Painting with a Twist Pinot’s Palette Bottle & Bottega Wine and Canvas Paint and Wine Corks N’ Canvas Paint by WinePaint Syrah Syrah Sipping N’ Painting Paint And Wine BYO Brush Cocktails and Canvas Painting Fiesta Paint Nite Art in the Vine Tipsy Paint Colors and Bottles Design & Wine Brush Paint Sip Spirited Art Sips n Strokes and the list of “paint and sip” studios goes on!

I first came across the paint and sip concept a couple of years ago when I saw Bottle & Bottega was getting ready to open in LaGrange. I had no idea that this was a franchise and that these places had been around since 2004 when Wendy LoVoy opened Sips n Strokes in Alabama. Now there are over two hundred of these studios throughout the country. How it works: you gather a group of friends, family or colleagues together at the cost of about $35 per person, and the place will supply canvas, paint, a picture, wine glasses, and instruction. A few hours and a few cocktails later and you come home with a work of art. I did not know that these franchises were so hot! Where have I been?

Apparently, not painting and sipping! I have a very good friend, Joanne, who lives in New Jersey. In all of the years I have known her, she has never expressed to me any interest in learning how to paint. I was surprised when she shared with me that she had been going to a wine and painting place fairly regularly.

When I asked her why she likes to go, she said “It’s an opportunity to put my life on hold and relax.” She said that she went with a friend and the person commented that during class, she noticed that Joanne was so absorbed in her work that she didn’t want to disturb her. She likes having a painting to work from and she appreciates the instruction. She says that her time painting at the Morris County Arts Workshop makes art accessible to her.

I figured I’d find out for myself what all the fuss was about. I headed to Bottle & Bottega in LaGrange with a few friends. One of them, an artist named Kirsten, was on a fact-finding mission. Her sister wants her to teach an art class at her belly-dancing studio in Michigan. We set off with a couple bottles of wine. Bottle and Bottega is a very nicely appointed studio. Michael was our instructor. There was another group of four at the studio that night. We were given paint-smeared aprons, canvases, easels, paints and paint-encrusted rags (I think to add to the feeling of being a painter). Michael got us started on a bucolic Italian landscape with gentle mountains, farmland, trees and a house. We sipped our wine and began to paint.

I am no stranger to teaching art making. I co-ran the Art Appreciation Program at Field Park Elementary School for six years. I pride myself on encouraging my students to “appreciate” the images of the artists we showed and to create their own work with the materials we provided. Inevitably a group of kids would make the same thing. I never understood that until now. I realized that I had an elitist attitude toward art.

I could not fathom the popularity of having a class where students would copy other artists while drinking! The image of alcohol-fueled artists is a myth, perhaps perpetuated by the celebrated lives of Vincent Van Gogh and Henri de Toulouse Lautrec. But the proliferation of these places has shown that there is a desire for people to paint in a safe, nice environment, with friends. Adding alcohol to the mix loosens everyone up and adds to the party atmosphere. Very few people who are learning a new skill want to be put in a sink or swim situation.

Michael got us going on the painting. We sipped wine, chatted, laughed and painted. It was fun! Three quarters of the way through the painting process, Michael seemed to head back over the ocean and out to Montana. Gone were the rolling hills and the sweet little house, instead a river emerged and a jagged mountain peaks behind. The group at the other table traveled with Michael but my table stayed in Italy.

Because I did not stick with either the original or Michael’s plan, my painting turned out horribly. Other than that, I really enjoyed my experience and thought it was well worth the $35 price tag. I do have a couple of suggestions for the Bottle and Bottega people. I think they would improve their client’s experience by having a full size example of the painting to be painted. This way, if the instructor veers off, we are able to stay on track with the original painting. I would also supply everyone with clean rags or paper towels to clean our brushes.

An artist acquaintance of mine, Kate Franklin, opened Studio Gallo Blu two years ago in St. Charles, Missouri. Her place is also a paint and sip studio but is independent, as opposed to a franchise. This saved her a lot of money in start-up and operating costs. Bottle and Bottega can cost you up to $125,000 to get your franchise up and running. Ms. Franklin, an accomplished painter, has the freedom to use her own work in her classes. But while she enjoys her autonomy she has had to build her own website, create brochures and do her own marketing. She says competition is fierce. Two years ago, when she opened Studio Gallo Blu, there were three paint and sips in her area. Now there are ten.

Ms. Franklin took a seminar with Brian Bullard of The Paint and Wine Studio out of Houston. He is the go-to guy for anyone wanting to start an independent paint and sip studio. He and his wife have their own studio and a consulting business, which helps people open these businesses. I asked her why people loved coming to her place. She replied, “It’s simple, they have fun and they make a lovely painting that they get to bring home. They are artists for the evening.”

Kathleen Thometz is an artist and writer. She lives with her husband, kids and three doodle dogs. You can experience more about her at www.kathleenthometz.com

Kathleen Thometz

I am an artist, writer, and art instructor with four children, one husband, and two doodle-dogs. I have contributed articles to the mid.com and Chicago Parent Magazine and wrote the Artist's Eye column...