Lyssa Kayra, the owner/curator of 4Cats Steveston Art Studio, says people regularly stroll into the studio asking if they can buy artwork on display in the windows. It puts a smile on her face each time this happens, and it must be very satisfying to know that the imaginative creations by 4Cats young clientele are deemed gallery calibre.
Kayra’s fascinating life would be excellent fodder for a memoir. She grew up in Kyuquot, a remote fishing village on the west coast of Vancouver Island accessible only by air or boat. There were neither roads nor cars, and children went to school aboard a school boat. Her Finnish grandfather came to Kyuquot to work in the fishing industry. Kayra tells the tale of her grandmother, a nurse, who delivered a seal pup by C-section. This pup, named Miss Charlie, became the family’s pet and lived for over forty years, the longest life span ever recorded for a seal. She attempts to go back to visit this special place once a year.
After completing her visual arts education at Nova Scotia College of Art and Design University in Halifax, and University of New South Wales in Australia, with majors in photography, media arts and fashion, Kayra returned to B.C. and became an assistant to 4Cats Art Studio founders Joey and Darryl Simon.
4Cats Arts Studio was conceived in 2005 when the Simons first offered classes from the basement of their home in Victoria. Joey Simon chose the company name to pay homage to 4Cats Cafe in Barcelona, Spain, which is where Picasso went with artist, poet and philosopher friends to discuss art and life and make and show great art.
A mere eight years since its inception, 4Cats now has head offices in Vancouver and Toronto. With 58 franchises across Canada (Alberta, B.C. Ontario, Saskatchewan and Quebec), 4Cats has now gone global with locations operating in Australia, Mexico and the United States.
Kayra took on the task of helping franchisees get their businesses up and running. Her job was to locate, decorate, staff, train, evaluate and market studios across B.C. and in Guadalajara, Mexico, until it dawned on her that she should establish her own franchise. Her former business partner, and good friend, Shelley Weir, introduced her to Steveston. They saw the fishing village at its best on a sunny spring afternoon, and realized the potential of opening a 4Cats in this location.
The Steveston art studio has been in operation since 2010. Building on its success, last year the business partners opened a larger second Richmond location at Garden City Mall.
Subsequently, Weir left 4Cats to earn her teaching degree and works as a teacher on call in Vancouver. Kayra is now the sole proprietor of the Steveston location, and Janice Cheung joined her as partner at the Garden City 4Cats. Staff members Merrick Irwin, who is an art therapist, and Jen Branagan, are both assets to the Steveston business.
When asked what she finds most satisfying about her job, Kayra says she is inspired by children’s creativity, and their uninhibited approach to art. In addition to creating art, some age-appropriate art history is offered to complement the class. Captivating and inspiring stories are shared in a fun and humorous manner about the life and work of the artist. For example, did you know that Andy Warhol was crazy about cats and throughout the 1950s and 1960s he had 25 cats, and he named all but one Sam?
Inspiration for art classes is often drawn from the works of famous artists with a medium that corresponds, for instance, a Picasso class may utilize acrylic on canvas to produce cubist paintings and ceramics, while a Frida Kahlo class may use paper-mache and paint acrylic on canvas to create self-portraits.
Kayra’s favourite medium is painting as she feels it allows for the most expression. She enjoys showing kids how to mix colours and says, “It is like magic for them.” She greatly admires artist Frida Kahlo’s honest and raw artwork and even dressed up as her for Halloween last year.
This upcoming winter session 4Cats shines the spotlight on Georgia O’Keeffe (who had an affinity for painting gigantic, beautiful flowers) and Lawren Harris (one of the founders of the Group of Seven). During the weekly classes children study both artists and work in a variety of mediums.
The busy studio also hosts workshops including the upcoming Shop ‘Til You Drop sessions (December 21 through 23) which give parents a chance to shop while their child creates a masterpiece. In addition, there are workshops and camps throughout the year (winter and summer camps, family workshops and Pro-Day workshops too).
4Cats is a great location to host a party; paint splatter parties are always a big hit, with many other themes to choose from. 4Cats gift certificates are a good gift choice for budding Van Gogh’s of all ages (yes, some adult classes are offered too).
When the newly engaged business owner is not working she spends time painting in her home studio. She says her home is much like a rotating gallery and she is drawn to creating large expressionist paintings based on colour theory and process.
With any business what it really comes down to is customer satisfaction, and the following story is an endearing snapshot of 4Cats devoted fan base. Kayra tells the story of a 3-year-old student who visited Victoria with her family. Upon sighting a totem pole she proudly reported that Emily Carr was known for her totem pole paintings. It seems that the art history component of 4Cats curriculum had registered loud and clear.
The urge to release the artist within is unleashed the moment you set foot inside 4Cats Arts Studio. The walls are filled with colourful and joyful artwork, and with tempting art supplies all around, you will feel inspired to sign up for a workshop, pronto!
110-12031 First Avenue
Richmond BC V7E 3M1