EUSTIS – When watercolor artist Jackii Molsick went to a miniature painting exhibition more than ten years ago, the idea of creating art no larger than 4×5 inches wide ignited more than just a casual interest in the medium.
“I thought it was really cool,” said Molsick, owner of Wild Ibis Art Studios and Gallery, an artist colony at 133 N. Grove St. in Eustis, which also features the works of artists Cathy Caine, Kelley Batson Howard, and Lou Buigas.
“It definitely sparked something in me,” she said.
The Bradenton native soon delved into the world of miniature art, spending countless hours refining her skill. She even attended a workshop from noted artist and teacher Fred Graff while living in Pittsburgh.
“It’s not harder for me; I use the same techniques, it is just on a very different scale,” she said. “It’s also very portable, you don’t have to lug a lot of stuff around with you.”
Recently, her dedication paid off; the Yalaha resident’s stunning mastery of painting in miniature, or Whiskey Painting, got her inducted into the Whiskey Painters of America (WPA), an elite and unique troupe of artists whose membership is permanently limited to only 150 members.
“It is a big deal; some of the most well-known watercolor artists are members,” said Molsick, a member of the Florida Watercolor and Central Florida Watercolor societies who’s been painting for more than 15 years.
The term, “Whiskey Painting,” gets its name from businessman and artist Joe Ferriot, according to the Whiskey Painters of America. During his business travels in the late 1950s, Ferriot painted in his free time and began carrying small sheets of 4×5 inch watercolor paper, along with a miniature color palette he made utilizing a tin Anacin box, and a small folding brush.
The tools fit easily into his shirt pocket, which allowed him to paint after hours at his favorite watering holes. It was during these times that Ferriot dipped his brush into his Martinis instead of water to get it wet.
One night, while meeting with fellow artist John Pike at a New York bar, Ferriot noted Pike’s fascination with his inventive small paintings and use of alcohol and invited him to pursue, “Whiskey Painting”, too.
Later that night, the two exchanged paintings and soon, the novel way of wetting a brush began spreading, especially in the North. A few years later, in 1962, the Whiskey Painters of America was founded in Akron, Ohio, with 14 charter members and Ferriot serving as its first president.
Molsick said a genuine Whiskey painting is supposed to be made by dipping a brush into some form of alcoholic spirits, and then imbibing to, “enhance the creative experience,” as an ode to the organization’s root.
“But it really refers to size and the tradition more than anything else,” said Molsick, a University of Florida graduate who moved to Lake County from Pittsburgh in 2007. “Alcohol will spread the paint so you do get different results.”
The WPA vetting process can be daunting. To be considered for membership, artists have to be nominated by an existing member, and then wait to be notified of an opening. Then, the artist has to submit two new Whiskey paintings and a resume of accomplishments and accolades to be considered for membership.
“One painting is for the WPA to display in its permanent collection and the other one goes to the artist who sponsors you,” explained Molsick, a mom of three adult sons, including Jordan, also an artist, and Graham and Zack, who both work in IT.
Molsick, who opened up Wild Ibis in April 2018, was on the list for four years before the WPA called her in May. Her two watercolor submissions were 3×5 paintings of Koi fish and she did dip her brush in alcohol for good luck.
“I swept the bush over the two canvasses before I started painting and said a little prayer,” she said.
Weeks later, Molsick received the news that she’d been accepted into WPA’s membership, capping off a long-held desire to join the group.
Like all new members, the former public relations director for the City of Clearwater received a small palette and brush inside a tin, as a reminder of founding member Ferroit’s original tools.
“I jumped up and screamed with joy when I got the email,” said Molsick.