OLDS — For the last few weeks before the big day, Battle of the Brushes organizing committee chair Debbie Ohlhausen was worried.
Ticket sales weren’t moving the way she hoped.
But when the event actually happened the evening of March 25, she was thrilled. She estimates that 170 to 180 people came out to watch – many buying tickets at the door.
As a result, she said, it raised about $5,000 for this year’s chosen non-profit: BGC (the Boys and Girls Club) of Olds and Area.
Battle of the Brushes is the new name for an older event, Art Battle, in which artists compete to make quick paintings. After several rounds, the crowd picks the winner.
This year, the overall winning artist was Cindy Boffey. Her final painting was of a poppy.
Ohlhausen says Art Battle began in 2013. It ran for years until it was sidelined by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Six years ago, Ohlhausen moved to the Maritimes but eventually moved back.
She spearheaded a drive to revive the event this year as part of a six-member committee; the same group that organized Art Battle all those years ago.
“I was so worried,” Ohlhausen said during an interview with the Albertan. "I went through this years ago, every time we’d have it. I would start worrying about ticket sales, right?
“Because every artist needs an audience and if you don’t have that audience, it’s just abysmal.”
In the end, she said, it was “an absolutely perfect-sized crowd.”
She believes advertising toward the end helped boost the size of the crowd. Also many people bought tickets at the door.
Ohlhausen was asked if there will be another Battle of the Brushes next year.
She said that’s possible.
She anticipates the committee will get together in a couple of weeks or so to discuss how it went and decide whether to hold another one.
“There’s a really strong bond between the six of us,” Ohlhausen said. “The six of us just have such a good time planning it and doing it that it really doesn’t seem like work; it’s just fun.”
If it does happen again, Ohlhausen would like to see more volunteers on hand to help the paint captain, which she described as “the most important job of all.”
She also admitted that the evening went a wee bit long, but “that happens, right? We haven’t done it in six years, I guess. So we learned,” she said with a laugh.
Ohlhausen was also very grateful for the help of event sponsors, including the Town of Olds and the Pomeroy Inn & Suites, which donated the ballroom for the event.
Boffey said she didn't expect to win.
“I am surprised, because there’s so much talent and so many great artists and it always amazes me when I win,” she said.
Her strategy was to paint things she’s comfortable with, like landscapes and flowers.
Originally, Carstairs artist Clint Mason was designated as a spare artist for the event, but he ended up being called to be a participant.
When it came time to auction the paintings, he paid the highest amount and thus got to choose which one he wanted. He chose Boffey’s poppy depiction. He was asked why he chose that one.
“It was beautiful,” he said. “I mean she’s an incredible artist anyways. I’ve always liked her paintings, but to do that in 20 minutes is pretty spectacular.”
Mason said he was OK with being called to compete after all.
“It was good, it was fun, I had a good time,” he said. “It was fine. I mean, you’re just here for fun anyways, right? Yeah, no, it was a good time, I enjoyed it quite a bit.”
That said, the pressure was on.
“You know, you practise a little bit at home. But when you’re standing there, it’s a little different, because at home, if you make a mistake, you can just start up and try it again.
“It definitely was a bit of a pressure, but it wasn’t bad pressure; it was fun.”
Mason said the crowd looming behind him didn’t bother him.
“You get zoned. You focus in and you just shut everything else off,” he said.
“It’s completely about painting, right? I mean it pulls your mind out of the surroundings and gets you to focus on what you’re doing and you can kind of shut out everything else.”
Mason said he’d love to participate if Battle of the Brushes is held again.
In her message, Town of Olds Mayor Judy Dahl congratulated organizers of the event and the artists involved.
She described BGC of Olds and Area as an organization that provides “essential services for the social well-being of our community.”
Murray Elliott, who served as MC, thanked Ohlhausen for spearheading the drive to resurrect the idea of a fundraising art competition.
He also thanked the sponsors as well as Nuff Said, a local band that provided entertainment throughout the evening.