Initially, Goldberg and Middleton flew to Seattle and drove to Canada to look at becoming franchise owners of an existing studio, but ultimately, they decided to be their own bosses and open the business themselves back in Austin.
The early days were simultaneously draining and exhilarating, according to Goldberg and Middleton. They remember finishing every day exhausted, and more than six years after opening, Middleton said everything she owns still has paint on it.
“We cried every day,” Goldberg said. “Happy cries and sad cries.”
Initially, Goldberg and Middleton thought they would focus on art classes for kids and adults, and while they still offer those consistently, parties soon became a key piece of their business. At parties, kids and adults can work with clay, paint portraits or, in the most popular party, splatter a canvas and the walls with paint in a Jackson Pollock-inspired event.
Goldberg and Middleton said they host about ten parties a week—mostly for kids but with about one to two adult parties per week, as well. To handle all the events, Smudge Studios now has 18 employees, and Middleton said adapting while the business matures has been the biggest challenge recently.
“It’s harder now when you start letting go of things and having more employees. We enjoyed doing all of it ourselves, but you just can’t. It’s literally impossible,” Middleton said.
Even as their roles have become more managerial as the business has grown, Goldberg and Middleton both like to stay involved in the day to day. On Dec. 20, during a daylong “minicamp,” kids ages 4-11 created penguins with felt and glue. Middleton and Goldberg were not teaching that day but still excitedly pulled out their cell phones to take pictures as the pieces of art dried. It is one way they stay connected to their early days even as the business grows and changes, they said.
“Every day, we figured something out. We had a big idea, a vision, and every day we worked towards that,” Middleton said.