Celia Ma Offers Virtual Paint Parties Around the Globe Through Paint the Town
By SARAH SHMERLING | Editor-in-Chief
When one door closes, another opens: Celia Ma brings paint parties to Palisadians through Paint the Town, which switched its operations from in-person to virtual in response to COVID-19 shutdowns.
Ma, who is based in the San Francisco Bay Area, started Paint the Town in 2016, hosting everything from corporate events to birthday parties, bridal showers, fundraisers and more.
“I’ve been a lifelong artist, but did not pursue art as a career,” she explained to the Palisadian-Post, “which was always a regret of mine. For years in my adult life, I told myself to pick up a pencil or brush and get creative again, but I kept pushing it off to the ‘next weekend’ or ‘next month.’”
But in 2015, Ma said she got the “biggest wakeup call” of her life: While walking across a street, she was hit by a car that ran through a red light, driving 45 miles per hour.
“I had been in the wrong place at the wrong time, and it almost cost me my life,” she shared. “I had luckily—all things considered—only sustained a broken arm and minor wounds, but I spent the next two months on medical leave, recovering and reflecting on everything.”
She said she felt like she was given a second chance at life, that she didn’t want to waste it in doubt or with a fear of failure.
“I decided that, from this point forward, I would take more risks and go for what I wanted,” Ma said, “even if I had no idea what I was doing or how I would get there. Getting back into art was a priority for me, and this was the birth of Paint the Town as we know it.”
Paint the Town, originally called Create with Celia, offered everything from teaching one-on-one painting sessions to face painting at kids’ parties and creating commissioned artwork.
“One day, I got a request to host a group painting session, and my client bolstered the mood with music and wine,” Ma recalled. “After hosting my first painting party, I immediately knew I had found my calling: sharing my passion for art in a fun, accessible and social way that shows that anyone can be an artist.”
Now, Paint the Town features 35 artists across the county. About 75% are virtual paint night instructors, with the other 25% instructors who taught in person before the COVID-19 pandemic shutdowns began.
Mobile in-person parties had taken place across California, including San Francisco, Sacramento County, San Diego and Orange County, with plans to expand to Los Angeles.
“In April 2020, I was preparing to launch our services in Los Angeles, becoming our fifth county presence in California, when COVID hit and decimated our expansion plans and all our booked events for the next six months,” Ma shared. “At this point, I had to grapple with the reality that this might be the end of Paint the Town. I wanted to use what was left of our resources to spread joy during these challenging times, and began offering free virtual paint parties to friends, family and community members.”
Little did Ma know at the time, what she said started as an experiment and community service would become “what allowed this phoenix to rise from the ashes.”
Switching to a virtual platform has allowed Ma and Paint the Town to have an international presence, letting her team create with attendees checking in from around the world—including Pacific Palisades.
“With virtual events, our paint parties take place in the homes of each guest, from Indiana to India, with painting kits shipped to wherever they are,” Ma explained.
Paint the Town also offers “paint your pet,” sketch & sip, and seasonal events, such as ornament painting and holiday-card making.
“The ‘paint your pet’ events are fantastic for pet parents and animal lovers—I am all of the above,” Ma shared. “We sketch your pet onto canvas and ship all painting supplies to each guest. During the session, it’s amazing to see these white canvases get brought to life as a colorful portrait.”
Paint the Town also offers painting parties on wine glasses (or any glass or ceramic drinking cup), as well as wood coasters, for those who are interested in painting on something that can be functional after the party.
Prior to a party, Paint the Town ships all the supplies directly to each guest, with an option for BYO-Supplies for budget-conscious planning.
One of Ma’s most memorable parties was a custom goat-themed painting for a San Francisco-based company whose office mascot was a mountain goat. She shared that it was such a hit that they were hired back six months later to host another round, with a different goat painting.
Another request was to surprise a birthday girl who was turning 50 with a virtual paint party. Paint the Town received a photo of the woman ahead of time, superimposed on the “Mona Lisa” and dubbed the “Nonna Lisa” to display at the beginning of the session and kick off the party. Ma said that everyone had a fabulous time and the birthday girl said the experience was one of the most memorable birthdays she had in a while.
“What I love about painting parties is that people can create not only beautiful keepsakes,” Ma concluded, “but also beautiful memories, together, and those can last for a lifetime.”
For more information or to book a virtual paint party, visit paintthetown.us.
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