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Small heading: State of the Art

Last year, Kasha McKinley-Cross hosted her first “paint and sip” session at Queen Elizabeth Park: With a couple of friends, some art supplies, and “lots of cheese, strawberries and lemon, lime and bitters”.

What started as an informal gathering on a park bench has evolved into a busy and vibrant creative space, allowing people of all abilities to “discover their inner artist” – if desired, over a glass of wine, or two.

Kasha, a multimedia artist, is the force behind Sienna Studio, launched in May from a friend’s converted garden shed in Carterton.

Sienna Studio [named after the reddish-brown paint colour] is dedicated to paint and sip events – where small groups of people can, with snacks, drinks, and the support of an experienced artist, work on creative projects in a relaxed environment.

Kasha spent six months facilitating groups – from baby showers to office parties – from her temporary studio space, and hosts on-location events at private homes or eateries throughout the region.

She is on the hunt for a permanent base for the studio, and hopes to build her own premises — with space for outdoor workshops.

Kasha started Sienna Studio to share the joy of creativity with others — having rediscovered that joy after a long hiatus from the artistic world.

She said people usually attend the studio looking to try new experiences in the company of good friends. Some groups are “raucous”, others are more timid— but it’s “always rewarding” to see them grow in confidence.

“People will often say, ‘I’m going to need to drink a lot in case I’m s*** at painting’,” Kasha said.

“They’ll say, ‘oh, I’m not an artist’, or ‘I haven’t done art since school’ – and look at the blank canvas in front of them and feel really intimidated.

“But then, they’ll relax into it, and end up really pleased with what they’ve done.

“For me, art is the thing that grounds me, that sets me on fire, and that lets me be completely myself. It feels so wholesome – and I wanted others to experience that feeling.”

Kasha said she has been creative from a young age — early memories include painting rocks for her grandmother’s garden, and making photo frames out of “seashells and glitter”.

Art, photography and design were her favourite subjects at school but, on leaving, she decided not to pursue her creativity further.

“I thought, ‘it’s time to become an adult’. I moved to Australia, got a job, had my kids – and my art never progressed.”

On moving to Carterton in 2019, Kasha picked up a paintbrush for the first time in years — and began developing her abstract style, and making paints using coffee grounds, clay and natural dyes.

After holding her first event at the park, her friend encouraged her to develop the idea — and offered the use of her “lady cave”, which Kasha decked out with canvases and fairy lights.

Thanks to “word of mouth”, Sienna Studio gained momentum, and Kasha was hosting group events most Friday nights.

Now it has moved out of the lady cave, Sienna Studio has partnered with venues throughout Wairarapa, and has held art sessions at Balter Bar, Brac and Bow, Le Gra and The Screening Room, among others.

Eventually, Kasha hopes to open Sienna Studio to “creatives of all types” to run workshops in other artistic disciplines.

She also hopes to do art therapy with support agencies and vulnerable communities – for example, at marae, with solo parents, and with at-risk youth.

Once Sienna Studio moves to its permanent home, al fresco sessions are on the cards.

“I’d love for us to be out in nature – listening to music, doing meditation, and just being in the moment. If people want to pick up dirt and leaves and throw them at a massive canvas, they can!”

For more information, contact Kasha McKinley-Cross at [email protected]

Erin Kavanagh-Hall
Erin Kavanagh-Hall
Erin Kavanagh-Hall is the editor of the Wairarapa Midweek. She has been a journalist for the past 10 years, and has a keen interest in arts, culture, social issues, and community justice.

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