One of my resolutions for 2020 is to eat out less, and instead to spend that money exploring new activities with the children. We moved to Folkestone in August 2019 and we are still getting to know our local area; setting exploration as a dedicated goal will, I hope, speed up the process until we feel as though we have always lived here! And as I always have my camera on my person, I thought it might be nice to document and share what we find in case you are local enough to benefit from the shared knowledge.
We actually visited the Blank Canvas Art Cafe back in 2019, on the morning of Christmas Eve. Located on Guildhall Street in Folkestone, we pass it frequently and the girls had attended a birthday party there a few months back, but previously, every time the boys had asked to pop in we had either been on our way to somewhere else or they were wearing clothes that I was absolutely unwilling to risk to the feckless painting skills of a pair of five-year-olds! But we had a free morning on Christmas Eve and I wanted to spend some time with just them, and we agreed that it was high time that we check out the local art cafe.
Blank Canvas Art Cafe arrived in Folkestone at about the same time as we did. It is run by Ali Hodgkinson Fogg, a former Course Director at the Kensington and Chelsea College, who launched Blank Canvas in order to ‘extend the wonder and delight of creativity to the widest audience possible’. And it is indeed a place of wonder and delight.
Upon arrival, we were greeted warmly by Ali and her assistant, offered a choice of tables and a drink. We chose a bright table beside the window for people-watching and the boys each requested an orange juice, which came attractively presented in tall glasses with long paper straws.
I had intended for the boys to make something festive but they fell in love with the masks and each selected a giraffe. Ali couldn’t have been more helpful in ascertaining whether we had a budget and, initially, directing us toward her extensive £5 range before I clarified that it was a special treat and on this occasion they were welcome to select something more extravagant to paint. Once they had made their choice, she disappeared for what seemed like a mere moment before returning with a pair of aprons and a selection of paints, paint pens, paintbrushes, cups of water and trays for mixing. The boys got to work, whilst I selected a little box of my own to paint as well.
The layout of the cafe is such that although you don’t feel observed, Ali is always within calling distance – and when she noticed my boys tiring of painting, she miraculously appeared with glitter paint and stickers and directed us to the hairdryer, so that the paint could be swiftly dried before applying a more exciting layer. The boys had no idea that glitter paint was even a thing, and they were delighted to have the opportunity to squeeze some out onto their plastic plates and experiment with splashing and smoothing it across the surface. It occurred to me at about this point that the expense of choosing to create at the art cafe rather than my dining room table was entirely justifiable – not just for the expansive variety of resources but also for Ali’s endless, bubbling enthusiasm and her complete lack of concern regarding the mess that would doubtless be left in our wake.
In total, we spent two hours at the art cafe and I think that we could probably have managed more with a bigger project. I had been dubious originally about spending money painting outside of the house when we have a perfectly good dining room table, paint and brushes at home – but the experience of visiting the cafe is completely different. It felt like a real treat to be allowed to play in Ali’s studio and to utilise her extensive resources. In fact, I found myself contemplating popping back one evening without the children, to attend one of Ali’s adults-only creative workshops as it struck me as rather a fun place to meet new friends or share a glass of wine and a creative class with old ones. As for my children, they wore their masks for the rest of the day before they were hung up on the wall, and have been asking to return ever since.
The total cost of our two-hour stay at the Blank Canvas Art Cafe came to £20 and that included two glasses of orange juice, two masks, a box, all paint, glitter and stickers and the freedom of being able to walk away from the painty carnage that we left behind! All in all, a worthy investment. We will without a doubt be back.