On a warm spring evening in the tall attic of a Denver home, 30 adults gathered for a painting class. But this was no ordinary art lesson; beside brushes and paint palettes were pipes, bubblers, and rolling papers ready to be loaded up with Colorado bud.
This is Puff, Pass & Paint, a series of classes designed to awaken the artist in everyone with a little help from cannabis. After Colorado fully legalized cannabis in 2012, Heidi Keyes saw a golden opportunity to combine her two greatest passions: cannabis and art. Wanting to provide a safe and creative place for people to explore both, she started up a painting class that would soon burst at the seams into several other states and across different creative arts.
Instructor Josh Schmidt leads a cannabis painting class while Rhett Backstrom smokes Saturday, April 1, 2017 at Puff, Pass & Paint on Grant Street in Denver, CO. Twenty-two people attended the class. (Daniel Brenner for Leafly)
Amanda Eike Koehler, Instructor
It’s not altogether unlike the “paint and sip” classes we see all over the US, which encourage the combination of art and alcohol; Puff, Pass & Paint even has a small wine bar for adults who prefer to kick down inhibitions with a glass of Merlot. But the primary draw of the class is the plume of sweet-smelling smoke hanging above the heads of happy painters.
“Many [participants] come for a low-key way to tap back into a hobby they once enjoyed, and to be inspired by the company of people around them.” said Amanda Eike Koehler, a writing instructor for Puff, Pass & Paint’s “Lit on Lit” class.
Paintbrushes and pipes are used during a cannabis painting class Saturday, April 1, 2017 at Puff, Pass & Paint on Grant Street in Denver, CO. (Daniel Brenner for Leafly)
Puff, Pass & Paint’s popularity—mainly among tourists—has allowed the program to expand beyond painting to the world of literature and cooking, as well as pottery and pincushion. Curious to learn more about the intersections of cannabis and art, I booked a few classes and a flight with my fellow Leafly editor, Brett Konen, and thus began the best business trip ever.
Seth Norton smokes a joint during a cannabis painting class Saturday, April 1, 2017 at Puff, Pass & Paint on Grant Street in Denver, CO. (Daniel Brenner for Leafly)
Nestled in a cozy Denver neighborhood near the University District, Brett and I arrived at the Puff, Paint & Pass house with an arsenal of cannabis strains.
We took two seats at a table and burned through a bowl of Golden Goat, offering it to the couple to our left, who politely declined. They clearly pre-gamed with too much enthusiasm; with thousand-mile stares through wide eyes, I could practically hear the internal screams of two tourists who had underestimated a cannabis edible.
Idaho resident Rhett Backstrom, left, smokes while California resident Ryan Richardson paints Saturday, April 1, 2017 at Puff, Pass & Paint on Grant Street in Denver, CO. Twenty-two people attended the class. (Daniel Brenner for Leafly)
Around the five tables, conversation and laughter reached a cruising altitude as strangers introduced themselves, mainly breaking the ice with where they traveled from and their experiences with cannabis so far.
The painting instructor, Josh Schmidt, made his way to one corner of the room and introduced himself. He announced that he’d be showing us how to paint a quaint mushroom house. “But you’re welcome to paint something else if you prefer,” he added. One artist who’d clearly been here before had already done so and was partway through an elaborate, black and white feather painting.
Even the woman who looked like she was dying of edible-induced paranoia an hour ago was steeped tranquilly in the current of her own creativity.
Everyone’s painting looked almost identical in the first 15 minutes (except Bob Ross and his masterfully painted feather). One hour and many joints later, almost everyone had taken their own unique, creative path. Some drew direct inspiration from Nintendo’s Super Mario World. One mushroom house ended up turning into a pink sea of jellyfish. I spent most of my session meticulously perfecting the snow textures in my mountainous backdrop, while Brett got lost in the swirling motion of her brush, creating psychedelic skies over her mushroom hut.
A nearly complete painting during a cannabis painting class Saturday, April 1, 2017 at Puff, Pass & Paint on Grant Street in Denver, CO. (Daniel Brenner for Leafly)
As the class progressed, it was clear that participants represented a diversity of experience, in terms of both cannabis consumption and artistic aptitude. Some pulled from a bong throughout the entire class, while others took just one or two modest puffs from a pipe. There were students who executed the painting assignment with masterful attention to light and shade, while others produced a disorganized mess of color.
In spite of technical skill differences, a common denominator of peace seemed to run through everyone. Even the woman who looked like she was dying of edible-induced paranoia an hour ago was steeped tranquilly in the current of her own creativity.
“Puff, Pass & Paint [is] a place where individuals can come and learn about what they are capable of creating,” Tyler Joyner, a class facilitator, said. “I think creating gives us purpose and shares with us a glimpse of all we are capable of as humans.”
Cannabis or no cannabis, art is therapeutic. Whether it’s blending paints, arranging words, or mixing ingredients, there’s something inherently comforting and innately empowering about creating something from the building blocks of your imagination.
Idaho resident Rhett Backstrom, from left, California resident Ryan Richardson, and Utah resident Skyler Coons paint Saturday, April 1, 2017 at Puff, Pass & Paint on Grant Street in Denver, CO. Twenty-two people attended the class. (Daniel Brenner for Leafly)
“In our Bay Area classes, we offer complimentary spots to an amazing group called Operation EVAC, which works with veterans with PTSD in regards to learning about cannabis healing options,” Heidi explained. “After one of those classes, an attendee approached me with tears in his eyes, thanked me for the class, and said he hadn’t been so relaxed since he entered combat. That reminded me why we do what we do. I fully recognize the benefits of cannabis as a truly healing plant.”
You may find that you come for the cannabis and art, and stay for the community. Whether you’re there to learn about art, enjoy a novel experience with cannabis, or break away from the chaotic world outside for a couple hours, Puff, Pass & Paint is a haven for everyone and anyone (over the age of 21, of course). Because here, in the presence of art, good people, and cannabis, the harmony of the three is abundantly clear.