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Just add wine: Paint parties unleash the inner artist

Cancer survivor Mandy Fife has made YOLO (You Only Live Once) her battle cry. “I’m bucket-listing all over the place these days,” she says. “I had chemo last year and I made it, and now I don’t want to miss out on anything.”

Fife doesn’t fear much anymore, but there is one thing that has continued to intimidate the Fort Meade resident in spite of all she’s conquered.

“I love anything to do with crafts, but I’ve never really been a painter and I just don’t know what to do with a blank canvas in front of me,” she says.

Which is exactly why she was sitting at Mimi’s Cafe in Elkridge with a white-as-snow 16-by-20 gallery-wrapped canvas propped in front of her. Fife and her daughter-in-law Peggy were part of a crowd of about 30 seated in one of Mimi’s dining rooms for Wine & Canvas -- one-shot art classes held throughout the Baltimore area. For $35, participants take a step-by-step painting class and leave at the end of the night with a piece of art they created that is ready to hang. During the evening, they are free to order food and drinks from the menu, and most had at least a glass of wine or two while they painted.

“It’s a fun night out with your friends,” explains Rachel Middleton, who owns the business with her husband, Steve. “You can have something to eat and drink, get as creative as you’d like, and at the end of the night you have a great piece of art to take home.”

The Middletons fell in love with Wine & Canvas back in their hometown of Indianapolis, where the company headquarters is located. “We got tickets to an event as an anniversary gift, and we had so much fun,” Rachel recalls. “We’d never tried to paint, but at the end of the night what we had looked amazing. We thought, ‘If we can paint and it looks like this, anyone can.’ ”

The couple, who vacationed frequently in Maryland, bought the Baltimore franchise and relocated this year. Their first Wine & Canvas night was in July, and now they are booking about 20 events a month at area restaurants. In addition to Mimi’s, Wine & Canvas events are scheduled at Rams Head Tavern in Savage, Alexandra’s American Fusion at Turf Valley, and La Palapa and Portalli’s in Ellicott City.

“Restaurants love us because we bring in customers on what may typically be a slow night,” she says. “And participants get to try a restaurant they might not otherwise have gone to.”

Sisters-in-law Mandy Zeller of White Marsh and Megan Zeller of Abingdon had attended a Wine & Canvas event in Towson and had so much fun they signed up for the night at Mimi’s.

“It’s a fun night away from the kids, and I really liked the artwork I did the first time,” says Mandy Zeller. “It’s not a work of art, but it’s good enough to hang in my hallway where other people can see it.”

Emily Black, a Baltimore City elementary school art teacher who grew up in Clarksville, led the event at Mimi’s, in which the painting project was a colorful, whimsical piece called “Child’s Tree.”

“A lot of people who come are nervous at first because a blank canvas can be very intimidating,” she says. “But I walk everyone through, step by step, so you can just have fun with it. Once people feel comfortable, they get really creative and customize what they’re painting to their personality or to coordinate with the room they want to hang it in.

“At one class we were painting a silhouette of Venice,” she adds. “One guy who attended did a silhouette of the Hogwarts School instead from Harry Potter. He even added a little silhouette of Harry Potter flying by.”

A calendar on the Wine & Canvas website, wineandcanvas.com/baltimore-md.html, highlights the art that will be painted at each event. Most are still life, ranging from flowers to the Baltimore skyline to a sailboat on the water. Participants must be at least 16 to attend a Wine & Canvas event, but the Middletons know there is an untapped audience in the under-16 crowd, so they are launching Cookies & Canvas this fall.

“We’ll be doing events for kids at Michaels in Columbia, as well as birthday parties,” Middleton says. “We already do lots of private events for adults, too. We can come to your house or we can do it at a restaurant, as long as you have at least 15 guests. We’ve also started booking team-building events for businesses -- without the wine, of course.”

Chelsea Stanton, of Glenwood, attended the Mimi’s event with her mother, Janice Stuart.

“It’s a lot of fun to follow along with the instructions, but then use your own style to make the painting your own,” says Stanton, adding that she planned to sign up for another event soon.

“I like wine, and I like crafts,” she says. “Wine & Canvas is a great combination of both.”

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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