Cory Fisher

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May 5, 2013
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Fun at any age

Several years ago, Margo Murphy visited a Marin County art studio so she could make hand prints with her young daughter. She loved the concept of the drop-in, create-your-own-art studio and began researching the idea of opening a similar business herself.

“I really wanted a creative place that was family-friendly,” she said. “I also wanted to create a space that would attract people of all ages, regardless of their skill level.”

In November of 2011, Murphy — with the help of her husband Mike — opened the doors of The Artist Workshop on East Main Street in Grass Valley.

While the colorful, airy space may initially suggest a studio for children, a closer look reveals the broad range of materials suited for artists and would-be artists of any age.

Shelves made from reclaimed barn wood are filled with more than 150 pieces of pottery ready to be painted, as well materials for mosaics, plexiglass window hangings, painting canvases and clay for sculpt-your-own items and much more. Murphy has an off-site kiln, where she dips and fires each piece made in the studio. A 4-foot wooden dinosaur skeleton sits on a canvas, waiting to be painted by anyone who picks up a brush. Those who come in for “open art” can take part in paper arts, sewing, working with wood shapes and painting with water color or acrylics. Customers can also build their own teddy bears and hand-paint their little T-shirts, a feature that was added due to numerous customer requests. Children ages 5 and up may be dropped off for up to three hours.

“We essentially came up with our own business concept and watched it grow from there,” said Murphy. “Since we opened, we’ve listened to a lot of feedback and expanded. All the money we’ve made so far has gone back into the studio and our students. We’ve quadrupled our offerings and intend to keep adding more.”

In addition to “walk-ins” and planned parties, Murphy offers a variety of special classes, including after-school art classes, home-school enrichment classes, a pared-down grown-up and toddler class and “Diva Night,” when women can enjoy evening appetizers, wine and a chair massage and learn a new art technique.

During the summer, Murphy, along with her employee, accomplished artist Megan Dever, will be offering two workshops a week and an art camp. Activity examples include owl paper collage, print making, mixed-media boards, clay turtles, mosaic frogs, stencil and appliqué canvas bags, sculpted “angry birds” and more. A special Mother’s Day event will include a catered brunch and a family art project — such as a platter or serving bowl — that can be used for years to come.

Murphy’s love of art and creating things started early. Growing up in Nevada County, she loved “crafting” with her mother and building things with her father, which led her to take woodshop at Nevada Union High School all four years.

After graduating from NU in 1998, Murphy went on to earn an undergraduate degree in landscape architecture from California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, and spent a semester studying art and landscape in Italy. After working for several years at a design firm in Los Angeles, Murphy moved east, where she got her master’s degree in landscape architecture at the Rhode Island School of Design. The broad range of media there inspired her to work with an even broader range of artistic mediums, she said. Upon graduation, Murphy worked at a design firm in Cambridge, Mass., and joined the faculty staff at the Boston School of Architecture, teaching a design studio.

But like many of her high school classmates who are now starting families of their own, Murphy was eager to get back to life in Nevada County. The Murphys’ two children, Ciara and Quinn, are now 3 and 1, respectively.

“I love the fact that we have a creative space for all ages,” said Murphy. “Whether we show someone how to make something step by -step or they come in with their own vision, it’s an upbeat place where people can just come in to play. It’s been rewarding to watch it grow and get to know local families. The very first customer to walk through our door is still coming back.”

To contact Staff Writer Cory Fisher, email or call 530-477-4203.

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The Union Updated May 5, 2013 10:14PM Published May 7, 2013 09:16AM Copyright 2013 The Union. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.