A brush with art

(left) and Mary Ellen Patarcity, both from Schwenksville, listen to an artist instructor. STEVEN M. FALK / Staff Photographer
(left) and Mary Ellen Patarcity, both from Schwenksville, listen to an artist instructor. STEVEN M. FALK / Staff Photographer (Devon Berryann)

It's a novel night out: Dabbling in painting while sipping drinks of your choice.

Posted: April 06, 2012

Relax, crank up some tunes, pour a little wine. Oh, and maybe paint some, too.

Two local franchises of Painting With a Twist, which crosses a night out with amateur painting lessons, are betting on the creativity of fun-loving grown-ups and their children.

The premise: Pick a night to head to the studio and then re-create a painting of your choice, with some help from friendly art teachers, as you sip whatever you brought to drink - wine, or beer, or chocolate milk.

"It's fun art, not fine art," said Jennifer Elwell, owner of the Skippack studio.

"The first thing they'll say is, 'I'm not artistic,' or 'I can't paint,' " she said. "We just say, well, you're our target audience."

On one night in March, customers used a dazzling cherry tree in bloom as their model, in celebration of the Philadelphia Cherry Blossom festival. During another class, two dozen painters - mostly women, a couple of men - followed the directions of charismatic teacher Dan Todd, who showed them how to re-create a stream of cabernet splashing into a glass.

Bright lights illuminated the colorful studio - built in four retrofitted garage bays of Skippack's old firehouse - and paintings of animals, landscapes, and Philly icons covered the walls. The "artists" painted away as songs by Bob Marley, Duffy, and the Beatles blasted in the background.

"I never knew I could paint before," said Sara Rinelli, 30, of Blue Bell. She and a friend were first-time visitors. "We're already talking about having a girls' night," she said.

Elwell and her counterparts in Wayne, Doug and Robin Sweet, opened their stores in February. The calendars on their websites show coming class times with the selected painting for each session. The April calendars include a LOVE Park sign, a handful of beachscapes, a pop-art Liberty Bell, a van Gogh reproduction, and a modernist dance scene.

Visitors can register for classes online. Fees are $35 for a two-hour session and $45 for three hours. Painting With a Twist also books private parties at the same rates and hosts family days and senior days at $25 per person.

"When you're painting, your brain kind of turns off - your thinking brain - and people just relax, and they just have fun, they let it flow, they're not thinking of all the things they're worried about," Elwell said.

Judging by the enthusiasm of the March crowd, Twist does its job. In between amicable directions, the teacher sang "Sweet Caroline" into his paintbrush and, hands wiggling, led his excited students in a chant of "So good! So good!"

"We like people who have big personalities," Elwell said.

Todd, an elementary-school art teacher, advised his students, "Embrace your own style." Some glasses came out rounder than others, and some wine splashed a bit more forcefully.

Some brush water went splashing, too: "That happens in a lot of classes," the owner said. As the glasses on the easels filled up, the real ones were drained. "Red Red Wine," the UB40 version, came on the speakers.

The painting and drinking concept was launched in New Orleans, in 2007, under the name Corks N Canvas. A visit to that studio inspired Elwell, a New Orleans native, to leave her corporate job and open a franchise of her own. There are now more than 60 Painting With a Twist studios across the United States.

Besides opening its doors to stressed adults, couples, moms' groups, scout troops, and the like, the company also organizes "Painting With a Purpose," a monthly charity partnership. Skippack recently raised $785 for the Vera Bradley Foundation for Breast Cancer; according to Elwell, the nationwide effort generated $25,000.

"We're always looking for groups to support," including local charities, Elwell said.

If a customer isn't completely satisfied with her peacock or Picasso, Twist has S.O.S. Saturdays - a chance for visitors to return, free of charge, for fixes and finishing touches.

The "fun art" aesthetic is largely about flexibility.

If you don't like red wine, paint it white. If you find that Picasso woman's dress line a bit too risqué, readjust it. And if you're worried about getting all the details perfect, pour another drink.

Art With a Sip

Painting With a Twist, 1240 Bridge Rd.,

Suite C, Skippack;

107 E. Lancaster Ave., Wayne. Session times vary. Tickets: $35 for a two-hour class and $45 for three hours. Information: 610-584-4232 or www.paintingwithatwist.

com/skippack (Skippack); 484-367-7254 or www.paintingwithatwist.

com/wayne (Wayne).

Contact Matt Huston at 215-854-5289 or mhuston@philly.com.

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