Unlock your inner artist at parties that give a new twist to the old expression ‘as exciting as watching paint dry’
Somewhere in artist heaven, the late Bob Ross, host of PBS’ Joy of Painting, is probably smiling down, enjoying the 21st century phenomenon of the “adult painting party,” where alcohol and a casual social atmosphere collude to help non-artists lose their inhibitions in the service of creating “happy little trees, clouds and mountains.”
Franchises and small businesses based on the concept are popping up everywhere. (See sidebar for a listing of those in the area.) So if drinking with a loaded brush in your hand sounds like fun, if you wish you were endowed with more creative skills than nature dealt you, if you’ve been hunting for a painting with subject matter you like and can afford without taking out a second mortgage, it may be time to try a painting party.
“Painting parties are not fine art, they’re fun art, designed so any non-artist can do it, have a great time, and leave with something nice,” says Paint Niter artist and area franchise owner Lisa Berger. You drink and socialize, follow a few simple steps (or ignore them), and leave with a gift that you made.
That “wow, I did this!” moment is pretty common, too. It’s how it all started for Painting with a Twist co-owner Stephanie Rhodes. “I went to my first class and came home with a painting I couldn’t believe I had done.”
Tilted Canvas owner Janie Trumbull agrees. “People are having fun, so they let go of worrying about what their painting is going to look like. And even if they are critical of it when a brush is in hand and their face is a few inches from the canvas, the next day they are usually impressed with what they were able to accomplish.”
But beware: it’s not uncommon for new guests to enjoy the experience and their finished product so much that they become “Paint Nite junkies,” Berger says. The early warning signs include an insatiable appetite for scouring painting party websites for new subject matter, and diminishing wall space at home.
So how do you get started? First of all, don’t stress or over-think it, says Collective Vision Design Studio co-owner Dianne Seitelman.
Start by browsing images in the online calendars of companies that do painting parties to find one you like. You might choose an original design with a theme that appeals to you, or one that is reminiscent of famous art like “Starry Night” by Vincent Van Gogh. Many organizations, like Collective Vision, will create a custom image for guests with advance notice. Paint Nite’s website has a nice feature: it includes a scale of “easy” to “advanced” for each project. And really, Berger says, it’s not that the techniques are harder, it’s just that there are more steps.
Consider the venue. A lot of adult painting parties are held at bars or restaurants because they provide a comfortable, familiar setting, where food and drink are readily available, and the social atmosphere adds excitement to the prospect of getting your game on to try something new. You might be delightfully surprised to bump into someone you know, or meet someone who wanders up to compliment your painting. If the thought of casual non-painting onlookers terrifies rather than emboldens you, try a studio setting, where the atmosphere is still social, but private.
Check what’s included in the price: Private settings often include complimentary wine and/or snacks. A few bar settings may include snacks, but most of the time, it’s a la carte. Some bars will do a themed drink special for painters, so be sure to ask.
• Register ahead. Most hosts allow walk-ins as space allows, but advance registration is strongly recommended.
• Get a group of friends together or come ready to socialize with new folks.
• Arrive 15 minutes early to check in and get settled, especially if you’re coming with a group or want to be close to the demonstration. If you’re late, that’s okay; you’ll be made to feel welcome and comfortable. You just won’t have as much time to cover the canvas.
• Bring proof of age.
What to expect
Most parties are two hours, occasionally three. And while many of the organizations also offer youth classes, these parties are almost exclusively for adults 18-plus or 21-plus. All supplies are provided and set up when you arrive: paint, palette, easel, canvas, brushes—even aprons. Dress for mess: quick drying acrylic paints are tough to wash out after they’re set.
When it comes to the creative part of the evening, the focus is usually on painting, not realistic drawing, so if there’s a complicated subject, Trumbull says the canvas will have a pencil drawing of the subject on it to guide guests.
Who comes to painting parties? It’s often a girls’ night out, though it’s not only for women, says Trumbull. Sometimes several generations of a family come, especially for special occasions like birthdays and Mother’s Day. Daughters bring their dads for Father’s Day. Guys and gals make it a date night. Single adults come to meet people with similar interests. Rhodes seats singles together at Painting with a Twist parties, and that has led to new friendships, she says.
Size is usually governed by the venue space. Some can accommodate more than 50, while others are intimate. Sometimes there’s music, sometimes the leaders wear headsets with microphones so everyone can hear over the hubbub. The finished piece is usually on display when guests arrive, and once everyone’s settled, the party begins.
“We break everything down to its simplest form and go through it step by step,” says Seitelman. For larger parties, assistants circulate to answer questions and provide encouragement.
Like most painting party hosts, Seitelman finds that a lot of her guests have had limited creative experiences or frustrating ones, so she aims to make it enjoyable. While college art students might be insulted by a professor telling them how many petals to put on each flower, to lighten up the purple with a pea-sized dot of white, or which corner to start painting the sky and with which brush —painting party guests are often looking for that level of explicit instruction, and Seitelman gives it to them.
That being said, she also encourages guests to stray from the script as much as they’d like. Many do.
Trumbull says she likes to include tips and techniques that people can try, but she doesn’t get overly serious about it. “It’s not art school. These are paintings you can complete in a few hours at a leisurely pace.”
There are often points during the event when the canvas needs to be left to dry for 10 or 15 minutes—perfect for chatting or ordering drinks, and upending the old expression “as exciting as watching paint dry.”
The evening often has a “story arc” for guests, says Trumbull. It starts with excitement and anticipation, then they get into it and start having fun with brushes. About two-thirds of the way through, there’s usually a moment when they begin to worry they won’t be able to pull it off. But then the finishing touches—like a splattering paint technique to create ocean spray—add the extra punch and pizzazz that brings it all together.
“It’s a beautiful thing then,” says Berger. “Even after a few years of doing this, I still get energized by seeing people’s skills and confidence grow. It feels really good.”
Rhodes agrees. “It’s probably the most rewarding job I’ve had in my life. Everyone leaves with a smile.”
A Rainbow of Choices
Adult sip-and-paint parties come in two varieties: the private studio version and the public bar or restaurant version. At about three years old, Paint Nite is the oldest widespread mobile painting party organization in the country. Painting with a Twist is the oldest studio-type franchise, at eight years. Locally, numerous entrepreneurs have jumped on board to start their own versions. Here’s a list to get you started.
“Leave your mark” is this organization’s motto. If you’d like the challenge of painting on something other than canvas, check out Untapped Artistry’s popular wine glass painting parties. Foodies: Tapas is complimentary at McKenzie’s Brew House parties. Other locations include Barnaby’s in Media, and Rachel Kohl Library in Glen Mills.
$25 to $40; Untappedartistry@gmail.com, untappedartistry.com
Collective Vision Design Studio
Parties are held in an art studio on Philadelphia Pike with complimentary wine for those 21 or over. This party is a good fit for anyone looking for explicit instruction like a traditional art class, and/or for an alternative to the bar scene. Inquire about group discounts.
$25; 525-9873; collectivevisiondesign.com
Kennett Design with a Splash of Wine
This organization holds paint-and-sip parties at its social art studio in the heart of artsy Kennett Square and in restaurants like Hurricane Grill and Wings in Elkton, Timothy’s of Newark, Big Fish Grill in Glen Mills, and Two Nine Nine Grill in Middletown.
$39; 610.444.4400; kennett-design.com
The first traveling painting party franchise, Paint Nite has thousands of images for parties and a company focus on customer service: i. e, show everyone a good time. Check out both canvas and glassware painting parties.
$45; firstname.lastname@example.org; paintnite.com
Painting Parties, LLC
“Sip back and relax” is this company’s motto — and you can do so at a variety of locations: the Owl’s Nest in Centreville; in Newark, Soffritto Italian Grill, McGlynn’s Pub, Deer Park Tavern, La Casa Pasta, Caffé Gelato, Timothy’s, Grotto, Deer Park, Bugaboo Creek, Klondike Kate’s; in Wilmington, Catherine Rooney’s, Kid Shelleen’s, Hummingbird to Mars, and Bella Vista Trattoria; Ristorante Marco and Aqua Sol in Bear, and Cantwell’s Tavern in Middletown.
$29 to $45; 607.4388; painting-parties.com
Painting with a Twist
This studio-based franchise in Newark boasts a gallery of 5,000 paintings to ensure there’s subject matter to suit anyone, and a seemingly endless supply of classes. The biggest sellout is the monthly “paint your pet” class. Send in a color photo of your pet two weeks in advance, and on party night, a customized color palette will be waiting for you, along with your pet sketched on a blank canvas, and an adult beverage. Check out the frequent painter program: 10 punches = 1 free class.
$40 to $50; 660.1200; paintingwithatwist.com/newark
This studio-based franchise in Glen Mills features day and evening parties onsite. Teens 13 to 17 are welcome when accompanied by an adult. It is a BYO libations and snacks venue.
$35; 484.451.8166; pinotspalette.com/glenmills
A relative newcomer to the scene at less than a year old, Tilted Canvas aims to provide fun and light instruction. More locations are being added to the current two in northern Delaware: Vincente’s on Kirkwood highway and Cantina di Napoli in Wilmington’s Trolley square.
$35; 831.233.1467; tiltedcanvasparty.com
If you’re willing to trek to Philly and don’t mind getting really messy, try your hand at hand-building and wheel-throwing pottery at this BYOB art studio. Pieces will be fired in a kiln for you. Glazing is $15/ hour extra. To make this unique experience more affordable, look for the half-off coupon at livingsocial.com.
$70; 215.716.7176; yayclay.com