The benefits of mindfulness are no secret. We know that in our non-stop, demanding lives, a little moment to unwind can go a long way. But for many who find that state of relaxation to be a tougher nut to crack, may we suggest picking up a paintbrush?
It’s a technique practised at MasterPeace in Eccleston Yards, where people of all stripes and skill levels came to paint, not for artistic flair, but for relaxation. After a period of pandemic-led reinvention, its founder, 28-year-old Zena El Farra, recently appeared on the first episode of the current series of BBC1’s Dragons’ Den – and left with the generous backing of Deborah Meaden.
A keen artist as a child, Zena moved to study in London and, with little space for paints and easels, lost touch with painting as a way to unwind. Ten years later, rising tensions at work (she worked at a bank in Canary Wharf) and a parent becoming seriously ill culminated in a period of immense stress. Fearing the effects of burnout on her mental state, her husband bought her a canvas and some paints, and suggested she take a pause.
“For me it was the first time I really felt myself again after that really difficult year,” she says. “The restful impact on me that it had was enormous.”
That very painting – a giraffe, copied from a photo she’d taken on her wedding day – now hangs in the MasterPeace studio in Eccleston Yards. It’s an airy, smart space with exposed brick and a double-height glass frontage that fills the space with light. There, in September 2019, she began holding art classes with a difference.
The majority of visitors dropped in much like they would to a fitness class – building it into their routines for a weekly decompression. Beginners plugged their phones into a lightbox projector, picked an image and projected it directly onto the canvas to paint. (Dragons’ Den viewers will have seen Deborah Meaden create a not-too-shabby portrait of fellow Dragon Peter Jones.)
But after just six months, lockdown was imposed and the classes stopped as quickly as they had begun. Zena, along with so many other businesses across the globe, was met with a question: what now?
Within three days of the lockdown announcement, Zena launched a range of art kits, sent in the post to offer people the MasterPeace experience at home. She spent 16-hour days in her spare room drawing outlines on canvas after canvas by hand (a giraffe, naturally), filling paint pots and selecting brushes. Very soon, orders were in the hundreds.
It was these boxes – and a new product, the IlluminArty projector – that brought Zena to the Dragons. She presented and fielded questions for almost two hours, and left with an investment of £50,000. “I was struck by Zena’s courage,” said Meaden of her decision to invest. “Good businesses that are willing to adapt can thrive even in these challenging times.”
Indoor painting sessions at the studio are scheduled throughout May and June (sessions for adults, children and groups – the latter invariably involving glasses of fizz) and new al fresco ‘Paint & Sip’ sessions will take place in Eccleston Yards. Art kits will continue to be sent out and MasterPeace will visit local businesses and organisations – it has already paid a successful visit to Francis Holland School.
It was online serendipity which led Zena to Belgravia, but she says that now she can’t imagine being anywhere else. “It was completely new turf for me but there couldn’t be a better home for MasterPeace,” she says. “It’s somewhere we’ve set down some deep roots. I think we’d struggle to find a community anywhere in the world that would match how lovely it is to be in Belgravia.”
And, as things open up, can we expect to see more of Deborah Meaden in Eccleston Yards? “She’s been really engaged, and she really believes in the community.”
To see the full schedule of classes, visit masterpeace.studio. Belgravia magazine readers can enjoy an exclusive 25 per cent off their first session, using the code ‘BELGRAVIA25’ when booking.