Shake It Up

Spokane artist Sheila Evans finds new inspiration in old drinks

Paintings that appear in Sheila Evans new book of cocktail recipes and paintings, entitled Mixology: the Art of Classic Cocktails.
Paintings that appear in Sheila Evans new book of cocktail recipes and paintings, entitled Mixology: the Art of Classic Cocktails.

"I have a bit of a shaker problem.”

That's a potential career-ender for an artist whose craft relies on a steady hand. And if that artist is mixing up cocktails using exacting recipes as part of their work, it really might become an issue.

The shaker worry Sheila Evans is describing, though, is more of a hoarding situation than a nervous-system breakdown. As she worked on her latest project, a book called Mixology: the Art of Classic Cocktails, she found herself a bit addicted to collecting all the beautiful accoutrements necessary for a proper classic beverage — the antique glasses, juicers, and yes, shakers.

The shaker in question is an antique Indian brass-and-enamel one she found at the United Hillyard Antique Mall the day after discovering a new drink, the Pegu Club, at a birthday dinner. A little research indicated the drink was the house cocktail at its namesake bar in 1930s Burma, and finding it in Spokane, of all places, made her decide to add the Pegu Club — a gin-based drink flavored with bitters and lime — as the final entry to her book of cocktail recipes and accompanying paintings.

Mixology: the Art of Classic Cocktails collects images of 19 classic cocktail still-life paintings Evans composed this summer, along with a few recipes and some personal reflection on her immersion into cocktail crafting. On Friday, Nov. 7, she'll have a public showing of the 12"-by-12" paintings and a book release party at Mizuna.

The decision to make cocktails the centerpiece of a new series of paintings came out of a random desire to mix things up for the lifelong Spokane resident, both in theme and painting style, after years of "doing these big, sort of abstract-but-realistic floral things, more pastel than oil," Evans says. "I think I just wanted to do something different," and she'd had an idea kicking around for several years that still lifes of cocktail ingredients could make for some striking visuals.

"I just love them, I always have," Evans says during a chat at Casper Fry over a Corpse Reviver No. 9, a gin-based cocktail and a mutation of one included in her book, the Corpse Reviver No. 2. "I love the process of making it. I like watching somebody make it. There's so much care, and they're making something. As a craftsperson, I can appreciate that. And there's so much beauty in the glassware and everything that goes with a cocktail."

While brushing up on her oil-painting skills just took a quick, week-long refresher course, making drinks instead of simply ordering them was a taller order. She researched recipes and used weekly cocktail parties with friends to try different versions of the various drinks she was interested in painting. Typically, Evans would do two paintings and perfect two recipes each week.

Sheila Evans paints a Manhattan cocktail. - YOUNG KWAK
Young Kwak
Sheila Evans paints a Manhattan cocktail.

"I made gimlets and Manhattans and that's about it" before the Mixology project, Evans says, adding that her palate expanded into new realms as well. "I didn't think I liked gin, but it turned out to be which gin, and what you do with it. It got to the point that I was drinking just straight-up gin martinis, because it was some Gun Club gin that was amazing."

Evans stuck with classic cocktails for the book because she figured the recipes would be relatively simple, and "it gave me an excuse to buy a bunch of antique glassware." All of the drinks that made the book — from the whiskey sour to the Negroni — are ones she wouldn't hesitate to recommend. She's already planning on a Mixology sequel that would expand both her cocktail repertoire and painting approach.

"For this book, because it was vintage cocktails, I kept it fairly straightforward and traditional still-life setups," Evans says. "I think it would be fun to do more modern setups and viewpoints, kind of shake it up a bit." ♦

Mixology: the Art of Classic Cocktails exhibit and book release party • Fri, Nov. 7, 5-10 pm • Mizuna • 214 N. Howard •

A recipe from Mixology: the Art of Classic Cocktails

Pegu Club

The house drink of the original Pegu Club in Burma, this cocktail starts out deceptively sweet, Evans says, "but finishes with a lovely balance of gin and bitter orange."

1½ oz. gin

¾ oz. curaçao

1 tsp. lime juice

Dash of Angostura bitters

Dash of orange bitters

Grapefruit or lime twist

Combine gin, curaçao, lime and bitters in a shaker with ice. Shake and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish.

50th Odessa Deutschesfest @ Odessa

Sun., Sept. 19, 7 a.m.-2 p.m.
  • or

About The Author

Dan Nailen

Dan Nailen is the managing editor of the Inlander, where he oversees coverage of arts and culture. He's previously written and edited for The Salt Lake Tribune, Salt Lake City Weekly, Missoula Independent, Salt Lake Magazine, The Oregonian and KUER-FM. He grew up seeing the country in an Air Force family and studied...