They've become a global sensation — "paint and sip" studios where adults can spend evenings out learning to make art in a relaxed, BYOB setting. Thousands of franchises now exist to help us all unleash our inner creative.
One of the places where it all began was a little studio outside Birmingham, Alabama. In 2002, at age 28, Wendy Lovoy quit her corporate job to pursue a career as a painter. She began teaching adult and kids' classes. The adults, she noticed, were taking far too long to finish their paintings. They were nervous about making them perfect. They couldn't get out of their own heads. When Lovoy encouraged them to relax and move more quickly, their work always turned out better.
So she began holding two-hour sessions during which she would guide adult students to create an entire painting from start to finish. As it turned out, they loved it. The paintings were coming out great, and classes were filling up. Students began bringing mimosas. The atmosphere was relaxed and pressure-free.
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So in 2004, her company, Sips 'N Strokes, was born. Sips 'N Strokes pioneered the model of BYOB recreational painting classes that teach students to reproduce a work of art step-by-step.
"My vision was to inspire the world to create," says Lovoy.
She hoped to transform the painting process from something intimidating and seemingly out of reach to something approachable and fun.
The business grew slowly at first, going from one class a month to two, and then, suddenly, it was seven days a week. By 2007, Lovoy was squishing 100 people per night into her studio. By 2009, when she franchised Sips 'N Strokes, similar businesses, like Painting With a Twist and Pinot's Palette, had begun springing up around the country.
"It became an industry that the customer base really gravitated to," says Joe Lewis, CEO of the Mandeville, Louisiana-based Painting With a Twist. "With the increase in the DIY industry, it has really caught on and become popular."
Because the investment needed to start a paint and sip franchise is relatively low, Lewis says, the industry has grown quickly. Painting With a Twist recently acquired a competitor, Chicago-based Bottle and Bottega, and the merged companies have a total of 300 locations around the country.
Lovoy is amazed at how popular paint-and-sip places have become since she opened her studio.
"When you're 28 years old and you see something that was your passion blow up to something so big, it's phenomenal," says the now-43-year-old.
While many people come to the classes to relax with a glass of wine, Lovoy believes that a huge piece of the success of the Sips 'N Strokes model is the way it forces students to speed up their painting.
"When you give an adult time, we overanalyze and overthink everything," she says. "When you give them that time restraint, they can create anything. They just have to get outside of themselves, and you do that when you move fast. You shut down that anal side of your brain and your creative side opens up."
She enjoys watching students gain confidence. "People like to learn things," she says. "It's very satisfying for people to create something themselves."
Some of her most dedicated students have even become professional artists.
Mary Posey, a regular student of Lovoy's who began attending Sips 'N Strokes classes in 2006, has produced hundreds of paintings.
"I went from needing a lot of help to fix paintings at the end of class to, I really started to figure out what they meant by doing a stroke a certain way," she says. "I started figuring out I could do it on my own." Her growing confidence in her art, she says, "spilled over into other things. I just noticed I had more confidence."
Lovoy also hopes her students gain an appreciation for art and the work that goes into it.
"Go out and support your local artists," she says. "Get into the art scene."