Everyone was an artist as a child. Many adults, however, have lost touch with their artistic sides and do not feel very confident in their abilities. After a class at Bellingham’s Uptown Art, all of that changes. Here, people of all ages come together, socialize and paint in a stress-free environment.

Uptown Art's Bellingham studio, located on Bellwether Way, opened a little more than three years ago. Photo credit: Tessa Kilcline.
Uptown Art’s Bellingham studio, located on Bellwether Way, opened a little more than three years ago. Photo credit: Tessa Kilcline.

Uptown Art in Bellingham is one of 19 Uptown Art locations across the country. The business belongs to the paint and sip industry, defined as group painting lessons accompanied by wine or other beverages. The industry began in 2005, after Hurricane Katrina, when a pair of women decided to hold a painting class for the families affected by the disaster. It began as one small class in Louisiana but eventually it became very popular and spread across the country. Uptown Art in particular was founded by Vicky Meade and Tiffany Nesmith in Franklin, Tennessee. The Bellingham location is the only one on the West coast and is owned by Robert Mishkin.

Mishkin describes the paint and sip studio as an entertainment venue, rather than an art class or an open studio. He also says that it is not a place where accomplished painters come to paint. “It’s really a place for people who haven’t held a paintbrush in years, or decades, who are looking for something fun to do—a new kind of entertainment,” Mishkin explains.

Participants do not need to be professional painters. It is designed to be a social activity, something for people to do with their friends when they want to go do something different. Uptown Art caters to people of all ages. Mishkin says that they get people from ages eight to 85. Classes are very welcoming and are filled with a variety of people.

A large class paints a wintry scene, one of over 20 paintings that participants can paint at events. Photo courtesy: Uptown Art.
A large class paints a wintry scene, one of over 20 paintings that participants can paint at events. Photo courtesy: Uptown Art.

Uptown Art holds regular classes nearly every day, with multiple classes per day. A typical class is two or three hours long. Each individual event has a painting chosen to go with it in advance. There are many different options, so would-be participants can pick a day and time based on which painting they would like to create. In addition to regular classes, they also host private parties. They have groups come for birthday parties, bachelorette parties and team-building events, among other things. A full schedule of classes can be found on Uptown Art’s website.

The first thing one sees upon entering Uptown Art for a class is the many brightly-colored paintings on the walls. Those paintings show the options for those who wish to come and paint. Besides the paintings on the walls, the studio has tables with stools and easels with blank canvases. There is a bar near the door.

At an average class, participants will arrive, get a drink and find a seat. The instructor will introduce him- or herself and give each participant all necessary paints, paintbrushes and other tools. The instructor then begins demonstrating how to recreate the chosen painting, step by step. Instructors tell participants which color and which paintbrush to use. Then participants slowly create their own paintings. One instructor likens it to painting by numbers. There are frequent refill and bathroom breaks. The atmosphere in a class is very relaxed.

"We see people from age five to 85. They come alone, they come in small groups, they're sometimes part of a team-building event. They could be attending a birthday party, participating in a bachelorette party or a social network. We even have red-hat ladies," Mishkin says. Photo courtesy: Uptown Art.
“We see people from age five to 85,” Mishkin says. Photo courtesy: Uptown Art.

First-time participants Melissa Goff and Nicole Perratta were excited when they walked into class but they were also nervous that their own paintings would not look like the example. Both said afterward that it was easier than they expected.

“First and foremost,” Mishkin says of the experience he hopes people will have at Uptown Art, “we want people to feel comfortable, to feel safe, to feel that they are not going to be judged by their efforts. And in return, we ask them to promise not to judge themselves.” He hopes that people will not become self-critical and will instead use the opportunity to express themselves and to feel good. His goal is certainly carried out well. Participants come out of the experience feeling relaxed and good about themselves. Most are surprised by how well their paintings turn out.

Uptown Art provides a unique opportunity for people of all ages to hang out, relax, paint, get their hands a little dirty and have fun with their friends. “I am proud of what we do,” Mishkin says. “I see people coming anxious and I see them leaving feeling good. It’s very rewarding.”

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