Experiencing Northern Michigan: Making Decorative Wood Signs at Hang Workshop in Traverse City

While in Traverse City visiting family for the holidays, I joined a group of 30 kids and adults on December 23 at Hang Workshop for a sold-out art class taught by owner Viki Simons. For just $10 per person, Hang Workshop hosts you for an hour-and-a-half workshop in their 1,100 square foot studio space, lets you pick out a stencil, and provides blocks of wood, wall hanging hardware, four types of wood stain, 36 designer paint colors to choose from, and all materials needed for completing your own projectplus you get to take home your creation at the end of the class.

As the “trendiest paint and sip classes in Traverse City,” Hang Workshop gives out all but the beverages—adults can bring wine to sip throughout the class if they’d like for extra inspiration while painting their creations. Regardless of alcohol (no one I noticed was drinking during our class), the atmosphere at Hang Workshop is fun for all ages. “Mom, don’t you like this place?” I overheard a teenage girl asking her mother during our class. “I love this place,” the mom answered, to which her daughter responded, “Me too.” Another mom at our class couldn’t believe her daughter enjoyed the experience. “Oh my goodness, she had fun!” the girl’s mother exclaimed joyfully. “It was amazing!” It’s hard not to have a blast when you’re focused on making something beautifulwith all the supplies you need to get creativeespecially when you’re learning and doing alongside great people in the Traverse City community.

Past creations of all styles, sizes, and colors are displayed on all the walls at Hang Workshop to inspire as you work on your own project. There’s infinite room for variety and imagination with these artsy signs and home décor pieces. To begin the process of making our own, we started with a stencil (mine read “Welcome Up North” with a little forest of pine trees on the side) and a block of wood that had hanging hardware attached on the back. The first step was to sand the wood block to prep it for the stain. We selected a stain color among the four available options: greystone, espresso, ebony, or black. We then applied the stain onto the front and sides of the wood block with a foam brush to our desired shade, wiped away excess with a rag, and let the wood block dry under a fan for about five minutes.

After the stain dried, we sanded the wood block, which brings out the grain and gives the piece a more rustic feel. We then removed the backing from the sticky side of the stencil and positioned it on the wood block, pressing down to ensure the stencil stuck to the wood. We then removed the sticky clear layer on top to reveal the wood showing through the stencil, which meant it was time to paint. I picked my colors as I went, starting with #23, a dark green hue that I used for the pine trees, and I decided on a burgundy shade for “Welcome,” yellow for “Up,” and royal blue for the word “North” on my sign lettering. We then dipped a small sponge in a chosen color—one sponge for each color—and applied it lightly to the wood block over that part of the image or wood on our stencil.

Lastly, after we let the paint dry for another five minutes, we peeled the blue stencil (now covered in paint colors) carefully off the wood block to reveal the image and words painted on the wood underneath. Probably the hardest part of the whole project was peeling off the stencil from the wood after the paint dried since there were tiny pieces of painted stencil still stuck to the wood block in between letters and snowflakes. I gently removed those small pieces with a box-cutterand voila! Finished, it looks awesome, and I made it myself with the help of a fantastic teacher and a supportive group!

Hang Workshop also sells some of the signs and home décor pieces created in the space. There are some really fun, unique, and beautiful items for sale that you can also request making in a class—just ask Viki. She told me she’s been doing this for one year, and she’s seen great response in that short time. Viki, who has over 14 years of decorative painting experience, started the business in November 2016 with a free grand opening event that drew in a lot of interest. Hang Workshop hosts public events once or twice a month as well as private parties for up to 10 people. Viki said she’s sold out every class she’s taught since August, which is super exciting for her business and supports an idea I cherish: that the people of Northern Michigan love making art.

One of my favorite parts of the class was picking the colors I wanted to incorporate in my piece. I love imagining what something is going to look like before I begin so I can have fun visualizing it then have fun making it into reality. Next time I visit Hang Workshop, I’m excited to try using multiple colors while stenciling an image for a more surreal effect. What I love about taking art classes like this one is that you can keep coming back to try something new and see how you improve. It’s so much fun to look through a little portfolio of all you’ve created and watch how your style and technique change as you grow as an artist.

The energy in the space throughout the hour-and-a-half class was creatively contagious, with kids and adults alike smiling, laughing, and taking selfies from the moment they put on their aprons until they were packing up to leave. In my column last week on holiday shopping at small businesses, I saw a sign at Toy Town that read, “Every child is an artist.” I remembered that in this week’s class—if every child is an artist, every grown-up sure is, too. I highly recommend checking out Hang Workshop in Traverse City if you’d like to create something new while probably discovering a new talent or two.

What’s so great about this place is that Viki and her team make the experience fun and easyso no matter how uncreative you think you might be, you can make your own masterpiece there guaranteed. Hang Workshop is located just a few blocks from the Traverse Area District Library and can accomodate dozens of artists at once. Visit their website or Facebook page for details plus their calendar filled with upcoming events. Whether you’re interested in a public event or a private party, you can hang out at Hang Workshop for an afternoon of creative expression and camaraderieand bring home a sweet souvenir or gift you lovingly made yourself.

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