Blank canvas offers potential to all

Blank canvas offers potential to all

Paintlounge owner Samantha Chan

Samantha Chan, Chan left a job at Citigroup to pursue her dream and started Paintlounge, a cafe/space where anyone can paint. Richard Lautens/Toronto Star

By: Vanessa Lu Business reporter

Samantha Chan thinks anyone can paint — they just need the right space for the creative ideas to flourish.

That’s why the 30-year-old opened up Paintlounge, where people can do what Chan calls “social painting.” The idea is friends can gather for an evening out, or a first date or even as part of a corporate team-building exercise, and do their own paintings or a joint one.

“We’re here to show you that anyone can paint,” said Chan, who has always loved to paint, ever since she was a young child. “You don’t have to be an artist to paint and express.”

She got the idea for her business – which includes a café inside an art space – after trying her hand in other careers. She studied industrial engineering at the University of Toronto, and worked in the field for a year, before moving to Hong Kong where she worked in investment banking at Citigroup for three years.

When she came back to Canada, she knew she wanted to open her own business – but it couldn’t be just a studio with easels because “that wasn’t social enough for me.”

Chan started out by scouting for potential spots in Markham, and got linked up with local small business groups, which eventually pointed her to the Canadian Youth Business Foundation, a non-profit group focused on helping young entrepreneurs get their businesses off the ground.

Chan got help on how to write a business plan, which she admits needed work, outlining plans for her company, right down to where it would be in three years’ time.

“A business plan is not just to get a loan. It’s a map to how you will run a business. It’s a good reference point about what goals you have set,” she said.

And Paintlounge is certainly on track, after opening its first storefront in Markham in 2010, Chan opened her second store on College St. in Toronto last summer.

Armed with savings as well as $15,000 loan from the Canadian Youth Business Foundation, Chan, who started with a partner who eventually left the business, she now has 13 part-time employees, many of whom are art students.

It charges on a per-canvas business — $20 for the smallest sizes, 12 inch by 12 inch or 11 inch by 14 inch, up to $55 for 24 inch by 36 inch — and the acrylic paints and supplies are included.

Chan says sometimes people don’t know where to begin, so they’ve got books of ideas, or will offer special workshops if people want to learn a specific type of painting.

“You’re expressing yourself in a way you usually don’t get to do. You only use one side of your brain in the office,” she said.

“It’s something to do that’s different than dinner and drinks,” she said. “For first dates, if you go to a movie, you’re just sitting there.

“If you don’t know what to talk about, you can have fun painting,” she said.

Chan says the business is very close to what she imagined – and she paid off her CYBF loan within six months of starting the business. She confesses though that she’s working all the time, and even when she’s not, she has everything linked to her computer so she can check on the business.

“But it’s a lot of fun running this. I love it.”

Toronto Star | Toronto, Ontario