Here’s my latest article for the New York Times (Metropolitan section):
A Night of Wine and Art on Long Island
Believe it or not, people are still getting together in the flesh, and blood, to express themselves and socialize, leaving Facebook and Instagram behind, at least temporarily. Take painting parties, combined art classes and cocktail hours, which are becoming more prevalent on Long Island. Pamela Paredes just opened a Wine and Design franchise in Syosset in August and said business was already booming. “Last weekend was absolutely fabulous,” she said of the team-building event she had organized at Fox Hollow in Woodbury.
Although it is not an entirely new idea, the paint-and-sip gathering has become a go-to option for all kinds of groups, including bachelorette parties and family reunions as well as corporate events. It is even being used as an alternative to the dating scene.
There is, for example, the couples-oriented “Double Canvas Night” at Paint the Town Studio, which is owned by Alison Hinkaty and her husband, Jon, an English teacher at Sachem High School East in Farmingville. “We’ve had many dates and first dates here,” Ms. Hinkaty said. The nights are popular, she said, because as couples paint side by side, “the two canvases form one picture.”
She sees the art-and-cocktails scene evolving for every sector of socializing. “I think people get tired of the same old scene, going out to eat or just to a bar,” she said. “Paint and sip nights give them something different to do for a night out. Our classes sell out almost every night and have a lot of frequent customers.”
Paint the Town, which opened two years ago, is in a loft-like building just off the main thoroughfare of downtown Huntington, where every other storefront seems like a trendy restaurant overflowing with attractive crowds. Unlike most painting and drinking enterprises, Paint the Town evokes an authentic studio art experience. Large windows offer a peek from the street into what looks like a brightly lit bar, but upon closer inspection, about a dozen blank canvases rest on tabletop easels. Framed paintings cover the walls. On one recent night, the song “I Can’t Go for That (No Can Do),” by Hall & Oates, pierced the giggles of a nearly all-female crowd, everyone draped in aprons, plastic glasses clinking, gearing up for a night of alcohol-infused creativity.
“It’s very therapeutic,” said Flora Cannon of East Patchogue, a participant that night, who attended her first paint and sip in Texas four years ago. “It feels like you’re transported to a tranquil place.”
Gatherings can range from upscale to underground. Settings include vineyards, commercial spaces, personal studios or taverns and restaurants. Upon browsing some of the event calendars, it is difficult not to notice that many dates are sold out or closed for private parties, especially on Long Island.
Lisa Salem of East Setauket is a master painting instructor for Paint Nite, one of the more ambitious of the paint and sip organizations, which operates in over 75 towns and cities, including Melville, Long Beach and Islip. “I have been drawing and painting my entire life,” she said. “After owning a successful business for many years, I decided to combine my love of painting and people with my business acumen to pursue something I truly love doing.”
Paint Nite uses a licensing model, where owners create their own clientele under the Paint Nite brand. In return, they receive some supplies, along with marketing and administrative help. “Paint Nite is big,” said Ms. Salem, a licensee with the company. “It can be as big as you want it to be. We each run our own operations, develop our own client base, including relationships with venue owners and customers. We have free rein to hire our own assistants and our own artists, to be able to expand our business and be able to cover more ground and service our area.”
Most paint and sip sessions feature a theme, like “Picasso” or “beach sunset,” and include up to two dozen would-be artists who follow the instructor’s step-by-step instructions.
But even with hand-holding and cocktails, amateur painters can get anxious. At a recent Paint the Town session, many of the participants worked nervously, as if the canvas were a coloring book and they had been instructed to stay between the lines. Others were shattered when their perfectly angled brush strokes would go awry. Nicole Hassell, the instructor, did what she could to calm her students, who were tackling a Matisse-style still-life of a vase and flowers. But after a few bottles of wine had been uncorked, something noticeable started to happen: self-expression seemed to flow more naturally, and students became more relaxed and confident. Could the owners and instructors be on to something?
Perhaps, provided the participants do not drink too much. “It is very different to have low levels of alcohol than it is to have high levels of alcohol,” said Dr. Ronald Kanner, professor and chair of the neurology department at Hofstra North Shore – LIJ School of Medicine. “Levels below the legal driving limit may provide a sense of well-being and creativity, or just the illusion of creativity, because of a lack of filtering outside stimuli and being open to more feelings and ideas.”
There have not been problems with drunkenness at any of the paint and sip venues. The combination of drinking cocktails and making art, both in moderation, is proving to be lucrative for business owners and empowering for aspiring artists.
As the Paint The Town website points out, it was Degas who said, “Painting is easy when you don’t know how.”