Confessions of a Paint-n-Sip instructor.

NEWS: This post has been linked by Professional Artist Magazine, in a piece in their February/March issue! I was also interviewed for the piece. Thank you all for reading!!

**You can order a print or digital copy of the issue here. It is also available through some retail merchants and bookstores.


So, if you've read the blog before you've know I've dipped my toes into teaching recreational painting. I don't really anymore, because we sort of had this house-buying thing come up, and these businesses have sprouted up like viral daisies in the weeks of our move (in addition to the ones that were already in place)  It has been over a year since I was first approached about doing this - I would have never considered it on my own- and since then I have spent a lot of hours not in my studio but in front of people or behind the scenes in various aspects of this business for various different existing and potential painting-and-sipping businesses in my state.

UPDATE: I wrote a follow-up piece to this post HERE.

This is a photo from my very first paint-and-sip job as an instructor. the painting was mine,
the class was 12 wonderful ladies (some not pictured). That's me in the black apron on the left.

on rare occasion people do paint what they want instead of the demo.
this made me smile a LOT.  also that she didn't pull up someone else's art
 from Pinterest or Etsy on her phone to just copy,
she simply went with the creative flow. Brilliant. 
When I started doing this I received a lot of questions about it- not from people who wanted to take classes so much as people who saw how simple the premise looked and wanted to profit from it as well. Because painting and drinking takes organization...
or someone to schlep all the supplies to you ;)

I've also been hired by other artists to "help" them in their own teaching work, but in the end was really just helping them get set up so they could do their own thing.  Since it is not formal teaching it is not a career I ever took that seriously to be honest, but since a lot of people with and without art experience have noticed it as a way to make money with a small business, it is worthy of a blog post and some future investigation...

It is a fast-growing business model, particularly in the Southern/Middle American zones of the country. I took a liking to it as an instructor because it gave me an opportunity to be in front of people in a low-pressure environment and improve my public speaking skills, which have become a little worse as I have gotten older (neurological health problems) and really just need me throwing myself in and practicing to get better.

But I digress... when I went to do web research on the businesses themselves, I did not find much... except advertising. LOTS of advertising. LOTS of reviews written by family and close friends in that way you can easily tell... (the ones that get hidden by Yelp and others)...

I did find this insightful article by Christina Wegman about the trend and its role in the art world.

Given the widespread belief that the art world is frigid, elitist, or even irrelevant, it may seem a bit counter-intuitive to question anything that gives the masses a friendly introduction to the arts. . . and yet something remains oddly phony about the “Sip and Paint” Party; namely, the supposition that the art-world equivalent of putting together IKEA furniture or pouring water into a pouch of pre-made cake mix could not only be a placeholder in absence of the “real thing”, but could actually be the real thing.

Below is the information as best as I can relay it about my own experiences teaching Paint-and-Sip style classes, and some useful links I have used when I have given advice and taught them privately.

***Disclaimer: I taught paint and sip classes for extra cash, and I have no art degree. I majored in Psychology and am self-taught, so this information below is either from my cited sources listed at the end of the post, anecdotal, or opinion. If you work at a local Paint-and-Sip, I have not named your business, I really don't care what you do. If you are an art lover and want me to teach you to paint, you can email me or send me a social media message and I will be happy to recommend a number of good local artists that teach (I learned the basics from practicing artists who still sell work today) depending on your medium. 

one of my demos that I never used in a class, it hung several
places for "filler" and received a lot of compliments. 
1. There are a few major companies that franchise these businesses, and there are some startups that are run either by artists, or people who own other small businesses and just set up the events at their venues. From,

"Currently, (Jan 1 2014) There are about 200 "Paint and Sip" companies in the US and Canada with new companies opening up almost daily...

There only a handful of large scale players with more than 10 locations. 

Financials will vary widely between geographical location and business model. It's like asking about coffee shops - the difference between a small mom and pop coffee shop and Starbucks. It is a mixture of your location and surrounding population base, how many repeat customers, the appeal your paintings have, and how much effort you put into the business..."

One big question I had often this last year is how much money it costs to start everything. I can't give a super great answer because I worked for different places under-the-table and had to make copies of checks and receipts and mishmash them together at tax time.
You will need all the supplies for the number of your students you intend to teach, coverage of the overhead of your venue/space, coverage of travel expenses, advertising, and franchise fees if you franchise. copyright fees to register. I think in the end my total investment was around $2000, and that is not franchising but is the extremely low comparable end to a cheapie franchise or paying someone to set it all up for you. The reason it is such a get-rich-quick idea is, if you own your space, you can make that first part back quickly if you are fully booked (aka well promoted) and your price is set well.
What I have personally observed: Good instructors compensate where some businesses skimp on crappy supplies, and vice versa. (I did not say I was a good instructor)

2. There is nothing patentable about Painting and Sipping. The paintings can be copyrighted, and local laws must be obeyed, but no one owns the idea. Paying for the franchise opportunity means they assist you, advise on setup, and also you may use their database of already created and licensed artworks (or in some cases, ONLY those). In my city we have some that are franchise with multiple instructors and some that are run by artists. Some of the franchises may have management who are good businesspeople and fans of art but do not make it themselves. Some that are run by artists are the only instructor, some don't mind sharing the class load and teaching a variety of styles. I read a statistic somewhere but still searching for the source to update this post, that the average paint-and-sip business owner (this is an average of all of them experienced/franchise/ artist-run/etc) has only 1-3 years art experience.

*Something you may not know about the franchised paint-and-sip businesses: They will often advertise as "local" businesses, because they have local owners who bought the franchise, and may choose to have a slightly different/altered DBA name. My uncle's 2nd wife has a son who owns one a local franchise in my state that is not technically based in Oklahoma, but they take part in all of our local-business-support networks, promotions, and programs. 

3. Sipping = alcohol and alcohol laws and alcohol permits. If they don't know when you call them what sort of alcohol permit they have or need to have for their public painting parties, they probably don't know what they are. If they are using shifty flier verbiage, you may want to clarify.
For questions, that agency in my state is ABLE
Now here is a BIG confession: I have never seen an ID checked at a painting party even when kids were there. Obviously one has to be 18 to have a credit card, but not a debit card, and that is usually how reservations for seats are taken. Sometimes I have seen actual bartenders advertised at events I have not worked myself, sometimes I have seen events labeled as "BYOB."  I have been asked twice by other artists "how are you serving alcohol at your parties/ How are you legal to do this???" and had to defer to the venue because the information was not shared with me. At one legitimate business venue where I worked a beer/wine permit was plainly displayed., in one out of FOUR public places where money was exchanged for goods/services. 
Note: I very much doubt there are going to be any prohibition-era style stings on your painting party if they don't have their booze permits in order, but if worst case scenarios that sometimes happen with alcohol sales and public places and driving home happens, there's always that and whatever reasons those laws were there in the first place. My first instructor position was at a shop located by a bar and a group of ladies showed up already drunk to my first class. I could not prevent this. 

4. Calling the paintings created in class/party session time "masterpieces" is marketing. I hope everyone realizes this. I have never called a painting I have made even for solo gallery shows a "masterpiece" and find this term a little off-putting even when I have had to put it on my own flier. I know it's a flattery thing, but one is making 2-hour paintings, with materials that are educational/student grade most of the time. Now... you can get a good painting with that. You can get a "sellable" painting with that (yes I have heard half of a class of 30 chirp about how they 'can't wait to put it on Etsy/eBay/etc') but it is a painting that is executed in step by step fashion... My demos were paintings I completed in 45 minutes to an hour, to make sure I had plenty of time to teach them.
I have always described paint-and-sip as standup comedy, because the instructor is really just entertaining the audience. 

 A few of the paintings I never taught and just sold (mini-rant ahead...)  "I love your work, it's worth every penny" doesn't count as currency to my mortgage guy or my electric company. One purpose of learning a painting step-by-step in a traditional art class is to learn how effects are achieved through certain techniques, like learning how light wraps around volumes or a Master mixed their colors or executed certain textures by trying to duplicate them... If you crank out masterworks in 2 hours and you are at one of these, you are probably showing off, also.... who let your broke-ass in? you are supposed to be starving and tagging buildings... ;)

5. Speaking of paintings, ever notice how many of them at these classes are alike? Visit multiple websites for the businesses, look around, and hopefully this shouldn't be a thinker.

6. If you work for a paint-and-sip as an artist instructor.. 
    Here is why... if you don't you are either "work-for-hire" or you will be under-the-table and they don't have to even file taxes for you, wait until you make just under the income cap for not filing taxes on you, and replace you. If you are hourly without a contract and they aren't counting you as a regular employee, you are missing some normal working condition things... like worker's comp insurance for one... Without a contract you have no legal recourse if they do not pay you, or if they misappropriate your images. As a work-for-hire any paintings you create could be automatically their property (this is the case in my state, any intellectual property created on company time and, in some cases even merely related to company time belongs to the company- I spoke to an attorney on this one!).  Confession: my very first paint-and-sip job I was recruited off of Etsy...  web conversations are (per my attorney's words) not a contract- you need the real deal if you want to use it later or think anything will come up.

I will say again. Emails are NOT contracts. Etsy convos are NOT contracts. Facebook messages are NOT contracts. Here is a good book you can buy used that has examples of artist contracts. Bring one if they won't draft one, meet in the middle. Redraft, repeat. I have pretty much been held back a grade in hard-knocks-art-school trying to learn this one.

Confession:  Why did I REALLY need a contract for some "need some extra bucks" work? Because, even as a work-for-hire I was allowed no bereavement leave or even the night off when my Dad passed, ending his 12-year battle with cancer in tandem with last year's May 20 tornado that was devastating to the area. Money was extremely important to the place I worked at the time, and at the time I took the jobs simply for money. It was the closest thing I felt to "prostituting my ability"...because I knew that someone younger and bubblier was behind me parroting my steps so they could do it the next night, and bring in more clientele with bigger wallets. This is standard in the "art world" but I could see it in front of my face more plainly in this sort of job, being executed by someone who cared as much about art as saving money on their shoes.

And yet I wanted to keep going, because it felt good, people telling me I was a good painter when I was painting this stuff that was not challenging to me, this stuff that was not what I really enjoyed or would hang on my walls at home.  But it felt good to make other people feel good...

that's what they kept asking me in interviews for new jobs... the question I could not answer,

"how to you comfort someone who is unhappy with their painting or struggling with it?"

They wanted to make sure no one found any pain or conflict in their art process...

and many times, no one did. Everyone was happy.

 but was it also simply because they were drinking?

7. There is real merit to what is being done, but it is a whole different animal than what some artists want or feel about art.  From '"Currently, (Jan 1 2014) There are about 200 "Paint and Sip" companies in the US and Canada with new companies opening up almost daily...

There only a handful of large scale players with more than 10 locations. 

Financials will vary widely between geographical location and business model. It's like asking about coffee shops - the difference between a small mom and pop coffee shop and Starbucks. It is a mixture of your location and surrounding population base, how many repeat customers, the appeal your paintings have, and how much effort you put into the business..."

"I had one woman tell me that this is the new yoga," adds Painting With A Twist's Deano.' - Painting is indeed therapeutic, there are lots of real art therapy programs out there. But this is a very trendy trend at the moment, so my final thought on the whole thing is to question its volatileness. It is a good thing it gives an opportunity for small businesses, but it muddles consumers to a confusion about copyrights and intellectual property.  Also, what was the thing that kept people who really wanted to create from seeking out affordable art lessons?  From the same Entrepreneur piece- "We're not trying to teach people to be artists," says Harriet Mills, who along with Emmy Preiss co-founded Wine And Design in Raleigh, N.C- Then what are you doing? People can go to a number of local parties any night of the week in my city and drink and have a good time and take home a painting... in places like the Plaza District and Norman's 2nd Friday Circuit of Art one can also find them just as affordable but with the investment value of artists who have had training or studio hours to create some really unique pieces.  It is strange when the owners admit they are just getting the consumers drunk and letting the play around then go home. Then again, these places have those painting parties too. OKC is slowly encouraging more socially activist and engaging art, and more interactive art... perhaps this is the answer? I guess I really want to see where everything fits together and some if it is better from a hindsight view. 


Paint-and-Sip Industry on Small Business Association discussion boards

Escape into Life: The Rise of the Painting Party

A Winning Business Idea: Wine & Paint |

****NOTE:   Comments have been disable for this post, because lately I have only been receiving spam and advertisements like "hey I can submit my art for your painting business!" and "Hey I have a paint and sip business book your party with MEEEEE!".... and that is NOT what this blog post and/or any related post(s) are about at all. If you have questions I have given lots of resources here and have written a followup post. If you want to hire me for consulting on your paint party business (as I have received many questions in email form that have taken much of my time from my regular art practice, and too many to answer for free/without a loss of regular income) my contact information is on the sidebar of this blog and on my main website linked in the header of this blog. Thank you for reading. ****