Wouldn’t it be wonderful if Clark County had an artistic retreat where people could explore their creative sides, learn a new craft or try a new medium, and occasionally have a glass of wine? There is such a place: Vancouver Art Space, the glorious dream of artist Barbara Sheehan.

Vancouver Art Space Barbara Sheehan
Vancouver Art Space owner and instructor Barbara Sheehan with some of her oil paintings. Photo credit: Monika Spykerman

The art-making process is transformative, notes Sheehan, especially when someone has no previous art experience. “They always come away with a smile on their face, something that they have invested themselves in,” she says, remarking on the joy and pride first-time artists feel. “Whether they hang it on their wall or not, it doesn’t really matter. What matters is they had that experience. And I think that’s valuable.”

In addition to creativity’s therapeutic value, her customers also develop a greater understanding of the skill, practice and effort necessary to translate ideas into art. “I’m not necessarily trying to make everybody turn into an artist,” Sheehan explains. “What I’m trying to do is make everybody turn into an art appreciator.”

Sheehan, an accomplished oil painter and graduate of Pacific Northwest College of Art, is a worthy mentor for budding artists – although her career has taken a few twists and turns. She started out at a structural engineering firm, where she learned drafting and developed a keen sense of spacial relationships. Next, she worked as an architectural designer focusing on high-end residences, with later forays into furniture-making and kitchen renovations. In her 40s, she enrolled in art school and studied abroad in Ireland, graduating with an emphasis on the then-emerging field of digital art. Sheehan’s work has been displayed in galleries from Ireland to New York to Oregon, and she was a founding member of the affectionately named PB&J Studios.

Curators, however, seemed to favor younger artists, and Sheehan had to fight against a culture of ageism. Eventually, she decided to take a break from the gallery scene and follow her own artistic inclinations. She also spent time working in her garden, cultivating vibrant vistas that she could recreate in her paintings. “That was my first retirement,” she jokes.

The garden was so beautiful – “a mini Monet’s garden” – that she thought she’d teach painting classes there. A divorce sidelined her from this plan, but then a friend from California mentioned that she’d been going to this amazing place offering art classes and art parties, where artists and non-artists could gather to explore their creative sides. She researched the business model for a couple of years before deciding to take the plunge with Vancouver Art Space.

Vancouver Art Space Art Journal
One of the beautiful handmade art journals from Vancouver Art Space’s art journaling class. Photo credit: Monika Spykerman

VAS opened in a small storefront on the corner of 112th Ave. and Burton Rd. where huge windows admitted plenty of natural light. Sheehan started right up with wine and paint nights and independent study classes, where beginners could learn basic techniques and more experienced artists could perfect them. She filled her walls with works by local artists and hosted First Friday receptions. She also started Paint Your Pet, which – thanks to the volunteer marketing efforts of VAS student Christine Orozco and a partnership with the Humane Society of Southwest Washington – is now booked months in advance.

However, Sheehan knew she needed room to grow. She’d noticed that the Vancouver Mall was becoming a destination for family activities, recreation and personal enrichment, with tenants like The Mall Library Connection, a massage center, and Mythic Escapes. Sheehan thought a creative space might be a good fit, and her hunch was right; management was eager to add her business to the mix.

The new space, which opened on July 1, 2017, is bursting with easels, tables, shelves and drawers packed with art and craft supplies, couches for lounging and an “arts marketplace” where shoppers can buy cards, jewelry and other handcrafted items. The walls bloom with a panoply of works by noted artists. Then there are the classes, taught by a cadre of experienced instructors: watercolor painting, acrylic painting, pen-and-ink drawing, art journaling for adults and art journaling for girls 8-13, alcohol inks, embroidery, mixed media, fabric painting, stamp carving, art photography, and life drawing. And here’s a unique idea for Valentine’s Day: a wine and paint class for couples! Or how about a totally creative kid’s birthday party?

Vancouver Art Space Easels
Easels and art supplies are ready for use at Vancouver Art Space. Photo credit: Laura K. Bray

As if that weren’t enough, Sheehan also co-hosts – along with filmmaker and commercial videographer Chris Martin – the Arts+Biz mixer, where artists can network with businesspeople and both can benefit from each other’s knowledge and expertise.

Sheehan emphasizes that Vancouver Art Space isn’t a school, it’s a gathering place where people can explore their creativity. “Even though we do specific classes, it’s not academic,” she explains. “Here, we’re more about relaxing, having fun, learning what you can learn, what you need to learn to accomplish what you’re trying to do.” Sheehan takes tremendous pleasure in helping people discover and refine their artistic selves. She’s happiest when she’s pushing boundaries, both artistically and entrepreneurially. “I enjoy experimenting,” she smiles. “Exploring all the possibilities is what I like to do the most.”

Vancouver Art Space

8700 NE Vancouver Mall Drive #206 (2nd floor, near Macy’s) in Vancouver
Open 10:00 a.m. – 9:00 p.m. daily
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