Booze and art have long gone together like absinthe and Van Gogh.

But can anyone be taught to turn a blank canvas into a finished painting in three hours while holding a paintbrush in one hand and a glass of wine in the other?

That's the promise of Wine and Canvas, a business that recently started up in the Twin Cities that hosts painting/drinking classes at local restaurants. The company's website shows events around the Twin Cities for August almost every night.

For a $35 fee (plus your bar tab), the company provides the supplies and instruction while up to 50 amateur artists take home a work of art created by their own hands. It's a little like that art class from camp, only with Merlot.

A recent event in a party room

at Salut Bar Americain on St. Paul's Grand Avenue attracted about two dozen women and one man. That's typical, according to Wine and Canvas owner Erik Swenson of Andover.

About 85 percent of his customers are women, the others typically being husbands or boyfriends dragged along for the experience.

Swenson said the idea of sipping wine and creating art has a romantic appeal for women, but men apparently shy away from trying something they think they won't be good at.

"You need to call it 'beer and canvas,' " said Kathy Pope, who came to the class from Minnetonka.

Marcie Dewalt of Shoreview compared the painting class to a pottery-painting event she also attended. "That was a lot of girls. No men there, either," she said.


a guy to go to the theater is hard. Anything other than the movies is hard," Dewalt said.

Which might make Bill Laramy the best husband in town. The 53-year-old Eagan resident came to the class with his wife, Kathy, but it was his idea.

Since 1988, the couple have been taking turns planning a monthly date night, and this was what Bill came up with for July.

"This is one of my most favorite dates," Kathy said. "It's totally out of our comfort zones."

After the drink orders were taken, the would-be artists examined their tools: five paintbrushes and a paper plate with blobs of acrylic paint.

Their assignment was to reproduce an iconic image first created by artist Robert Indiana, seen in sculptures and on postage stamps, in which the capital letters "LOVE" are stacked on each other with the "O" tilted to one side.

Sounds simple, but many were intimidated by the 16-by-20-inch blank canvas.

"I've never painted a wall. I've never painted anything," Dewalt said.

"I thought they would've penciled in the lines for us," said Shelly LaBarre of Centerville.

Swenson, a largely self-taught artist, was first hired to teach Wine and Canvas classes in Indianapolis about two years ago before he set up a branch of the company

in Minnesota this spring.

He said he doesn't have a lot of formal art education but he used to be a fourth-grade school teacher, so he knows how to break down a task into simple steps, such as: Find a point in the canvas about half a brush length from the side, and put a dot there. Then draw a straight line to connect a couple of the dots. Then draw a curve.

"We've taken art off a pedestal," Swenson said.

As the work began, the room soon filled with the sounds of mostly feminine self-critique and encouragement.

"Oh. Oh. That's so sad," said one painter.

There were pauses to take pictures of the art in progress and to sing. Two people at the class were celebrating birthdays.

And by the end of the night, everyone seemed to have managed to paint the letters LOVE on their canvas. Many said the finished products would end up on their walls at home.

"Totally fun," said Kathy Laramy. "It was so different. You didn't have to be perfect. I was very surprised at how it came out."

Ann Potter, a 34-year-old St. Paul resident, said the event was a way to unwind after work that was more creative than the usual happy hour.

Plus, she noted that Swenson, 29, and his assistant, Kyle Krueger of St. Paul, were cute.

"I didn't know we were going to be taught by dudes," she said. "I mean, they look like nice young men."

Richard Chin can be reached at 651-228-5560.


For more information and a calendar of upcoming events, go to