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Starry Nite Studios

29 March 2018 Written by  By Ally Jacobs, with Susan Knight and Brandy Brodley
Published in April 2018 Articles

Starry Nite Studios has become the platinum standard in East County’s growing paint party phenomenon.

For the past year we have been holding our parties in an open and spacious Streets of Brentwood location. We conduct regular paint parties every evening except Monday and Tuesday plus an extra class on Saturday afternoon. The facility is set up with 40 easels. We average more than 20 participants at each session and are sometimes sold out. 

Susan Knight, Brandy Brodley, and I take turns as instructors and sometimes combine our efforts to manage a larger group. Even though the three of us share a passion for the business plus a joyful attitude towards helping people and a willingness to find humor wherever we can, each of us has a unique style, manner, and personality, which means that the experience is apt to change remarkably from one paint party to another. Repeat customers can never predict how the evening is going to go — except they are confident that they will have a lot of fun. Starry Nite Studios offer other services besides paint parties. The fact is that people at any age love to paint a pretty picture with their own hands and one that they might treasure forever, so we conduct afterschool art projects aimed at children from first through eighth grade, plus adult drawing classes. Each summer we offer summer art camps, which continue the momentum of our after-school art programs. 

We also offer customized Pet Portrait events. I begin by creating a sketch of the beloved animal and then walking the owner through the steps of adding layers of color so the result is a realistic-looking portrait that they can hang on the wall. The painting is bound to become a conversation piece and will lead to moments of intense gratification, as the owner is able to say, “Yes I painted that myself!” We’ve done dogs and cats, of course, but have also done paintings of a chinchilla, an exotic bird, and a horse. One proud owner painted the portrait of his classy Chevy, which I guess took the place in his mind of an actual flesh-and-blood pet. 

On one Sunday each month we offer a Mom Mimosa Morning, during which mothers can sip a mimosa while painting and shopping from local vendors who visit the facility. The Starry Nite Studios facilities are available for private parties, reunions, and any other event in which people wish to provide a fun and creative activity. We offer kids birthday parties, which provide alternatives to bowling or Chuck E. Cheese. Giving back to the community is an important part of our business plan, so we offer our venue at reduced rates for fundraising efforts. The particular foundation or community organization actually hosts their event. We are reimbursed for consumables, but Susan, Brandy, and I gladly donate our time, energy, and skills. 

The three of us are always in learning mode and searching for other ways of satisfying our customers’ creative urges. For example, we are now offering a technique called Acrylic Pour Art that enables people to create unique and colorful abstract art on a variety of surfaces. 


Susan and I launched our business New Year’s Day 2016 when ten of our friends gathered at my house to create a Christmas painting. Brandy Brodley was with us from the beginning as a painting instructor and last March joined the team as partner. Brandy is a professional photographer and mother of two young boys. One reason we were glad to welcome her to the team is because she has a unique brand of infectious enthusiasm, humor, and wit. People love her! For another thing, she came up with the idea of moving Starry Nite Studios into an actual brick-and-mortar facility, which has changed everything. 

Our customers wouldn’t guess it, but I spent 13 years with the UC Berkeley PD, apprehending drug dealers and other criminals as an undercover cop on Telegraph Avenue. Someone said that everyone enjoys 15 minutes of fame, but I stretched that out to a couple years because in 2009 when I played the key role in apprehending Phillip Garrido, who had kidnapped Jaycee Dugard and held her in sexual slavery. In 2013 I was placed on permanent disability due to an injury suffered from a freak accident on the department shooting range. (No, I didn’t accidently shoot myself.) I was a good cop and missed the work but enjoyed my new role as stay-at-home mom to my two children. 

I began to volunteer at Loma Vista Elementary. I had been an Art Major at U.C. Santa Barbara until transferring to a career in law enforcement. When one of the teachers at Loma Vista learned of my background in art, she said that I should be an art docent. Susan and I ended up serving together as volunteers in the school’s Art Docent program, which provides learning for elementary students. Instruction in the arts should be taught like other subjects because it improves effective visual perception, which is fundamental to learning in any field. 

Besides, unlike other subjects, art is fun. The students appreciated our efforts. We felt like rock stars when we showed up on campus because students were delighted and even thrilled to know that they were going to have an art class. I would sometimes wear a t-shirt with the words, I’M AN ART TEACHER — JUST LIKE A REGULAR TEACHER BUT MUCH COOLER. 

Susan and I became co-directors of the program and quickly discovered that we were very different people with offsetting gifts. I’m an idea person with a continual flood of notions that are always interesting, often weird, but sometimes practical and workable. Susan uses her outstanding organizational abilities together with her gifts for making things happen to come up with plans for putting my workable ideas into effect. She not only is able to keep details sorted out but can see the bigger picture and figure out how the pieces fit together. Susan still works in the docent program. 

On March 2016, right at the peak of all my docent activity, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I began chemo in May, grew weak, and started losing my hair. The worst part of the experience was that the chemo reduced my creativity to the point that on some evenings I couldn’t imagine what I should prepare for dinner. I continued my docent activities at a reduced level and took the kids along with me on my journey through baldness and recovery. Susan stepped up to the plate and helped teach my classes. 

The kids became an essential part of my support system. They weren’t as frightened or turned off by my bald head as I expected them to be. Part of their accepting attitude was due to the fact that they were closely following the progress of two of their young friends — “Smilin” Rylan Macomb and Colten “Hulken” Guerra, who were both fighting multi-year battles with cancer. Colten’s mom, Michelle, was one of our docents. 

As I began to emerge from my chemo fog, I reached some kind of tipping point because my creativity came bursting out like liquid from a freshly opened Champagne bottle. One of the ideas was of starting a private paint party business. We didn’t have any supplies and figured we would need to purchase 60 sets of easels and brushes. 

We ran the numbers and it sounded like a good idea. We launched Starry Nite Studios in December, right in the middle of my double mastectomy. 

The Starry Nite Studios program is booming. Susan, Brandy, and I have a creative and joyful relationship. When we get together, we never know what is going to happen. We might do anything or say anything. Brandy especially provides a wonderfully witty and fun element to our business. Last August Brandy was diagnosed with breast cancer. Of course, Brandy and I are especially good together since I had “been there, done that, and got the t-shirt” myself. 

Brandy is from Seattle. We met through a mutual friend when she attended a paint party I was teaching. I immediately knew she had a personality and skill set that would be perfect in the industry. I told her that she would be a great instructor. When Susan and I started thinking about Starry Nite Studios we agreed that we had to bring Brandy on board. She’s been an essential part of the business from the very first session. We can’t imagine what Starry Nite Studios would be like without her. For one thing, she is an incredible designer who has created all of our posters and marketing collateral. Her materials provide great examples of quality art that resonate with our goal of encouraging others to create art themselves. 

Brandy’s doing fine. That isn’t surprising because a fact that all three of us have discovered — and that our customers continually rediscover — is that the sense of authentic joy and positive energy that come from watching a lovely picture emerge through your creative efforts creates sunny qualities that can, at least for a time, dispel whatever cloudy and gloomy circumstance might be trying to bring you down. 

That kind of creative experience is continually wonderful! Come see for yourself.

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