Happy hour meets art class in local venues

Anne Gaffey, left, owner of Paint Stix, helps Cathy Elliott of East Lyme while teaching a painting class at Filomena's Restaurant in Waterford.

Food as art, or art as food? How about art with food?

What's known as the "paint and sip" industry is branching out around the region, with variations on the theme of making art a social experience.

For three years, Felicia Stevens has been running The Drunken Palette at TDP Art Studio one block down from the Garde Arts Center in downtown New London. TDP's mission is art parties and group classes for all ages, from age 3 and up, and for any occasion, from birthday parties and wedding showers to fundraisers and business groups. Face and body painting is available, too.

While parents in search of birthday parties for little ones immediately appreciate an art class in a space that someone else sets up and cleans up, adults are recognizing the appeal of a relaxing evening with a paint brush and a glass of wine. And they don't have to put away the paints, either.

"It's addictive," says Stevens, who is pleased that TDP is becoming a social hub, as well as a place to create some art. "If you come in alone, you're going to meet other people."

TDP's space is available for parties and functions throughout the week; it provides the canvases, paints and brushes and art instruction. Patrons can bring in snacks, party food and beverages. It holds the adult BYOB group classes Wednesday through Saturday nights from 7 to 9 p.m. Reservations are recommended for groups or individuals, but walk-ins are welcome if space is available.

The two-hour class, including art supplies as well as drinking accessories - wine glass, bottle opener, cups, ice, water - and instruction, is $35. Glass painting is popular with adults, who can decorate beer steins, wine or champagne flutes or martini glasses.

TDP's New London studio can accommodate up to 90 people in a class, which opens up all sorts of corporate and team-building activities, Stevens says. The studio also recently expanded with a classroom in the Water's Edge Shops in Westbrook.

Stevens says the most eclectic mix of people she's had at TDP is a neighborhood group that comes in at least once a month. The staff calls it "Frank's group," after the heartbeat of the group.

"They're just wild and crazy, neighbors and friends, of all walks of life. It runs from a priest to a nurse practitioner," she says. "Everyone who meets them wants to join the group."

The newest twist in the New London studio is black-light painting. Students start with regular paints, then move into a black-light studio to finish them up with glow-in-the-dark paints that add a three-dimensional effect.

Looking for someone else to cook you dinner, as well as clean up your paint mess? East Lyme artist Anne Gaffey has launched PaintStix, a decorative arts instruction program that holds its sessions at local restaurants.

Gaffey, a self-taught artist whose creations have been featured in Better Homes and Gardens, has teamed up with Filomena's Restaurant in Waterford and Flanders Fish Market in East Lyme. Students pay $35 for a two-and-a-half-hour painting lesson, which includes materials and instruction from Gaffey, and then they order drinks and dinner from the menu.

"I just walked into Filomena's one day last summer, sat down with Bill Buscetto, and he was all for it," said Gaffey, who tested the concept with a focus group at the restaurant.

"It's a win for all of us," agreed Filomena co-owner Buscetto. While the restaurant's private dining room is often booked with family celebrations and business events the rest of the week, he says he likes how the painting classes on Monday nights bring in both regular customers and new ones.

On a recent Monday night, Gaffey's students worked on their versions of her stylized painting of a majestic oak tree at sunset, after they noshed on Filomena's grilled flatbreads and sipped some wine.

Gaffey's painting was an homage to editorial and corporate photographer Mark Hirsch. Hirsch's discovery of a 160-year-old burr oak tree and of his iPhone as a camera in 2012 turned into a year-long exercise of taking daily photos as he recovered from a near-fatal car accident. Hirsch's website and coffee table book, "That Tree," recount his daily visit to the lone tree, which he'd never noticed the previous 19 years as he rushed through life.

"I never painted a thing before in my life," said Cathy Elliott, an East Lyme resident who was back for her third lesson with Gaffey. "It's extremely empowering."

Gaffey, whose line of Anne's Canz! hand-painted recycled cans have been seen at Studio 33 in New London, Left Bank Gallery in Essex and Mystic Market East and West, got started making one-of-a-kind creations for interior designers. Her whimsical blue whale commissioned by Niantic Main Street in 2005 is on permanent display outside Niantic Cinemas. She also creates decorative floor cloths, painting on commercial grade vinyl flooring, and she has taught canvas painting and decorative arts classes to adults and youth.

"I had small kids, so I never had time to just paint to paint, to create an inventory," said Gaffey, a southern Californian who moved here in 2001. Her two children are now college age and beyond.

She plans to expand the PaintStix model to include in-home parties. She's also found interest from professionals, including dentists and doctors, for employee appreciation events.

"This is in its infancy," she said, pausing between brush strokes and offering pointers to her students.



The Drunken Palette owner Felicia Stevens, shown at TDP's New London studio
The Drunken Palette owner Felicia Stevens, shown at TDP's New London studio
Some wine glasses painted by Felicia Stevens, owner of The Drunken Palette on State St. in New London.
Some wine glasses painted by Felicia Stevens, owner of The Drunken Palette on State St. in New London.


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