I was a little surprised at first by the atmosphere. I had pictured someplace a little trendier, maybe run by a young, local artist looking to have some wine with painting on the side. But when I walked in, it had more of a corporate feel. The focus is more on the painting, with some wine on the side to help you relax.
The studio area was a large room painted in beiges and a deep burgundy. Paintings were hung all over the walls, exhibiting some of the hundreds of pieces that Painting with a Twist has copyrighted. There were four long plastic tables set up in front a small stage with six small easels on them for painting.
My friend and I were easily the youngest ones there. Of the six of us in the class, three of them were mother, daughter and granddaughter that came together with a bottle of red wine. One 60-year-old woman came by herself. She only drank water, but was a self-professed oil painter who wanted to try acrylics.
This art-and-wine-centric franchise has been sweeping the nation, with more than 70 franchise locations across the U.S. It started in 2007, when franchise owners Cathy Deano and Renee Maloney started the parent company, Corks N Canvas in New Orleans. The overwhelming interest led them to start franchising their concept under the "Painting With A Twist" name, which eventually spawned locations all the way up to the Detroit suburb of Ferndale. After attending a class there, Lansing resident Diane Wey found inspiration in more than art.
"I had such a good time,” Wey said. “I thought, ‘(Lansing) needs this.’ We need a fun place to do things together where itīs social and noisy and creative. Itīs a simple business model based on values that you canīt go wrong with."
After doing some research on the "sip and paint" industry, Wey decided that she wanted to become a part of this movement. One of the core values is community involvement, so Painting With a Twist will hold a fundraising class once a month called “Painting with a Purpose,” in which 50 percent of the proceeds go to a 501(c) organization.
"We are committed to infiltrating our communities and doing good." Wey said. "Itīs always such a positive experience. Everyone always leaves happy and ready to tell their family and friends about it.”
The wine might be helping that cause. Wey said that they do not need a liquor license since it is a closed event and they do not distribute any alcoholic beverages. They have what is called host liability insurance, which may be a big reason Wey didn’t want to specifically target college students.
“I’m happy to host the student population, but we aren’t just a drinking place,” she said. “What we really are is an art class where you can enjoy a drink or two.”
Having a drink was hardly necessary. Wey and her staff were what made the experience so worthwhile. Shelly Wilkinson, our instructor, was full of spunk. She kept us excited about our painting and even allowed one of our fellow classmates to paint a western-style mustache on her.
Wey believes the business seems to be off to a good start. Lansing area artist Mike Scienzka runs a similar class at Gallery 1212 in Old Town that, until recently, had two classes a month, held every other Friday. He says he’s had a very positive public reaction to the class.
“Most people who attend the classes have little to no experience painting, but they’re drawn to the group environment that offers a fun, easy way explore their creativity," Scienzka said. "It’s a simple structure, with just three or four steps, and when people are done they have something they’re proud of."
The class at Painting With a Twist follows a similar structure. I was dreading comparing my final product with that of the others in the class. But, our instructor walked us through step by step and gave us help if we felt we needed it. She told us what colors to use and where the pedals of our “Bird of Paradise” should go, but a lot of it was up to our “creative interpretation”— that’s what my friend and I called it when we screwed up.
Once I had the brush in my hand, though, I found my own style. In the end I left proud of the piece I had created. Sure, I could have gone to another bar or a show that night, but for some reason this felt more productive.
Wey had described painting in the class as “a Zen experience,” and I couldnīt agree more. Maybe that is the “twist” that the wine offers: a relaxing time that while still social is very personal and self-exploratory.
Andrea Raby contributed to this story.
Painting with a Twist
Classes and private parties scheduled seven days a week (mostly evenings) by appointment only
580 Frandor Ave. (in Frandor Shopping Center), Lansing
$35 for two-hour class/$45 for three-hour class