DIFF’RENT STROKES | Art instruction along the Strand goes social

Creativity and drinks flow freely at new local paint-and-sip studios

For Weekly SurgeOctober 17, 2012 

“Fan the flame of hilarity with the wing of friendship, and pass the rosy wine.”

~ Charles Dickens

Wine, art and social gatherings seem to go hand in hand; it’s rare that you’ll find them separated by much distance. Art is one of the first forms of human communication, and wine, one of humanity’s oldest beverages, dating to 6000 B.C. It wasn’t much of a surprise to learn that several local businesses are encouraging area adults to harness their inner artists while enjoying a glass or two of what author Robert Louis Stevenson called “bottled poetry.”

The Grand Strand seems to be right in step with the rest of the nation in our love of wine. Festivals, including Saturday’s 3rd Annual Wine Fest at The Market Common, a handful of area wineries, and countless art galleries and art shows, prove the point. But there are a few new faces in the area looking to meld our love of art and wine in some unforeseen ways - while adding a social twist.

Popping up in cities and small towns across the nation, including here on the Grand Strand, art class and wine/beer combos are part of a new business model that invites adults to express their internal longings to be the next van Gogh or Monet, all while imbibing just a bit, too. Or maybe these would-be Picassos are just looking for some company and a night out?

Speed dating seems to have run its course as the hook-up fad de jour, though it still pops up occasionally. That leaves work, online dating, the bar scene, and for some adults, church, as the best options to make social connections. But that doesn’t always work. Under the guise of “art class” some adults are finding their connections at any one of a few local D.I.Y. art/wine establishments, with more on the way. Additionally area crafters beyond the paint and brush set, hold evening classes with a little BYOB on the side. At the rate these businesses are opening, it’s conceivable that there may be one in most neighborhoods of the Grand Strand, giving the local traditional tavern a run for its money.

These businesses are following a national appetite for this specific type of social interaction; not entirely unlike the D.I.Y. pottery business that once had a dozen or so Grand Strand locations, and now has just two.

For the paint-and-pour business owner, the first steps involve finding affordable, available strip mall space – and with current market conditions, plenty of spaces are available. Then with a minimal investment, setting up shop involves a couple dozen easels, some paintbrushes, paint, a corkscrew, and a few artist/instructors with a free evening and a desire to make a little quick cash.

Paint-and-Sip

Paint & Unwined recently opened in the Planters Market mini-mall at 804 Inlet Square Drive in Murrells Inlet by husband and wife, Kim Broome and Chris Broome of Murrells Inlet. The couple had been looking for a business to open, and said they first caught the social painting buzz at “party in a barn in the woods in Conway.”

“This party was about a year ago,” said Chris Broome, who is self-employed in the I.T. and security business, when not opening art-and-wine shops. “We got to this barn and found it set up with easels and paint for all the guests. We had a ball.”

Beyond art at parties in the woods, the business model that the Broomes followed and adapted to make their own, is one that’s catching on across the nation. Entrepeneur.com calls it the “paint & sip” category. The New Orleans-based Painting With A Twist has nearly 70 franchise locations in 15 states. In less than one year the Raleigh, N.C.-based Wine and Design, now has around 20 franchise locations, including one in Myrtle Beach, which opened in September. The next nearest Wine & Design franchises are in Mount Pleasant, and Wilmington, N.C.

In a break from the usual BYOB business model, Paint & Unwined, sells single servings of beer and wine by the glass.

Janie Aldridge and husband Tom Aldridge, relocated to Cherry Grove after Tom Aldridge retired from a career as a Brunswick County District Court Judge. They were introduced to the Wine and Design franchise by friends from Raleigh, and opened their own in September at 5900 North Kings Highway, in Myrtle Beach.

With a background in retail business, Janie Aldridge recognized the potential when approached about opening a franchise. “This is very well received, all over the country,” she said. Aldridge was busy at her desk registering the 15 or so women in for the especially themed Pink Out for Breast Cancer event on Oct. 11. “[These businesses are doing] especially well out West,” she continued. “There’s a two-month wait to get in to some of the classes out in California.”

These local paint-and-sip businesses operate in a similar fashion. The owners say that word-of-mouth, Facebook and their Web sites are key to their success. The online information includes a calendar highlighting classes and special events (such as paint your own pet portraits), regularly scheduled paintings, and brief bios of the instructors.

The process is simple. The businesses supply aprons, brushes, paint, canvases, and sketched out paintings, ready to go. Most are built upon the social drinking aspect of the model, though with kids events and special buy-outs the classes can be sans alcohol if requested. But where’s the fun in that?

“We get all these people together,” said Aldridge, referring to the 21-and older BYOB evening classes, “and the [painting] is drawn out. Whether or not they’ve ever painted they can leave with a finished painting. You get to know each other, it’s relaxed, and so much fun.”

No Skill Required

For those interested in trying it for themselves, an online search should locate the studio closest to you, or the one that offers the type and style of painting that interests you. You may choose a class (most are 6:30–8:30 p.m., five or six days per week), and register online. Most studios hold between 20 – 40 students, and registration closes when the max is reached.

Showing up with beverage of choice and snacks, 20-30 minutes early, is suggested to leave time to sign in, pay the fee (usually $35), don your apron and pop your cork. The rest is just easy fun, with no pressure or skill required. While there is some actual art instruction involved, and some instructors are more skilled than others, the art is easy. Very easy, and everyone leaves with a finished piece, ready for framing or the nearest Goodwill; your option.

The skeleton of the evening’s painting (everyone paints the same subject) is already sketched out on a small canvas. The evening’s required color palette of acrylic paints are already squeezed out and placed at your easel, and all that’s left is the two-hour painting party.

Wine and Design staff artist Jill Pettigrew is ready to help. “I’ve lived in Myrtle Beach for about a year,” she said. “I taught high school art for 11 years in Pennsylvania and have a Masters Degree in Painting. I’m also a bartender at California Dreaming in Surfside Beach – I can open their wine and teach them how to paint - I’m fully qualified.”

Let There Be Art and Wine

Public, adult art classes, held in urban and rural community centers, or private art galleries, have been around for decades, and are still available in the greater Myrtle Beach area. Pepper Geddings Recreation Center in Myrtle Beach offers children’s art classes, and has hosted adult classes in the past, though none are currently scheduled.

Several area arts organizations will occasionally host beginner art classes, but with most of the community-oriented classes, when you can find them, one thing is missing – booze.

With the proliferation of a wine-drinking culture, wine bars, even Costco, Bi-Lo and Food Lion selling high-end wines, it seems the public’s taste for the grape’s fermented nectar has moved wine from the occasional treat to the commonplace.

In the greater Myrtle Beach area wine has a strong foothold. La Belle Amie Vineyards in Little River holds wine tastings daily, music festivals throughout the year, and sells thousands of cases of its own Muscadine wines, made from the only commercially viable grape grown in South Carolina.

The third annual Myrtle Beach Wine Fest, scheduled for Saturday at Valor Park in the Market Common, has shown its staying power and has purveyors of wine setting up shop for tastings of more than 100 varietals in 2-ounce samples.

Has our dramatic increase in the love of wine made these paint-and-sip businesses more viable, where a decade ago they might not have been?

Kim Broome says “Yes. I think the popularity of wine drinking over the past decade or so, has made this [paint & sip] business more likely to take off. A lot of it is people looking for something to do,” she continued. “They might be tired of the bar scene, but still like to go out and have a few drinks. For them, this is a great alternative.”

Brushing Up

Paint & Unwined staff artist April Bensch was preparing for her own upcoming class by taking a class. She was one of around 12 women painters on the recent night we visited, and each in the group were working on the same blue crab painting by the night’s teacher, Kristy Holiday Main. Most of the art is quite simple, and it needs to be. Each work should be finished within the two-hour class time period, and be easy enough for anyone, even someone who hasn’t picked up a paintbrush since the third grade, and who may be more interested in socializing than learning the fine art of painting.

“I’m getting a feel for how the class will go,” said Bensch. She had to shout to be heard over the laughter from the group of all-women painters; nothing like a little liberating wine to get the giggles going. “For my first class I’ll be doing a Halloween theme,” she said. Bensch and the shop’s clients will paint “Flip Flops” for a class scheduled for this evening. Upcoming art class themes are featured at www.paintandunwined.com Friday’s class painting, by local surfer/artist Blake Brown, is entitled “Shoes!”

Similarly Wine and Design also incorporates an online calendar, and answers to many FAQs at www.wineanddesignus.com/myrtle_beach.html.

While the Aldridges have chosen the proven franchise route, the Broomes have big plans of their own. “We hope to open another Paint & Unwined right away,” said Chris Broome, “and possibly a third location once we get some feedback on where,” he said. “ Entrepreneur magazine listed the concept as the ‘fastest growing franchise,’ but we chose to go the independent route.”

To BYOB, or Not to BYOB

While the Wine & Design franchise encourages clients to bring their own bottle of wine (or beer) and an appetizer, Paint & Unwined has taken the concept one step further, by obtaining a beer and wine license, one step below an all-encompassing full liquor license; the world may not be ready for art beginners drinking hard liquor. “We will sell a variety of wines by the glass for $3, beer for $2 and then a few features; a craft beer, or a special wine,” said Chris Broome.

“We do strongly encourage our clients to bring food,” added Kim Broome, noting that staying fed is important anytime there’s drinking involved.

Just what’s bubbling beneath the surface of these paint-and-sip businesses? Is it more than just easy painting, geared toward first-timers and/or beginners, and a bit of beer or wine? Do these clients have ulterior motives, beyond painting and partying?

So what’s the draw?

After witnessing large groups of women sip a little, nibble a little, paint a little and laugh a lot, it became clear, that this is much more than painting; this is a party and a social gathering that sometimes even includes men.

“The 25-45-year-old female demo is typical,” said Chris Broome, and looking at the class participants, he was right on the money. “This is as much a social gathering as it is about the craft,” he said. “I think with some of the [failed] do-it-yourself pottery businesses, it was more about the craft, and you had to come back after the piece was kiln-fired; it was a multi-part process. Here you can leave with your painting. You’ll meet some new people, it’s very laid back.”

Brooke David, from Conway, was painting at the breast cancer awareness event Oct. 11 at Wine and Design, and was there to support a cause, and hang out with her pals. “Some of my sorority sisters did this a couple of weeks ago,” she said, “and because our philanthropy is breast cancer awareness, and that’s tonight’s theme, we thought we’d come. We’ve got four or five coming tonight.”

Caring in our Lifetime President, Sally Peeples was also on hand at Wine and Design, with a big group of gals. “For tonight Wine and Design will donate a portion of the money back to Caring in our Lifetime,” said Peeples. She’s been with the organization for 14 years. “We’re all painting this pink hat lady,” she said. “and we’ll drink a little wine, too.”

While most of the women we spoke with were happily (or not so happily) attached to a significant other, there were singles in the mix, and some talk of the paint-and-sip concept as a great date night.

“We had a couple in last night,” said Aldridge. “It was their second date. She brought him in; he didn’t know what [she’d been planning]. He was so adorable and he had the best time. They both said they’d be back.”

Wine and Design has a Coastal Carolina Night, geared toward CCU students, scheduled for tonight, and a Date Night scheduled for Saturday evening. Date night incorporates reduced rates ($40 per couple), and a timer, where both have timed segments to work on the same painting. “We’re considering singles nights, too,” said Aldridge, though none were firmly in place yet.

Braden Grafe, owner of Palette to Palate, a BYOB D.I.Y art studio at The Boyle Gallery in Pawleys Island, thinks the evening classes are appreciated by “mostly moms looking for a break from their kids for a couple of hours.” Grafe doesn’t really see many love connections at her studio in Pawleys Island. “This is social time for these ladies – it’s a mother’s night out.”

Paint and Unwined offers similar themed nights, with plans still in development for singles nights and date nights. But ultimately, the entire concept is simple at its core. “I’m not an artist,” said Kim Broome, “but I do like wine.”

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