Nikola Wigstrom and Stacia Zezza are more than just sisters-in-law; they are business partners, and the co-founders and the two-woman show behind the traveling art studio Wanderlust Studio. This dynamic, art-loving duo (Wigstrom graduated from White Bear Lake High School and Zezza from Mahtomedi High School) travel from place to place delivering art parties as entertainment for groups of guests who want to learn how to paint. And want to have some fun doing it.
To some, going into business with any in-law is risky, but to these sisters-in-law, it’s a natural fit. As event and marketing director, Zezza takes care of the business end. And as artist and creative director, Wigstrom leads the painting lessons. Motivated by doing what they love, the flexibility of creating their own schedules and the freedom of creativity with running their own business, Wigstrom and Zezza started their venture in January.
These art lessons are probably unlike any other art class you may have taken: each adult event begins with a toast of wine or beer. The time following (adult events typically run 2½ hours; kids’ events typically last 1½ hours) is filled with art instruction, energetic music, chatter and laughter. “It’s very casual,” Wigstrom says. “We don’t want people to feel like they are glued to their chairs.” In fact, they encourage people to move around and socialize during the sessions. “It really is the dream job,” Wigstrom says. “We have just as much fun putting it on as the people do who are there to paint.”
As a wandering studio, Wigstrom and Zezza travel to various establishments and private spaces for events and they bring all the supplies so you don’t have to. Hauling around bins filled with art supplies, easels, canvases and a PA system for music, the duo makes stops around White Bear Lake, Mahtomedi, Hugo, Forest Lake, Scandia and beyond. “We don’t have one home base,” Zezza says. “We are coming to your environment, where you are comfortable.”
Wanderlust Studio might host an event at a local bar and restaurant, or set up shop for an in-home party. They have kids’ events, painting parties for benefits like Coco’s Heart Dog Rescue, and have even taught painting in offices as team-building activities. The cost to paint as a participant varies from event to event, but typically, it costs $35 for adults and $25 for kids; classes usually consist of 10-12 for private events and anywhere from 30-85 for other events, depending on the venue.
Wigstrom has always been an artist. She remembers as a kid using her mother’s living-room piano bench as a makeshift painting easel. With a varied art background, Wigstrom has dabbled in wedding and portrait photography, and taught jewelry-making classes. She pursued journalism and Native American history at the University of Minnesota, and studied graphic design and took photography courses online through the Academy of Art in San Francisco. She loves being creative but also loves teaching art. When she’s not teaching for Wanderlust Studio, she volunteers in the art department at Matoska International IB World School.
As the artist, Wigstrom creates all of the paintings that are taught at events. Look through the Wanderlust gallery online and you’ll see paintings ranging from colorful depictions of trees and natural landscapes to whimsical florals to customized paintings. Many of the artworks also have a local connection. There’s the polar bear painting that was taught at the White Bear Bar. There’s another that depicts the Manitou Island Bridge.
Wigstrom and Zezza refer to participants as guests, not students, although many walk away having learned new painting tricks. Wigstrom leads the events by breaking down a painting into five to 10 basic steps. She keeps her instruction simple and short to allow for participants to go off on their own. And the learning does not only come from the teacher; halfway through each event, there’s an intermission where guests move around the room to look at everyone’s paintings for inspiration.
“There’s a lot more to paintings than I had thought before,” says Heather Gysbers, a guest at several Wanderlust events. “I really learned that the technique, how you use the brush, really makes the difference.” Along with the camaraderie, Gysbers loves the opportunity to be creative when making a painting. One of the paintings she made with Wanderlust is of peonies, which she now displays proudly in her bathroom. “I’m kind of amazed how mine turned out,” Gysbers says. “I think you can have little art ability and have a product turn out to be something that you can look at and still enjoy.”
Gysbers is not alone in surprising herself with the finished art. You don’t have to be a trained artist to walk away with something that you feel proud of creating. Many people come to events never having picked up a paintbrush before. “People come in scared,” Zezza says. “They’ll say, ‘Mine’s never going to look like that.’ And at the end, those people are usually the last ones sitting there because they can’t stop.”
(Stacia Zezza (left) and Nikola Wigstrom are all smiles at a recent painting party.)