If Pablo Picasso were alive and camping on Lake Winnipesaukee, he might head to Bedford Wednesday night for the grand opening of the Canvas Road Show, the latest paint- and-sip studio to open in Southern New Hampshire.
Art entrepreneurs throughout the country have been spreading a hot trend that combines a glass or two of wine with an art lesson to offer a new option to traditional night life. Participants relax, chat and sip their favorite vintage as they follow the lead of a professional artist who demonstrates how to create a finished, living-room-wall-worthy painting in a couple of hours.
"People need this, it's all about trying something new," said Bedford resident Debbie Ellis, a professional photographer and owner of the Canvas Road Show.
Ellis decided to open a paint-and-sip studio after visiting one in Newton, Mass. There seems to be no stopping the paint bars, which are growing in popularity in the Northeast. The Muse in Manchester hosts several painting sessions and parties every week and a sign in a storefront in Nashua's Main Street is promising Gate City its own paint-and –sip studio will open soon.
That doesn't surprise Ellis who feels the paint bars provide a combination of benefits. Not only do they offer people who have no art training or background a chance to express themselves on canvas, the process of painting keeps everyday worries and frustrations at bay.
"Painting helps people relax and have some fun," said Ellis. "Everyone is so stressed, and painting can be a mini-escape. The way you focus on painting can really help clear your brain."
Ellis launched the Canvas Road Show in the fall of 2012 as a traveling event that set up in bars, restaurants and other businesses. She organized painting events for private parties, organizations that wanted fundraising activities, kids' birthdays, bridal showers, anniversaries and other gatherings and celebrations.
The new studio, at 176 South River Road, will give her a chance to host regular paint-and-sip evenings open to the public. The studio will serve wine, beer and small snacks or people can bring their own.
Admission to paint-and-sip events is typically $35 to $45. Ellis and the Road Show staff provide easels, canvases, paint, brushes, smocks and endless encouragement.
Ellis has a team of professional artists who show people, step-by-step, how to paint different scenes and abstract designs. Compositions are fairly simple, and painters can either follow along with the lead artist, or experiment with their own colors, shapes and ideas. Paintings are done in acrylic paint, which dries quickly for the ride home.
"I try to challenge people with one or two different techniques like blending colors," said Sarah Scribner of Derry, one of the Canvas Road Show lead artists. "Most people who come haven't ever picked up a paint brush."
Ellis said people sometimes feel intimidated or unsure about painting, which is where the wine or beer comes in. But Ellis and the other Canvas Road Show staff also offer painters individual advice and support.
"I always tell people to keep painting and trust the process," said Ellis who added that often, people are surprised and pleased with what they've accomplished at the end of the night.
"People tell me that their families think they bought their paintings," she said.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, which tracks how Americans spend their money, household entertainment budgets have increased by 58 percent since 1995. Even in bleak economies, people still spend on recreation and entertainment.
Over the past decade, however, more people are investing their recreational dollars in audio and visual equipment and services and computers and software. Spending on location-based entertainment such as sporting events, movies, theme parks and concerts has remained steady, accounting for 8 percent of consumer entertainment budgets, expect for high income households.
According to the BLS, people with money to spend still opt for an evening out, and those people are continually searching for new places to go and things to do.
Ellis said the paint-and-sip studios offer a different experience that's both social and restorative. And people leave each event with a finished piece of art.
"People are happy to have this in Bedford," she said. "And I'm happy to be here."