How to Teach a Paint-Sip Art Class Without Losing your Soul (or your Mind!)

By Niki Hilsabeck in Art Business Advice > General Art Advice

When I first heard about the concept of a paint-sip (also known as paint and sips, art parties, wine & canvas parties, etc) I’ll admit that I shuddered. Why would a bunch of people want to walk out of a painting class with the same painting as 20 other people?

The topic came up again and again in my own art workshops though, and soon I began to entertain the idea of teaching one just for the experience. I’d taught art classes with step-by-step paintings before, so I figured I at least had some experience with the format.

And now, after teaching paint-sips over the last few years, I’ve put together a list of tips that have helped me survive and even enjoy the paint-sip experience!

Art materials for a paint-sip class (brushes, paint, pencils, etc)

Tip 1: Work from your own artwork

Once I’ve set a date, time, and fees for my paint-sip, I begin the hunt for the ideal painting to teach during the event. In my experience, I’ve found it best to select one of my own paintings and simplify it for a beginner student level.

Typically I’ll browse my own artwork on my website, and use a stylus to draw over it on my phone. I break the painting down into sections, and number them in order I think would work best during the lesson. (You can also print out a picture of the painting and draw sections on paper.)

If this sounds a lot like one of those old paint-by-number methods of painting, you’re absolutely correct! Most paint-sip participants will want to walk away with a painting that looks just like yours at the end, so make it easy for them by simplifying the painting and the composition accordingly.

You also shouldn’t pick a painting that needs advanced techniques or skills to finish (but more on that in Tip #3).

Tip 2: Paint it yourself, step-by-step, and take notes!

I can’t stress this enough: the number one way to successfully teach a painting step-by-step to a beginner level class is to paint it yourself ahead of time (often more than once) and figure out exactly what steps are required.

When I schedule a paint-sip, I plan the painting weeks before the event, if possible. After selecting a work and simplifying it with numbered sections, I begin the process of making the trial painting. As I work, I document every step with photos, reminders, names of colors, brush sizes, and painting tips. The more notes and photos you have available, the less room for error there will be on the day of the event.

Many people who attend paint-sips are making a painting in a class for the first time, and their anxiety level is often high. Most attendees just want to experience the joy of making a painting step-by-step with an experienced teacher. The more you can anticipate their questions and needs ahead of time, the smoother the class will go.

Once you’ve got the painting done to your satisfaction, consolidate your notes into a basic lesson plan with numbered steps for you to follow. Type or print it clearly, and—if possible—have some visual aids next to each step as well (like a sketch or a photo next to its corresponding step). If you’re sending a supply list to someone else for the event, now is the time to pass it along with a detailed list of brands and colors.

While you’re painting and planning, don’t forget to plan your timing—if a painting takes you an hour or so to make (even with all of the stopping and documenting) add an hour to that time for your students.

Then, make a full time schedule for the class itself, including a little time to socialize in the beginning and a break before your last hour or so of the class. I usually plan my use of colors with one big water change-out/brush cleaning in mind toward the last third of the painting time, which is a natural break time where people can get up and refresh their drinks and check out their paintings from a few feet back.

Changing out water might seem like a simple exercise, but add in 25 people (and one sink), tight space, and wine, and it becomes a big event!

Spending so much time planning might sound cumbersome, but I can assure you that you’ll be grateful for the time you put into it. As a former public school teacher, I learned early on that the higher the needs of my students, the more planning I needed to put into my lessons (at any age level!) Having a thorough plan in place also helps combat any jitters you might feel as you begin teaching your paint-sip.

Tip 3: Teach the painting, not how to be an artist

As you’re planning the painting, resist the urge to actually teach the participants how to become artists. That might sound funny, considering they’re coming to a painting class, but the goal is to teach your class how to make one particular painting for one scheduled night—not art theory, not composition and technique, and definitely not how skilled you (the teacher) are as an artist.

Can you show your students a few tips and tricks? Of course! They’ll love learning a couple of artist’s secrets. Just keep it to one or two basic techniques, and think of the rest of the painting as “filling in” all of the sections.

You can still educate your participants on things like names of brushes, specific colors and their complements, and typical mistakes to avoid. Just remember to keep the focus on the painting steps, and sprinkle the occasional art buzzword or technique tip as a bonus for those who are interested.

If you’re teaching a painting that has drawing involved, don’t be afraid to make paper stencils for your students to use. Those students who aren’t comfortable drawing will be more than grateful for them!

Remember also that your students might not have your uniquely built artist muscles—a lot of brushing and blending might be enjoyable for you, but could be painful for participants whose arm and hand muscles are not as strong.

Tip 4: Arrive early and set up strategically

D-day is here! If you’re like me, you’ve looked forward to the actual day with a mixture of anticipation, curiosity, and anxiety.

Make sure you have a list of your supplies before you begin packing for the event. Plan to arrive early so that you can make sure the room is arranged the best way possible for the experience.

While setting up your space, make safety your first priority: no food and drink stations near the paint supplies! Make sure there is room for participants to move around without tripping or knocking things over. Leave room for walkers and wheelchairs if needed. Set up your demo area so that everyone can see you as clearly as possible.

The more you pre-arrange the space for the participants, the smoother the transition will be when it’s time to start class. I like to lay out a sample paint palette (often a paper plate) and have the participants get their own paints.

Having a helper take over handing out pre-made palettes with paint helps too (and limits wasted paint). Having the painting spaces set up with canvas, brushes, water, and paper towels leaves the participants free to pick up their paint palettes and claim their spaces before they get their food and drinks and socialize.

Tip 5: Grow a thick skin

The first paint-sip I taught went so smoothly, I was elated. I was so grateful that it went off without a hitch (and turned out to be fun) that I immediately looked forward to teaching more. I had to remind myself that the success of that event came from a combination of beginner’s excitement and a good painting crowd.

As I began to teach more paint-sips (some that were alcohol free) I learned to anticipate the less fun parts.

For example, each event is going to have a different type of crowd. The goal of the event is to make sure everyone (or at least most everyone) has a good time making their paintings. Unfortunately, some people aren’t going to have a good time. Some people are going to love their finished paintings, and one or two might hate them.

You may also have to get comfortable as the teacher with practically painting over someone’s painting (definitely not in my comfort zone!)

It sounds strange, but some people will show up with no intention of making the painting you are teaching. I address this at the beginning of the class by letting the participants know that it’s their own painting time, and how they spend their painting time is up to them.

If someone is completely ignoring you and using the provided supplies to make their own painting, just smile and nod encouragingly (but don’t waste your time on what they’re actually painting).

You’ve put in the planning and effort to make the event as enjoyable as possible, so just let the uncomfortable experiences roll off your back. Find the people who are enjoying themselves, and let their energy rub off on you. Most people will enjoy the experience you provide for them—you can gently encourage those who aren’t, but don’t let those people take over the mood of the room. Keep your sense of humor and smile!

If the majority of the group had a great time and wants to pick up a paintbrush again sometime in the future, congratulations! You hosted a successful paint-sip.

Tip 6: Be gracious!

The paintings are completed. Participants are walking around and checking out each other’s finished pieces. People are starting to head to the sink to wash out their brushes.

This is usually the part of the paint-sip where I feel like crawling under one of the tables and taking a nap.

Fortunately, this is where people often demonstrate that wonderful human quality of kindness and offer to clean up their workspaces. Nod gratefully and thank them! If they offer you tips, and you’re allowed to take them, accept them with a smile and handshake. Take pictures with the participants and thank them for coming.

I’ve often made the mistake of letting my own stress over the success of a paint-sip cloud my thinking—classes I’d thought were drawn out and frustrating had been therapeutic and fun for my students. The delight on participants’ faces when they see their completed pieces really is worth the work of the event!

So be gracious and say goodbye to each of your guests with a compliment, a thank you, and a wave or handshake. After all, if you’d like to teach more paint-sips, leaving your participants with a positive impression is a great way to encourage them to come back to you in the future!


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