A Stroke of Genius
An interactive night of art and wine makes a winning combination
On a Wednesday evening, about 50 women and men paint Birds on a Wire. It sounds, perhaps, like a competition among professional artists; but the atmosphere in The Back Room of 98 Bottles in Little Italy is one of sheer camaraderie: people relaxing, drinking wine and filling 16-by-20 canvases with color. Artist-instructor Kari Powell guides them step-by-step over a three-hour per-iod. Artist assistants keep participants supplied with paint, while the 98 Bottles staff fill drink and food orders.
Chris Muylle, owner of Painting and Vino, brought the concept to San Diego in March 2011, after kicking it off in San Francisco.
“I am the perfect example of our typical clientele,” he says. “Ninety-five percent of them have no [art] experience.” Muylle got the idea after painting at a similar event instructed by his brother in Indiana. “It’s a great social atmosphere — a great place to meet new people,” he says.
Tammy Fitzgerald, a VA San Diego nurse, finds attending the events on a regular basis therapeutic. “All of the stress of the day just flows with the paint onto the canvas,” she says. “I have brought 11 co-workers at different times with me, and nobody is ever disappointed.”
A walk around The Back Room reveals a range of styles, even though everyone is painting Birds on a Wire. One woman ignores the suggested palette of yellow, brown, green and aqua — favoring a red/orange/yellow background. Her friend opts for all blue and green.
Grant Nixon (like many of the people in the room, there for the first time) skews from the format itself, turning his canvas horizontal.
“It’s always good to have that nonconforming person in the room,” says the Marine Corps second lieutenant, who brought his girlfriend with him.
“I did better than I expected,” he says in the end. “It was surprising in the fact that I didn’t know it was actually a class. I expected they would give you paints and an easel and you sit down and paint what you want to paint. I didn’t know we would all be painting the same thing. That being said, it’s kind of cool to see the different perspectives that people had.
“It was a great time,” he continues, “plus wine helps. And the music was good. There was no pressure, no stress. It’s not like you are comparing yourself to the person next to you. It’s art.”
Angela Bailey, who works in international relief and community development and just returned to the San Diego area after six years in Africa, was “hanging out with friends” at Jake’s on 6th when she first saw a Painting and Vino event in action.
“I went to my first class thinking it was something my mom would enjoy,” she says. “When I brought the painting home, my mom was very inquisitive, so I knew she would be interested in going.” At 98 Bottles, she brought her mom and two friends visiting from the Bay Area.
One of four Painting and Vino artist-instructors, Powell recreates the finished painting (two are on display), guiding the participants on brush size, mixing colors and stroke technique. Occasionally, she walks the room.
“I actually like it when people ask questions,” she says.
Muylle interviewed 30 artists before opening business in San Diego. “We make sure they aren’t just talented, but also have that ability to entertain and instruct,” he says. “We try to avoid a classroom feel; we want to make sure people are having fun.”
That’s also part of the business plan for 98 Bottles, says co-owner Jill Mesaros.
“It’s very much in line with our mission to have people get together to do fun things,” she says. “They make new friends, and they’re experiencing something they haven’t done before. They find the creativity within themselves.”