By Nicole Collins
The holiday season in Woodruff wouldn’t be complete without a paint party with Mike and Shelia Soccoro.
On Nov. 18, I took my eight-year-old niece to one of the Soccoro’s paint classes at the Woodruff Community Center. I had attended one of their classes last year, but knew my niece, the aspiring artist (at least for now), would enjoy the class.
Upon arriving and finding a spot to sit, her eyes grew big and she exclaimed, “I didn’t know it was going to be a big canvas!” She had to stand up to reach the top of the 16 x 20-inch canvas.
Like most of the Soccoro’s holiday paint classes, this one was sold out. Around 25 people gathered to paint the scene with the snowy Christmas trees and personalized mailbox.
While Mike provides instructions for each step of the painting, Shelia moves around the room to make sure all participants have enough paint and brushes. Both Mike and Shelia will stop to provide one-on-one assistance to participants who request help.
At the beginning of the class, one of the first things Mike says is that we shouldn’t expect our painting to look like his. In fact, even he couldn’t reproduce the painting the exact same way.
“A lot of people look at my art and want theirs to look like that, but I tell them, that’s not how it works,” Mike said. “Your art is your art and my art is my art. It’s like a fingerprint. Everybody’s is different.”
Mike and Shelia have been holding paint classes in the Woodruff and surrounding areas since 2015. Some are public classes held at places like the Woodruff Community Center, but they will also host private classes at churches, businesses and in people’s homes. They’ve traveled as far as Honea Path, Waterloo and Westminister to teach a class.
As talented as Mike and Shelia are, one would think they have been painting their whole lives. Not the case. Mike dabbled in painting model cars, but he didn’t try his hand at painting on canvas until around March 2015. Mike’s pastor was in the hospital and he wanted to do something to make the pastor feel better. He ended up painting the three crosses on Calgary.
A short time after that, the pastor’s wife asked Mike and Shelia to host a paint party at the church. From there, Mike says, the classes snowballed. “It’s amazing how this community has accepted what we do and how people come out to do this with us over and over again.”
Classes are especially in high demand during the holiday season. In November and December this year, Shelia estimates they will have around 20 classes in the books.
The $20 fee covers the canvases and acrylic paints. “The classes are priced fairly, and all supplies are included, so it is super easy to just come and have a good time,” said Heather Brockman, who attended her first paint party at a friend’s house in November. “It was such a fun night, doing something completely out of my normal routine. It is refreshing to have such a talented and caring person in our area to lead these classes.”
Melinda Stanley, Shelia’s sister who attends most of the public classes and helps when needed, says the classes bring fellowship to the community but also draws in people from outside of Woodruff. I sat next to a woman from Greenville at the class I attended in November.
“[These classes] show we’re an active community that comes together. It’s fellowship,” Mike said. “People make new friends and get to know people. It’s crazy how many new friends Shelia and I have made. “
The classes became so big that in March 2018 Mike felt comfortable enough to quit his job of 25 years at Woodruff’s Dieco Manufacturing to paint. Shelia works at Safeway Financial Services in Woodruff.
For a while, the Socorro’s had a studio on West Georgia Street in Woodruff, but they closed it in the Spring of 2019 because of overhead costs. About eight months ago, Mike started working part time at Best Buy in Spartanburg to offset the expenses incurred from the studio. Though he is able to control his hours, his long term goal is to be able to paint full time.
Losing the studio did not discourage the Socorro’s. Shelia said that the time they had with the studio gave the public and parents of their students the opportunity to get to know and trust them. Now, the couple is working on setting up a studio on their property in Woodruff with the goal to open it by summer 2020.
In addition to paint classes at the studio, the Soccoro’s also plan to offer other art services such as children’s paint classes, after school programs and private lessons. Like anything else in life, if you want it to be good at art, you have to work at it. When Mike started painting, he watched a lot of YouTube videos and sought guidance from his mentor, Robert Wilson. He eventually taught Shelia how to paint. She has since developed her own style, her own fingerprint.
In between his day job and teaching the classes, Mike works on commission pieces. Dog portraits are common requests he discovered. “I was kind of shocked how popular these were.”
When Mike paints for himself, acrylics is his medium of choice and he prefers landscapes or a scene from a book. “You get someone else’s description of it and I get to put it into what I think it should look like,” he said.
And creating your own art is what it’s all about. Mike said he heard it best from a nine-year-old in his youth group at church, who said “if art was all the same, would it still be art?” Enough said.