Socializing and sipping blend for a fun time.

Skidging. That’s what my painting needs, more skidging.

The problem, you see, is my mountain ridge. It’s way too smooth, smoother than anything that exists in nature. I can’t help it. When instructed to paint or draw something, some orderly component deep within my head demands straight lines. Consistency, that’s what my brain wants, even if it doesn’t look any good.

“You need variation,” artist Richard Dahlquist tells me. “Just skidge your brush. Like this. Let it kind of dance across the canvas.”

Richard demonstrates how to skidge — a word I’m pretty sure he made up on the spot. His ridge looks great. I completely understand what he’s trying to teach me, but as soon as my hand picks up the brush again, nope. It wants to paint straight across the canvas, neat and clean and even.

Nichole Bouyea appears next to my easel. The owner of Avant-Garde Maine art studio at 182 Lisbon St. in Lewiston, she makes it her business to give each of her amateur painters a little one-on-one time. She brings them paint and offers up encouragement to those sloppy souls who need it.

“It looks great,” she says of my mountain ridge with its infuriating evenness. “Don’t stress about it. This is a stress-free environment.”

She’s right, you know. If greatness was demanded from everyone who picks up a brush, amateur paint night events wouldn’t be as freakishly popular as they are right now.

Take a teacher that offers easy-going paint lessons, add a fun environment that encourages you to bring along a friend or two or three to socialize with, take it up a notch with some beer and wine, and you have a trend that has swept the nation. 

Bouyea is one of the many capitalizing on it, offering regular paint events as well as more traditional art instruction. Another is Melanie Therrien, owner of Wicked Illustrations at 140 Canal St. in Lewiston, who offers art parties in addition to other art instruction.

So popular is the trend it has been franchised. A company called PaintNite, with the motto “Drink Creatively,” teams up with bars or restaurants to host paint parties across the country. 

In the L-A area, Legends Sports Bar, Martindale, the Village Inn, Margaritas, Marco’s Ristorante and Davinci’s have been PaintNite venues, and it’s not uncommon to find PaintNites going on at diners and pubs in smaller towns like Turner and Greene.

Relax. Create.

In some places, it’s as much about drinking and socializing as it is about creating art — they don’t call it the paint-and-sip industry for nothing. That difference is drawing in clients for the PaintNite franchise and for established art studios like Bouyea’s.

“The concept allows you to do something that maybe you thought you couldn’t do, and provides you the opportunity to leave with your own painting that you created at a very reasonable price. These days with the hype around technology, the paint night concept allows you to shut down, give your brain a break and do something with your hands — in this case, paint!” says Bouyea.

She adds, “Having wine/beer/food available is an added plus. The paint night concept has provided a niche for people that allows them to take a break from the everyday things in life and participate in something that is very unique.”

There IS something to be said about adding booze to the mix. It lowers inhibitions. It makes the aspiring artist a little more bold, and that’s exactly what it takes to create something truly special.

“You’ve got to push yourself to create good art,” Dahlquist tells me. “You’ve got to take some risks.”

Easy for him to say. Dahlquist, who teaches art at Edward Little High School in Auburn, has been painting his entire life. He’s also cracking open a fancy pale ale while I’m frowning over a pine tree I painted onto my mountain ridge. Dahlquist leans over the table to assess my work.

“Nature,” he says, “is not perpendicular like that.”

For the next pine tree, I try to paint it at a more realistic angle. What I end up with is a tree that’s still perpendicular, but in a different direction.

Bouyea isn’t babysitting any of us through our paintings. She provides feedback and tips, but by and large she wants us to create something all our own. It’s a task that some take on with fearless gusto, while others, like me, fret and frown over from the very first brush stroke.

“I have no skills whatsoever,” says Cathy Brownrigg, who came in with a large group of women to celebrate her daughter’s birthday. “I’m stressed to the max right now.”

Brownrigg, her daughter and several other women are sitting at a large table, each with an easel in front of them. Most of them are drinking, and the gleeful chatter intensifies as the night progresses. In spite of that — or because of it? — the table sees an evolution of a half-dozen paintings.

We’re all painting the same thing — a mountainside with pine trees in the distance and birches in the foreground — but even early on, it’s plain to see that the final results will be a dozen unique paintings. And no stress — if you do it right.

It gets easier to see why paint parties have caught on.

“I think what we are seeing with the popularity of paint nights comes down to the fact that the concept has taken something that might be intimidating for most and made it attainable,” says Bouyea.

Right now, Bouyea’s clientele is mostly women. It’s a mix of young and old, she says, although those between 30 and 50 years of age seem particularly drawn to the paint n’ party night experience. Bouyea has started offering up couples nights in hopes of bringing more men into the mix.

Skidge me

Bouyea, a painter, ceramics designer and education professional, opened up her shop in the space formerly occupied by Bill Davis Smoke Shop. Now, instead of tins of tobacco and long rows of newspaper, the shop is filled with tables, each topped by virginal canvases just waiting to become art. The walls are lined with a variety of Bouyea’s works, and the room smells distinctly of paint. There’s a working bar at the far end of the room, but once you step foot into Avant-Garde you know it’s a place where artwork is born.

“I take a bit of a different spin at Avant-Garde and focus more on the personal instruction — leaving the stage and working with my guests . . .” Bouyea says. “I keep classes to no more than 25 people, which also allows us to have more focus on instruction/techniques. It is a subtle difference, but one that I think is important in maintaining the quality of the experience and insuring that everyone leaves feeling good about their piece.”

As it turns out, there wasn’t a truly bad piece of art produced at Avant-Garde the night Richard and I sat in. Some were actually quite stunning, in my humble opinion. The best were those that strayed from the script.

Brownrigg and her daughter each created landscapes with beautifully twisted birches and cartoonishly bent pines. Another painted gnarled birch branches that seemed to crawl over a red-hot sun. All of their hills rose and fell with the drama of roller coasters, and a few were bold enough to create two-toned skies. Richard, who was outed as a professional halfway through the evening, went so far as to use gobs of paint to create three-dimensional textures.

As forecast, no two images looked the same, though we were all working from the same template.

It was a night of temperamental and unpredictable art, created by a group of people who don’t paint much. Most of us hadn’t picked up a paint brush since we were in nursery school, and yet there we were, walking out the door with our own creations on canvas.

Mine? I still cringe over its orderly straight lines and its freakishly linear trees. I believe I will call this one “Skidging.”

A brush with creativity

Here are two local art studios that host paint parties as well as being places where an amateur can get his or her paint on. Check local listings or the web for other art opportunities in your area and for new businesses that jump onboard the Paint Party Train.

* Avant-Garde Maine

182 Lisbon St., Lewiston

[email protected]


* Wicked Illustrations Studio and Gallery

140 Canal St., Lewiston


* PaintNite

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