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Worcester studio moves beyond the sip-and-paint experience

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 Susan Dunshee, owner of Just Paint Studio, is all about taking creative ideas and bringing them to life. Starting with a hobby of organizing painting parties with family and friends, Ms. Dunshee launched Just Paint in 2011 and turned it into a learning space for classes and events.

Her business began as a paint and BYOB experience, providing step-by-step lessons in canvas painting while the class sips and enjoys the company of friends. The finished product is then taken home as a token for the event. “The canvas painting classes is still very popular with adults and they have a lot of fun with it,” Ms. Dunshee said. Now the business offers classes, birthday parties, and artistic activities for large groups.

A former special education teacher for 15 years, Ms. Dunshee said, she took time off after her children were born. “As a teacher I always loved art. I incorporated it as much as I could in my classes.”

With the success she had from holding small painting classes with friends and family, she considered turning it into a profession. “In 2011 I first had the idea of taking something I loved to do and make it more, but didn’t know how I could even go about doing starting a business.” Having no previous business experience, she sought out local resources to get started.

Susan Dunshee, owner of Just Paint Studio, photographed with some sample artwork at the 172 Shrewsbury St. studio in Worcester.  T&G Staff/Paul Kapteyn
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“I ended up reaching out to Worcester SCORE for business consulting and they recommended I use the Massachusetts Small Business Development Center at Clark University,” Ms. Dunshee said. She consulted the organization months prior to the grand opening of her first studio on Water Street in 2011.

Now in her third year of business, Ms. Dunshee said the business has taken off. “I had been doing kind of the same style of classes for a while,” she said. “And I knew the company needed a shift, I think it needed a change.”

After moving in August to her new studio at 172 Shrewsbury St., Worcester, Ms. Dunshee introduced several new programs. Just off her main studio, where she holds classes for more than 30 people, is the new fashion studio, where she hosts classes for fashion and design.

“It’s something to try, it’s something different,” she said.

Several two-hour classes have been held since September; guests learn how to sketch designs and style small mannequin busts that they can take home. “I’ve been doing one class at a time and a few fashion birthday parties that kids love,” she said. She hopes to bring in local artists and fashion designers to give students a hands-on experience.

Her new studio has a separate event space where she can host up to 100 guests, but for the classes, Ms. Dunshee likes to keep them small. “We try to give more one-on-one attention. I want to give each person a mini-art lesson that can maybe inspire them to pick up painting later on.”

The new space is also being used for the After School Art Club created this fall. Just Paint offers classes for students in Grades 1-6 and another group for Grades 7 and 8. The program was introduced at Paxton Center Elementary School in addition to a program held once a week at Just Paint.

“The idea was to bring different mediums of art to the students over the eight-week period so they can try a little bit of everything,” she said.

Ms. Dunshee is also looking forward to building a patio behind the studio and offering outdoor painting sessions overlooking Cristoforo Colombo Park. “You can see advertisements anywhere for sip-and-paint parties,” she said. “But I’m here and I’m local, and I’m really trying to do different things.”

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