Paint Nite — Where Anyone Can Be a Really Bad Artist

In the past three months I’ve been invited to a Paint Nite by three different friends who don’t know each other. Paint Nite, populated mostly by females, is a two hour “sip and paint” experience in which people who have no art background can produce a 16" by 20" version of the same painting while drinking wine and most importantly, have lots and lots of fun. I don’t have anything against fun, but if fun is connected to bad art, bowling or Bunko (another cultish phenomenon) I head for the hills without judgment and let them be. On the Paint Nite website they define themselves statistically: in 1500 cities worldwide, 4700 events per month, 1,050 artists (they call their teachers “artists,”) in 2500 bars, 166,000 guests per month, and overall a total 3,300,000 tickets sold to date, which makes the chance of you never having heard of Paint Nite pretty much zilch. There’s a good chance you’ve either been to one or, like cancer, know someone who has experienced it.

I truly like the women who invited me and often spend time with them — doing highly cultural things like drinking, eating small plate type food or seeing Amy Schumer and Melissa McCarthy movies. Sometimes we all get together and drink wine and make fun of the current TV Bachelorette by counting how many times they say “amazing” in one episode.

That these same women I hold in high regard should suggest I attend a Paint Nite is a disappointment because, okay, I’m kind of an art snob. I went to Pratt Institute in New York, hold an art teacher credential, visit art museums regularly, am a docent at a local gallery, and can draw and paint my ass off. I would never tell any of them that the thought of spending two hours to produce a painting that looks like any of the Paint Nite kitsch is depressing. When one friend asked me to go I declined and told her ever so gently, “You know if you are interested in art there are several classes for beginners locally and they don’t cost much.” With teary eyes, she said, “As a child I always felt bad for not having one iota of creativity, and at Paint Nite they make me feel really good and I can take home what I created and hang it up!” Another friend sent me a Facebook link to a picture she posted proving that she had dedicated an entire wall in her kitchen as a Paint Nite “gallery.” She was a convert. I counted 12 Paint Nite masterpieces in her culinary museum space. “I just love it, “ she said, “and we drink lots of wine and it’s fun, you should try it!” Won’t be caught dead trying it I thought. But then gallery I work for began having financial problems — as in people weren’t buying that much original art and the gallery needed money. I thought what if we had our own version of a Paint Nite where people learned a little technique and created paintings that were somewhat different from one another? Plus I wanted to see that crazy art making machine process in action. How in the hell have they pulled off selling over three million tickets with repeat customers to boot?

All of the Paint Nite masterpieces are like greeting cards you might see in Kmart or Target — they have cheerful, somewhat fluorescent colors and almost always use black for dramatic effect — like a painting with Lake Tahoe royal blue water with black blobby pines in the foreground. Or a friendly, giant turtle with an enormous four petal red flower on its back. Or a jet-black silhouette of a black cat sitting in front of a giant pinkish full moon. Another had a yellowy and brown fall scene, called “Fall Swing Time” with a big tree that had a black tire hanging from it, which I mistakenly thought was a noose for a moment. Or the one called “Cougar Shoes” which featured only one five inch, high heel with cougar spots and a blurry, blue sky background.

I decided to talk a board member from the art gallery into going with me. She would be my sarcastic cohort. She owned her own art gallery once, studied art at UCLA and was now an interior designer. She confided that yes, she had not only heard of Paint Nite, but had several friends who asked her to comment on their Paint Nite creations. “I just turn my eyes away,” she said. Did I mention that Paint Nites are always held in bars or restaurants that serve alcohol and food? Our Paint Nite was held in the ballroom of a local country club with a full bar and pretty much a full bar menu. It seems that every Paint Nite has some coupon offer — either from Groupon, a repeating Paint Nite discount or in my case, an offer from the club. With our coupon we paid $25 each. You are instructed to get there 15 minutes before the fun begins, but we got there five minutes before and the place was packed. Two seats remained, not next to each other, but an accommodating group of six women rearranged themselves so we could sit together. I asked our seat partners if this was their first time. No, they all had been to at least one to three other Paint Nites.

Our teacher “artist,” Juniper, was a twentyish, tatted, pleasant young woman of slender build who brought her boyfriend with her as an assistant. The boyfriend sat quietly with a forlorn, expression on his face, like he had endured this many, many times before. We sat down at our stations which had a green Paint Nite apron, a styrofoam dish with generous puddles of white, black, red, yellow, and blue acrylic paint on them, two rather small brushes, a very used tiny piece of shammy towel that couldn’t have wiped a newborn’s butt, and a plastic cup full of water. On the table was a blank canvas sitting expectantly on a tiny black easel.

Juniper welcomed us, reminded us we needed zero art skills and that the main idea was to have fun. A very busy waiter from the club took wine, beer, gin, ahi appetizer, hot dog and hamburger orders. Juniper first did an overview of our painting, which was called “Slow Burn Sunset.” This depicted a fluorescent pink, bright purple sunset, nothing you would actually see in nature. Also included was a buttery full moon, accompanied by spindly black very tall pine trees. A few birds, depicted as black vee’s flew by. She did a demo of the first step which was to dab blots of pinkish paint in a circle. Juniper put on some pop music, the waiter jumped from guest to guest and before long everyone was painting, drinking, laughing, talking and eating.

Except I wasn’t. I couldn’t bring myself to paint the sunset, which frankly resembled a forest fire. The only color mixing we were instructed to do was the stuff you learned in first grade: red and blue make purple, yellow and blue make green. I decided to do a pastel abstract that had some round shapes like a moon, but no natural disaster implications. Juniper walked around helping people. She paused at my chair. “Oh you’re interpreting. I like that!” After about an hour of more wine and instruction, the room was abuzz with joy. Yes, joy. People truly loved the experience, were supportive of each other and upbeat. I walked around. Enough variation in the paintings make me think that the Paint Nite experience may actually awaken artistic flair, foster friendship and release some pent up stress from hours upon hours of non-art related work during the day.

Juniper reminded us, “The more wine you drink, the better your painting will look.” Indeed. She added one more thing at the end of the night, “Don’t forget we have several Plant Nites scheduled for next month. Anyone can create amazing living art from succulents and miniature plants!” I’ve never been good at any kind of gardening. My thumb is moldy brown. Wonder if there’s a Groupon.

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