WRIGLEYVILLE — At first glance, the new Clark Street A&A Smoke Shop looks like any other Lakeview tobacco and smoking accessory store: shelves of hookahs, funky glass pipes and bags of loose leaf tobacco.
But look up — the landscape paintings on the wall are all by owner Azam Khan. And when the store isn't busy, Khan will be in the back, working on his next acrylic paint-based work.
"I have a whole day to fill," he said. "Why not do something constructive — something pretty? People go on the Internet all day. I paint."
Khan has been working in smoke shops for the past eight years, and when the going was slow, he'd mostly read books. Four months ago, he started sketching landscapes instead. Some friends suggested he paint them.
Ever since, the West Rogers Park resident's spare time has been spent putting brush to canvas. Khan soon decided to go off on his own to have more flexibility, including to display and sell his artwork. He opened A&A at 3812 N. Clark St. a couple weeks ago. The grand opening is Monday.
He mostly paints nature scenes and is inspired by Bob Ross, the artist who hosted painting TV show "The Joy of Painting," he said. The scenes range from a sunrise on the beach to a snowy, forested mountain.
"I use my imagination," he said. "I close my eyes, and this is where I want to be."
The store owner-cum-artist has already sold his painting of sunrise on the beach to a friend. Paintings will be priced around $50 to $60.
But at least one place hasn't had to pay for the art. Khan gave a painting to neighboring restaurant Uncommon Ground, 3800 N. Clark St., as an act of good will. A small painting of a steaming cup of coffee now rests in the cafe portion of the restaurant.
"This is my learning period," he said. "The best is yet to come."
A&A Smoke Shop is at 3812 N. Clark St. The grand opening will starts at noon Monday. Snacks will be served.