Gahanna artist Este Hupp uses coffee to create unique watercolor paintings

On a recent visit to Cafe Brioso in Downtown, Este Hupp ordered a midmorning espresso, set the tiny mug on a window ledge and soon dipped a paintbrush into the joe.

Since early December, the Gahanna resident has been following the Columbus Coffee Trail — an Experience Columbus-sponsored tour of 18 area coffee shops.

Instead of drinking her caffeine, though, she paints with it — the tastiest watercolor she has ever used.

“Ah, smells good,” she said.

At Brioso, her fourth stop on the tour, Hupp worked inconspicuously near the front window, layering the dark espresso over the majestic lion she had sketched at home. Although she prefers landscapes, the big cat came at the request of her 5-year-old son.

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Alternating between brushes of fine and medium thickness, she moved the foam to the side of the espresso mug, shaking the excess liquid off the bristles. Hupp made multiple strokes over the lion’s mane, letting some drip down its neck.

“At first, I struggled because it’s really opaque,” she said, adding that she occasionally mixes the coffee with brown watercolor. “If you’re patient and go over it in layers, you get better dimension.”

The 32-year-old artist grew up in Victoria, South Africa, where she met her American husband, Matt, more than a decade ago. Though self-taught, she grew up watching her artist mother paint.

In 2010, three years after she and her husband moved to Ohio, Hupp took up watercoloring, establishing a shop on the handmade-goods website Etsy.

The coffee idea had been brewing for several years, she said, but she was inspired to pursue it after close family friend Simon Forsythe, pastor of Life Vineyard Church near Bexley, died Nov. 10 in a bike accident in Spain.

“Life is short, and I want to make the most of what I have,” she said. “He was obsessed with coffee, so I feel like I’m doing it in honor of him.”

On Dec. 4, Hupp started her project at Roaming Goat Coffee in the Short North, where she painted a brown maple leaf against a blue sky.

Two days later, she finished an elephant at Stauf’s on Mount Vernon Avenue, followed by a “tree of life” at Third Way Cafe on West Broad Street.

Both the elephant and the tree sold within hours of listing them on her Etsy shop, TheHappiNest.

The difficulty lies in finding subjects that turn out well in shades of brown, Hupp said, yet she appreciates the challenge of the constraint.

“You reach a point in art where you feel like you’re doing the same thing all the time,” she said. “I needed something different.”

She plans to finish all 18 stops, creating pieces in various shapes and sizes.

She has completed six pieces, also including landscape paintings at Crimson Cup Coffee & Tea in Clintonville and Roosevelt Coffeehouse on East Long Street in Downtown. To date, she said, Stauf’s has yielded the coffee best suited to watercolor painting.

In tracking her progress on social media, Hupp uses a variation of the Greater Columbus Arts Council slogan “Columbus makes art:” #Columbusmakescoffeeart.

Said Hupp, “It gives me a reason to drink a lot of coffee without feeling guilty.”

joller@dispatch.com

@juliaoller