Denise Neil

July 18, 2014

Painting parties are part art class, part social hour (VIDEO)

Painting is not in my repertoire of talents.

Painting is not in my repertoire of talents.

But sipping wine is, so I was 50 percent prepared for the paint-and-partake party I recently attended at Wichita Center for the Arts.

The parties are part art class, part social hour, and they’re popular all around the country. You’ve probably seen pictures of your friends on Facebook, proudly holding the almost-identical masterpieces they’ve just created at such events.

The painting parties are offered at several venues around Wichita, but the main one is Paint the Towne, a locally owned business with locations at 8037 E. Peachtree Lane near Kellogg and Rock and at 7011 W. Central near Central and Ridge.

The business, started by Jessie Sterling and now co-owned by her sister, Carly Miller, puts on private parties for both adults and children and also has a calendar of open classes. A similar venue called Let’s Paint closed in May, but art venues in town such as Wichita Center for the Arts and CityArts put on similar events.

Those who sign up need bring only their adult beverages (except in the case of the kids classes, of course.) The canvas, paints and brushes all are supplied for the cost of the class, which ranges from $25 to $45. So is the subject matter, which can range from a replica of a famous masterpiece to the image of WuShock, a field of flowers or a starry night scene.

In most cases, the instructors demonstrate how to create the paintings, step by step. But not in all cases.

The party I attended a couple of weeks ago at the Wichita Center for the Arts was more of a sink-or-swim situation, although our instructor, the bubbly Gayle Clayborn, assured us that sinking was not a possibility. (Where have I heard that before?)

The center calls its classes “Fine Art for the Wine Heart.” At mine, we were all taking a shot at painting Monet’s “Water Lilies (pink)” on a 9x12 canvas.

The class attracted 25 students, all but one of them female. They ranged in age from early 20s to late 60s.

Most were there with groups of friends, and all brought bottles of wine. (Wine glasses and cork screws also were provided, along with the art supplies.)

We all chose an easel, sat down, poured a glass then watched Clayborn give a brief demonstration. She painted an area of green up here, a bit of blue down there, advised us on blending techniques, told us how to create black paint, and urged us to make our water lilies as oval as possible.

“You can’t make a mistake,” she said, time and again. “You just can’t.”

I was doubtful about that, and with zero canvas painting in my background, a little nervous about how my painting would turn out – especially since I’d promised my editor I’d publish the results in this column.

We all lined up and filled palates with pre-selected acrylic paints in vibrant shades of blue, pink, green, red, orange and yellow and took Clayborn’s directive: “Go for it.”

My friend Jill Laffoon came with me, and it was evident quickly how different our interpretations of the same picture would turn out. Jill is artistic, and she was dab, dab, dabbing the paint beautifully across her canvas. I’m a little more literal and generally looking for shortcuts in life, and I was filling the blank canvas with huge swashes of color.

It took me about an hour to finish, and my heart would race every time Clayborn held up an example of a class member who was doing particularly well. Who were these women? And who taught them how to paint like Monet?

She stopped by to encourage me a few times and showed me how to smudge my colors together with water. That helped, as did her suggestion that I refill my wine glass. And Jill’s last-minute idea that I line the bottoms of all my flowers with black might have saved the day.

When I was finished, my picture wasn’t great, but it wasn’t terrible. From a distance, it looked like I’d painted something closer to sushi rolls than water lilies, but hey, paint what you know, right?

Lisa Stuever was sitting behind me with a group of three girlfriends, and their paintings all looked fabulous.

One of Stuever’s friends had found a Groupon for the class, and the four decided to try it together.

Even though she’d never painted anything but her house before that night, Stuever said, her goal was to make a memory, not a masterpiece, and that took some pressure off.

“I’m not very artistic,” she said. “I’m an accountant and I’m a stitcher, so doing something like this is out of the box. But it was fun just to throw yourself in there and know it wasn’t anything you were going to be graded on. It was just fun to hang out with friends.”

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