband-and-wife team and Casa Manila owners, Mila and Zaldy Cuachon, and artist Kalayaan “Lala” Garcia. “I wanted to sell the actual venue and the feature,” said Garcia, who hosts events with her partner Ivan Ocampo through their mobile art studio company, Art 2 Go Studios. Unlike companies that simply focus on promoting the event, Garcia explained that hosting paint night at Casa Manila is a unique way to integrate the restaurant experience. “It keeps us different from other companies,” she added. “It’s a win-win situation.”

In addition to the food, the key to the restaurant’s first successful paint night was the cheerful guidance by Garcia and Ocampo. As guests regarded their blank canvases with a mix of trepidation and excitement, the couple referred to a finished painting: a silhouette of Toronto against a starry evening sky. It’s a preview of what’s in store.

Each participant is armed with all the tools for the evening’s activities: an apron, brushes of varying sizes and a disposable palette of acrylic paint. Why acrylics? “Because they dry faster, unlike oils which can take days,” explained Ocampo.

P1020721The first step was to prep the canvas with water. “You don’t want to soak your canvas, you just want to make sure every part of it has a bit of water,” said Ocampo. “Without it, it would be like spreading glue on wood.”

With canvases prepped and ready, it was on to the fun part: mixing paint. There’s something to be said for the therapeutic effects of swiping blue and white paint across a canvas. And there were several techniques to learn. Cobalt mixed with red creates a vibrant purple sky, while thick layers of blue transform into reflective water when blended with strokes of white. Distant skyscrapers light up with tiny windows painted on with toothpicks.

Between instructions from Garcia and Ocampo, there was friendly chatter and laughter. According to Garcia, there’s no specific demographic for paint night. “We get couples, young couples on dates, girls’ night out, bridal showers, birthday parties and kids,” she said.

So what is it about the activity that draws people of every age?

“We all started this way, we all started scribbling and painting but somewhere along the way we found out that the world sucks and that everything is not fun; we lost that creativity and we became grown-ups,” said Ocampo.

“When I do these sessions, I see the joy and the inner child come back in people – they remember how much fun it is to smear color. We’re not recreating the Mona Lisa, we’re having fun.”

Artist instructor Lala Garcia shows how.

Artist instructor Lala Garcia shows how.

Indeed, even for a reluctant participant like Eric Baculinao, a two-hour painting session seemed to have a transformative effect. “You forget problems that otherwise occupy your mind,” he said.

For art lovers like Zaldy Cuachon, it was about gaining confidence and learning new techniques in a relaxing environment. “Now, if I see a brush, I can understand why I have to hold it [a certain] way in order to come up with a stroke that’s more artistic,” he explained. “If I had never been to paint night, I probably wouldn’t understand how this process worked.”

His wife, Mila, added that taking part for the first time was about unplugging and being absorbed in a creative activity. “[My husband and I] liked the fact that we weren’t looking at our phones,” she said. “We were completely meditative and just focused on painting and creating.”

By the end of the evening, there was a sense of camaraderie among participants who were otherwise strangers. Snacks were served, guards were considerably lowered and people walked around admiring and complimenting each other’s work. Despite painting the same skyline, it’s easy to spot the nuances in each painter’s personality: one canvas featured skyscrapers with windows dotted to form a smiley face, another swapped the CN Tower for the Eiffel Tower.

“You look at each other’s work and you realize that everybody has different styles,” observed Baculinao. So does he plan to hang his painting at home? His wife, Barbara, answered with a resounding, “Yes!”

Paint night at Casa Manila takes place every Wednesday from 7 to 9pm. For reservations, call (416) 443-9654. Located at 879 York Mills Road,


Participants seriously at work

Participants seriously at work


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Mae Lazaro celebrates her birthday with a