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Canvassing the Neighborhood

New franchises cater to bottled-up demand for creative fun


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A Bottle & Bottega instructor at the Chicago franchise location puts the final touches on her demonstration painting. In the background is the live model.  In deference to our more modest readers, we blurred out any sensitive areas of the painting.

Walking into Bottle & Bottega in Chicago for a group art lesson, I wasn’t sure which would be more intimidating: the prospect of painting a nude model or the realization that most of my fellow students were a part of a bachelorette party.

Fortunately, I had persuaded three franchise executives to accompany me on this maiden voyage—Amy Cheng, an attorney with Cheng Cohen; Debra Vilchis, vice president of Fishman PR; and Christine Picchietti, vice president, Sanderson & Associates. Vilchis was there to redeem herself after being tossed out of a college art class because she couldn’t stop giggling once the model took off his robe; Picchietti actually had talent; and Cheng was a good sport. I, of course, was working.

The idea is to bring your own wine—or in the case of the bachelorettes, shots—and snacks so you can socialize while following the instructor’s cues on sketching out the “painting of the day” before mixing colors and applying acrylic paint to a stretched canvas suitable for framing.Bottle & Bottega started life as Bottle & Brush, however, when the owners decided to franchise it, the name was too generic. “Bottega,” which is Italian for “a studio where apprentices go to paint along side the master,” turned out to be much more suitable, Stephanie King-Myers says, because it allows them to add other arts into the mix, such as mosaics, jewelry or decorating wine glasses.

Online reviews liken the classes to an alternative to the bar scene or going out for yet another dinner with your spouse. And, as we witnessed, it’s a classy substitution for the male stripper at a bachelorette party.

“I wonder if you had a female model if men would participate,” someone mused.

“Only if you let them paint the model—and I mean, the actual model,” I retorted.

We could have attended a co-ed class and painted a landscape or big flower—two subjects we likely would have had more success painting—but for some reason Ladies Night Out sounded more fun. We were told by several people the human form is one of the hardest subjects to paint. They were right.

After socializing in the “living room,” we moved into the studio, where multiple tables were set up with easels and paper-plate palettes with dabs of paint in primary colors.

“We like to call it art for the talentless and the tipsy,” announced King-Myers, an artist who started the concept with her husband before joining forces with Nancy Bigley, a seasoned franchise executive, who is now CEO.

We didn’t know it at the time, but their regular artists’ model was in an accident and hospitalized that day and King-Myers had to scramble to find a replacement. “I guess every business has it crisis moments and ours is telling 40 women their nude model isn’t going to show up. Thankfully, that crisis was avoided,” Bigley said later.

That might explain why the young man scoffed when I asked after class if the less-than-reverent crowd embarrassed him. “Noooo,” he scoffed, handing me his business card. “I’m an exotic dancer.”

Nathan (you don’t want to know his stage name) was the only man in the building, and he lounged comfortably on a settee facing the bachelorette party. I saw nothing, which may explain why my painting was anatomically incorrect. However, even the women with the full-Monty view weren’t particularly skillful in their renditions. At the end of class, the party girls posed with their paintings. I don’t think I’m going out on a limb here to say that nary a one of them will display their artwork at home. And that’s not because it’s a painting of a naked man; it’s because it’s a very bad painting of a naked man. (I left my canvas in my room at the Holiday Inn Express. I was tempted to hang it on one of the bare, white walls, ah, but for want of a nail….)

Our foursome turned out not to be tipsy, but three of us lived up to the talentless tagline: The exotic dancer in Vilchis’ painting looked like Abraham Lincoln. Cheng’s model was missing half of one leg and had a face akin to a Raggedy Andy doll. The instructor told me mine was very Matisse-like—although she may have been referring to his early work, when he was 2.

Picchietti’s painting, on the other hand,  was the one everyone pointed to as “amazing.” It was, but she didn’t have much competition.

The artists: Nancy Weingartner, Amy Cheng, an attorney with Cheng Cohen; Debra Vilchis, VP of Fishman PR; and Christine Picchietti, VP, Sanderson & Associates.

The concept

Bottle & Bottega, which just started franchising, is joining a fast-growing field of wine and art pairings, including several franchises, such as Wine and Design and the largest, Painting with a Twist, out of Louisiana. A quick search on Google turns up page after page of independents with clever names from Canvas & Cocktails in Denver, which sells beer, wine and champagne by the glass, to Spirited Art and Yes U Canvas. Rembrandt All You Can Art, a biz op touts customers will “leave with a better quality painting…that’s the difference.”

Kay Ainsley, of MSA Worldwide, who works with both new and large, established franchises, says that while she’s enjoyed the art/wine version in her hometown of Kennesaw, Georgia—which is always busy and requires reservations—she still has a concern that it is more of a fad than a long-term business.

Even Nancy Bigley admits she was a bit skeptical at first when she started talking to King-Myers about the concept. The two were paired up by the International Franchise Association’s mentoring program. “The more I started researching, the more excited I’d get about it,” she says about the concept. And while she had no intention of investing in a business at the time, she ended up partnering with King-Myers.

Bigley sees it as a way for people to have fun at a reasonable price in a rough economy. Classes range from $30 to $40. In addition to evening classes, they also offer day programs for children and corporate team building.  In addition to Ladies Night, they host a couples—or BFF—night, private parties and an evening with a concert by a live band.

Concepts like Bottle & Bottega have “longer legs” than a similar concept of painting greenware pottery that was all-the-rage a few years ago, according to Mary Ann McConnell of FranWise, who is developing its manuals. There is little inventory to keep on hand, and if people don’t like the subject being painted they can substitute another or come back tomorrow, she points out.

Whether people do keep coming back is still to be seen. However, King-Myers claims their bookings see a lot of repeat business. The four of us who attended Ladies Night, most likely won’t be repeat offenders, although I am thinking I might have to give the concept a few more tries. After years of posting my children’s scribbles on the refrigeration, I think an original painting by their mother may be just the perfect gift for their walls.

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