Long before artist Michele Ashe started offering painting lessons in Martinez, she aspired to become a medical illustrator.
Shortly after starting college at the University of Georgia, however, Ashe quickly changed her mind.
“We did a tour with 40-something cadavers on the table and realized I don’t want to do this,” she said. “I felt like I could do
the art, but all the science and everything else, it wasn’t for me.”
Ashe gravitated to teaching and took her first job as an art teacher in 1993 at Burke County High School. She later moved to Atlanta, where she taught art in an elementary school, then worked as a decorative artist, painting murals and faux finishes in homes.
When she returned to Augusta in 2002, Ashe opened the restaurant My Friend’s Place in Surrey Center. She ran it for eight years before selling it in 2012.
In the restaurant, Ashe started offering art lessons in a social setting to novice painters. She called the classes “Van Gogh and Vino.” Ashe teaches while students snack on food and socialize with friends.
“It’s kind of like going to the movies and you escape from the real world,” she said. “I want people to go home with a meaningful experience.”
Ashe heard about the concept from friends in Atlanta but was too busy with the restaurant to entertain the idea. A few months later, she researched “painting
parties” online and saw similar concepts across the country.
By February 2010, she had registered the Van Gogh and Vino business name with the state and started offering classes.
She has expanded into a large room behind Van Diamond on Stevens Creek Road. She now offers several classes a week, both to the public and for private occasions, such as birthday parties, baby showers and work functions.
Hickey Dewberry and wife Hazel have known Ashe for 27 years and consider her to be like a daughter. She has created art for the couple, including painting a window in their home to resemble a forest.
Ashe uses a scratchboard technique in which she carves a design onto a black board to reveal the white underneath.
Ashe said she draws inspiration from places she has visited.
While her free time is scarce, her love for art continues to evolve. She recently started an oil painting class and has joined local artists’ guilds.
“There’s so many different things that you can learn with art,” she said. “I’m constantly wanting to learn new techniques.”