I’ve got a question for those of you not involved in the art world: When was the last time you painted something? Maybe when you took that last mandatory art class about halfway through high school? Even though it’s been a while for many adults, those creative juices are still there just waiting to be tapped into—and now there is a booming industry catering to that desire. It’s called social painting, or paint–and–sip, and can be found in just about every city in the United States—usually featuring a patient art instructor, one painting being imitated by a roomful of novices, and a few bottles of wine.

One of the first paint–and–sip businesses, Painting with a Twist, began in New Orleans in 2007 while the city was still recovering from the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. What had started as a meeting place for local women to socialize and a platform for artists to network has grown into a huge franchise with more than 200 locations; its motto is “It’s fun art, not fine art!” They are far from the only ones tapping into this desire for a casual art environment; other dedicated paint-and-sip outfits such as Wine and Design and Pinot’s Palette have locations around the country, while Paint Nite—specializing in one–night events in bars and restaurants—has gone international, hosting more than 1,100 events across four continents.

Recently, I visited The Clayroom in Brookline, Massachusetts, with a friend to see for myself what all the hype is about. The place was packed on a Wednesday night; for $30, they provide unlimited wine and cheese, plus—diverging from the canvases of a typical paint–and–sip operation—$20 worth of pottery.

Every seat was occupied, with happy patrons alternating between sipping Trader Joe’s pinot grigio out of plastic cups, snacking on an assortment of Wheat Thins, warm brie and pre–sliced cheddar, and adding splashes of color to their pre-made pieces.

They had your typical ceramic plates, bowls and cups, but also a nice selection of cute animals. I liked having an array of choices—one of the reasons I went with The Clayroom instead of a Paint Nite event or the local Painting with a Twist franchise was that I wasn’t sure how I felt about painting the same thing as everyone else in the room. I decided on a pensive–looking brontosaurus and a lion whose head comprised about 80 percent of his body. I then spent the next three hours decorating my animal friends in wild hues that wouldn’t be found in nature: Lester the Lion ended up with a dark purple body, while Bernie the Brontosaurus was a dark green and sported a few crude blue stars on his back. I loved every minute of it, and I can’t wait to pick up my creations from the kiln this week.

Did You Know?

Social painting isn’t just for the wine and beer crowd! Many places, such as The Paint Bar, offer special kids’ days, so the whole family can get in on the fun. They even throw kids’ parties!