Smoking Weed & Painting in Oakland

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By Gabrielle Pflugradt

After Barting to Oakland, and trekking through a First Friday’s block party, a neighborhood water balloon fight, a thick cloud of flies, a tent community tucked under an overpass, 10 Oakland blocks and a last-ditch Lyft, we made it to our class. Puff Pass Paint.

Getting high and painting.

It was an inconspicuous warehouse made of red brick, a chalkboard sign in front of the door reading “Puff Pass Paint this way” with an arrow. We were 30 minutes late.

Inside there  was a “CANNABIS” sign made of exposed light bulbs, doilies with cut out marijuana leaves sagging from the ceiling. The decor seemed placed and planned as if for a TV set or a new hip bar. This was actually a legitimate business.

A smiling boy with a slight southern swang came over with warm welcomes. He quickly ushered us to our seats in front of two intimidating blank canvases starring at us. They’d been waiting. The necessary paint colors squatted in small dollops on a paper plate, like soldiers ready for battle. The brushes soaked patiently in their water cups like swords. It had the simplicity of childhood, the over-thought parental guidance and thorough preparation. All we had to do was smoke and paint; the little efforts which compensated for the $60 ticket.

Puff, Pass, Paint instructors, Oakland

As we settled, I apologized profusely for being late, but they seemed to brush it off calmly, insisting in all politeness that it was okay, fine, no big deal. Maybe because languid, flaky potheads understand other languid, flaky potheads.

This super-chill vibe felt very different from my previous experience with a combination painting and intoxication class. At Painting and Sipping in Los Angeles, it was announced that 15 minutes after the class began, the instructor would lock the door to latecomers. The ticket, non-refundable. I made it with 3 minutes to spare and ended up taking a “smoking” break in the middle with a random gal to the heavy dismay of some other patrons in the class. The dynamic: moms and daughters, girls night out, a couple keep-to-themselves dates. Chirpy, snippy, overwhelmingly tight, and all white.

Maybe you could call it The Bay vs. LA or Wine vs. Weed. I don’t know, but I could smell the laid back in the air, like body odor on the Bart in summer. Or maybe it was just the thick layer of weed smoke hovering like fog-thought bubbles narrating from above our heads.

The smiling girl instructor had long hair, a nose ring and one booty supreme. She was softly explaining the painting instructions: make splotches of different neon colors on the canvas. Today, we were painting a galaxy, a spaceship, silver planets and some stars. The neon spotches would later supply the psychedelic depth to our cosmos.

Before I even touched my paintbrush, I picked up my joint, rolled on the Bart ride over amongst tall, dark businessmen talking hushedly on their cellphones to waiting wives. I felt like a stony miscreant, yet cannabis possession is totally legal now in California.

Prop 19 baby.

With XL rolling papers, the joint came out to be the size of my cigar-like finger, big enough for the whole class. My blazing bible informs me: in a giant smoke sesh–if this was to be one–I should be prepared to share.

Our smiling teacher whispered to us our instructions, he was slow, patient, and professional. They seemed to understand their clientele (potentially high and forgetful little minions), and they were continually tying little balloon-thoughts to our heads; gently guiding, grounding us, answering silly, rudimental questions that had already been asked.

I, the excited little chipmunk, was too excited to listen to any of his instructions, so I just lit the joint and passed it to him. He accepted unblinkingly, smiling.

With joint in mouth, I picked up my paintbrush, hovering nervously over the blank canvas. Then I heard, “Alright, when you are done with that, let’s take a smoking break.” I put my paintbrush down, my joint up.

A smooth black hand launched into my vision field with a joint pinched between two long cotton candy nails blasted with diamonds in galaxy swirls, her face hidden behind her canvas. If she said anything to acknowledge the flying joint, I didn’t hear. Leaning over, I smiled and traded her my finger joint. She paused, looked at it, then passed it along to her man without taking a toke. He didn’t take a hit either.

After taking and receiving two more joints like a round on a carousel, I was effectively super-stoned. It seemed most people in the class were sharing, leaving their front doors open in a communal trust pact. For some reason, I felt safe in the arms of the two instructors. They had a parental air of serenity and protection.

The smiling woman instructor, probably no older than 25, let’s say from Oregon, began explaining the next step: black sponge splotches covering the canvas. This was to be the space void.

My painting experience was interesting. I would dive into a painting wormhole, completely focused, almost like floating in a syrupy nothingness of concentration, my brush effortlessly flitting, like ferns or clouds.   With weed, I felt removed from everything around me, almost like I was in another dimension with my canvas was all my own, my anchor. Everything else, fogged and distant.

Then suddenly I would zap out. Either one of my favorite Biggie smalls lyrics came on, or I got thirsty (you’re welcome to bring beverages and they supply a complimentary glass of wine).

One time, my zap out was because I began to hear that buzzing you hear in complete silence. The peanut gallery was so silent you could hear a joint drop. There was some smooth, slow 90’s rap playing from somewhere in the background, but when a song ended you realized, people weren’t really talking and if they were it was a quiet chirp with those they had come with.

The instructors encouraged us to take breaks, get up, walk around, look at other people’s works, eat some of the complimentary snacks. I needed a reason to creep out of my high cocoon and interact with humans, so when I realized my legs were asleep, I got up. I was a wee-bit nervous. I was high, slightly paranoid, and extremely sensitive to my social awkwardness. When I stood, I realized I hadn’t even looked at anyone else in the class yet; I was glued to my canvas like a homing beacon, a life raft. Maybe my other comrades were in the same boat; no one had spoken directly to me besides the instructors. Maybe no one was going to speak to me unless I, a voyeur, physically poked myself into their wormhole.

The paintings made it easy to talk to others. Everyone had a different style and took a different take on the instructions.

One of the ladies, Precious, had strange interpretations of stars. She used a splatter paint technique to create amoeboid, neurons that splashed off the page. She also had the most beautiful hair, shaved on one side, cascading honey blonde in perfect helixed curls, and wore deep ruby gloss on plump pouty lips, with long, boat-curving eyelashes. It was then I noticed everyone else in the room; how they seemed to carry art around with them, on their person. (Like I said high as a kite).

The man instructor had a upper arm sleeve tattoo peaking out from his t-shirt with stacked scenes representing the different layers of the earth, fire to fossil, rock to sky to space. I had never seen such colors on a tattoo, muted, dull yellow and dense, vibrant orange.

The girl sitting next to me had the most beautiful voice. She knew the lyrics to almost every song and sang along, deep and sultry, while she painted. Everyone manifested concentration and creativity in a multitude of ways. In these moments of artistic diversity, my paranoia fell away. I felt shy and awkward yes, but also safe and creatively charged.

The guy across from me, had the most alluring body movements while he painted. I liked him at once. His skin was luminous, dark like stained cherry wood against a starch t-shirt punctuated with thick gold jewelry. When he painted his thick arms were relaxed and his blunt clung perfectly between his loose lips, an easy, natural balancing act. He was the coolest.

Even though I was already higher than Jesus, when he offered me a fresh blunt, I couldn’t resist. I instantly accepted, swapping it with my own. This time he took my finger joint, now cut at the knuckle. A treaty of newfound trust.

He spoke hushed and slow, like a deep love song. He passed me the blunt as if it was a fancy quill, his pinky out. It was an art piece, a damp rolled up leaf, veined and soft like worn leather, natural like something Tarzan would smoke amongst the ferns.

I took a long slow hit, relaxing in his milky vibe. It was sweet like honey, smooth, just like his demeanor. With my exhale, the smoke swallowed me in a wasp of thick, grey cotton. When it dissipated, we made eye contact. We were both smiling.

By the end of the class, I was so fucking high, I’d turned into a crazed, crinkled painting mastermind, but whatever! It didn’t matter here. You could do anything you wanted. Everyone was high, and it was this blanket of acceptance that made me feel no judgment. I was free to be my own high, giggling smeagol.

In this creative whirlpool, the stoned freedom was brilliant, like running through a meadow naked without a worry of ticks or poison ivy.

Everything we touched became an artistic decision, a mode of creative outlet. Her hair was a sculpture, his movements a dance, her voice a song. And everything was positive and everything was right because we were in charge of creating it, with our own hands.

I don’t know why our paintings both ended up looking like space bush…

Towards the end, I finally looked over at my friends painting. I heard people laughing behind us and talking in small whispers but just assumed it was because mine was turning into a hearty bush. Then I looked over at my friend’s insanity. His painting got bids from others in the class, wanting desperately to buy it off him. Meet the Space Vagina.

Saturn…or space vagina?

In essence, if you want to paint and you can’t get your lazy ass to make it happen for yourself, try this out. Crazy, silly amazing things happen when you slow down and let your mind free to wander into anything it wants; whether it be penises, vaginas, space, stars or whatever your high mind comes up with. Go forth and paint.

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