“If you want a sharp edge, make sure you have plenty of paint on your brush,” says Cara Meek-Hinshaw, the artist instructor at a recent Vino van Gogh event held at Watermark Books. Participants are halfway through painting “A Rainy Day,” today’s instructed painting—a scene of a woman walking through the rain holding an oversized umbrella. So far they’ve swept blues and greens across the entire canvas to create rain, and then built up the woman’s red dress starting with a triangle for her torso.
Now Meek-Hinshaw is giving tips on producing the big black umbrella. She tilts the brush handle at an angle to help the budding artists visualize where the umbrella handle should go.
“If you’re scared about it, make it small and build it up,” she says, and then visits each participant individually, saying, “I love the different personalities that come out in this.”
“If you don’t like your painting, drink more wine,” the artist quips. In this restaurant setting, the painters relax with wine, coffee and salads from Watermark Café, and Meek-Hinshaw’s encouragement adds to the laid-back atmosphere. “Everybody’s painting will look different—it’s up to you. You’re in control.”
Sketching out a new company
This intersection of painting, eating, drinking and just chilling out is exactly what Brenda Schmidt imagined when she started Vino van Gogh four years ago in a Chicago suburb. She’d attended a similar edutainment event and was inspired to start her own company.
“Everybody is stressing about multitasking and being efficient, but in two or three hours everybody in the room just let their hair down and had a good time,” she says.
Putting her marketing background to work, Schmidt rolled the concept out to 14 different Midwest cities in four years—within each new community she sources local venues and artists to partner with. The artists are continually generating new painting concepts, and then breaking them down into step-by-step instructions that someone with no art background can understand and execute.
The company launched in March here in Wichita, and is currently holding events in The Hungry Heart, R Coffee House, Newport Grill, Allegro Café, Fox & Hound and Watermark Books. Schmidt expects the number of venues to increase soon: “After about 60 days we’ll have restaurants reaching out to us—they see the value of having an event in their location on a slower evening.”
Mothers looking for adult time, professionals who “want to get out of that very productive mindset” and book clubs in search of something new are just a few of the kinds of groups and individuals who enjoy the Vino van Gogh concept. Private parties can also be arranged for bridal or baby showers, or corporate team-building sessions. There are over 250 existing painting concepts to choose from, on a range of subjects.
Vino van Gogh sees many participants come back over and over. “They enjoy the experience,” Schmidt says. “It’s really about the community. It’s not about the art. … It’s a stress reliever and fun.” Everyone from church groups to work teams to gatherings of friends and family can connect over the experience.
“It’s based on the principles of being fun, not judgmental,” and also provides business for local artists and the restaurants. “We’re just delighted to be able to make such a great impact and let people play.”
As the Watermark event wraps up, two of the painters are already making plans to invite a third friend to a May event. A couple of other participants linger, putting the finishing touches on their masterpieces, with plans to display them proudly in their homes.