Art and wine: Learning to paint while drinking

By Suzanne Bearne
Business reporter

Image source, ArtnSips
Image caption,
Sip and paint classes are held from New York to Dubai, London to Hong Kong

More and more of us are attending so called "sip and paint" classes, where you learn to paint while enjoying a drink (or two). But can you hone your skills while under the influence of alcohol?

It's Thursday night and instead of catching up with friends or cooking at home, my eyes are firmly focused on a picture of Banksy's Girl with Balloon mural, as I nervously wait to try and replicate the famous artwork.

"The first thing I need to tell you is that this is not a serious art class," announces our host, Gareth Shelton, as 18 of us anxiously play with our paintbrushes. He then gives us step-by-step instructions on what brushstrokes to try and which shades of acrylics to mix.

There's a collective sigh of relief, especially from this novice who hasn't picked up a paint brush since leaving school.

Image source, Gareth Shelton
Image caption,
Writer Susie Bearne attended a Pop Up Painting class in London

But I needn't be too anxious; it's pretty clear this painting session isn't your standard art class.

For starters, rather than being holed up a quiet classroom we're on the top floor of a pub in central London, where a playlist of indie tunes from the likes of Oasis and The Killers is being blasted out.

And while I'm clutching a brush in my right hand, my left is wrapped around a large glass of sauvignon blanc. While the brush may help me unlock my creative genius, the wine is helping quell my nerves.

Over the last decade, "sip and paint" classes have taken off around the world, and can now be found in New York, Dubai, London and Hong Kong.

Image source, ArtnSips
Image caption,
ArtnSips says drinking while drawing can unlock your creative side

Experts says it's largely been driven by millennial consumers, who increasingly prefer to spend their cash on experiences, such as gigs and holidays, rather than material items.

In a typical session, an artist will teach you how to paint or draw a particular artwork while you enjoy a few drinks and socialise. The alcohol is sometimes included in the ticket price.

"We wanted to get rid of the stuffy art class image," explains Mr Shelton, who set up Pop Up Painting with his mother in London 2013 after attending a similar session in the US.

"When people are going for drinks after work, they are hungry for something different to do. Wine makes it more interesting and makes people less anxious."

Image source, ArtnSips
Image caption,
ArtnSips has been running painting and nude drawing classes in Copenhagen since last year

The company has now expanded to Birmingham and Manchester and runs 30-40 events a month. Classes cost £25-35 for a two-and-a-half hour session and Mr Shelton says sales have risen 20% in the past year. It plans to open in Sheffield and Liverpool next year.

Naamah Bierlich says drinking while drawing can help people explore their creative side, "especially those who don't consider themselves artistic".

Her firm, ArtnSips, has been running painting and nude drawing classes in Copenhagen since last year.

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But is it just about having fun or can you learn something, too?

"You can definitely learn. A glass of champagne or a cocktail are a great way to loosen up and be less critical of yourself." No one ever drinks too much at the events, adds Ms Bierlich.

"Normally guests have one or two drinks during the event because they are so engaged. That takes the focus away from the nearby bar."

Arguably, the biggest "sip and paint" firm is Paint Nite. Since launching in 2012 it has held events across the US and Canada and attracted more than four million customers.

Image source, Paint Nite
Image caption,
Experts say millennial consumers prefer to spend their cash on experiences - like art classes - rather than material items

With revenues of $55m (£41m) in 2016 - up dramatically since 2012 - it was ranked the second fastest-growing company in the US last year by Inc. Magazine.

The firm specialises in "painting for the fun of it", but co-founder Dan Hermann says people are "generally very surprised and proud of what they create".

He is also open about who the company's audience is; mainly 25-to-50-something women who make up around 85% of customers.

"We do target that demographic, but men are totally welcome and we would like to attract more."

The Evening Standard's Ben Olsen believes the drink and draw market will keep growing as young people seek out quirkier alternatives to a night in the pub.

Image source, Paint Nite
Image caption,
Paint Nite, founded by Sean McGrail (left) and Dan Hermann, is one of America's fastest growing companies

"Artsy pursuits, which now come in a variety of genre-bending forms - graffiti schools, crafting classes and floristry - all provide a positive platform for channelling creative energies, widening the field for would-be daters and also just getting people out of their houses."

However, there are challenges. For one thing, competition is mounting, particularly in the US where hundreds of companies now run events.

Drink and draw nights may not work in every location either. Mr Shelton says when they tried to open in Brighton they struggled to attract interest.

He blames the fact many of the city's residents work in London and prefer to take evening classes in the capital.

Image source, Paint Nite
Image caption,
Paint Nite says it wants people to have fun while they paint

"Also, I think a higher proportion of Brighton-based activities are 'crafty' anyway, and people move there because of that culture. We therefore weren't such a unique offering."

Over in Chelsea as we wrap up and assess each other's creations, I speak to Tejal Kanjee, 26, whose version of the Banksy mural is far better than my own.

She says she's had a good time, and that this is her third class in two weeks. "I thought it would be fun and something different to do.

"I hadn't painted since I was at school but it's made me more confident," she says, her nearly finished Jack Daniels and coke standing next to her canvas.

After the class I visit another pub where my "Banksy" receives compliments from a number of well-oiled punters. But the next day I fear alcohol may have clouded their judgement, and decide my artwork is better left under the stairs than above my mantelpiece.