Happy hour art
Drink some booze and make some art at a local shop
Like many painters, Alissa Woods studied art in a few different places: Western Nevada Community College in Carson City, an art school in Denver, and in private lessons.
Like a lot of painters wish they had, she also spent 12 years in marketing.
Her sister, Alanna Woods, is a bar-industry veteran with a sharp eye for interior design.
Late in 2011, they were planning to start a business, probably an art co-op, but they looked around town and couldn’t find quite the right space for it.
“In the midst of almost giving up, someone Facebook-messaged us,” says Alissa. The message alerted them to a cozy retail space on the block of St. Lawrence Avenue just west of Virginia Street. With Wedge cheese shop, a scaled-down Dreamers’ Coffee House, the Public House bar, and Aces Tattoo across the street, this block has become a stroll-worthy shopping destination.
In January, the sisters were suddenly in the right place at the right time. They opened a shop called Picasso and Wine, and it’s just what it sounds like, half wine bar, half painting school. (Though it’s no relation to the Picasso and Wine in Windsor, Colo. They only learned about that one when they were registering their domain name.)
They went to work personalizing the interior. It’s warm and comfortable with details fussed over just enough that, in February, it looked as if they’d been settled in half their lives. Distressed wood dining tables, an exposed brick wall, and elegant, bare-bulb lights echo the homey-retro-industrial-chic look that’s becoming the norm in the neighborhood. The flowers and candles on every table, a tidy row of wine bottles at the bar, and tidy rows of acrylic paints in half gallon jugs give it a meticulously well-organized yet relaxed style that’s uniquely Woods-sisters. Alanna went so far as to haul a huge piece of corrugated metal into her yard to let it rust artfully so she’d have a unique piece to make the antique-chic bar-front from.
One wall is lined with Alissa’s paintings: cheery, confident renderings of poppies in a vase, a few different version of aspens in a forest, an homage to like Van Gogh’s Starry Night, a Starry Night-inspired landscape diptych with a swirling, red sky, and a woman’s portrait that Alissa created Picasso-style, with bold, abstracted lines and a few vantage points at once.
Patrons can drop in for just a drink, or purchase a block of open-studio time. Fifteen dollars includes supplies, a glass of wine or beer, and possibly a few painting tips. The highlight activity so far is Alissa’s classes—specific, how-to sessions scheduled at happy hour, where students paint along with her as she introduces the basics of color mixing, applying paint, and cultivating an attitude that technical aptitude is great but getting hung up on perfection won’t help you.
“Do people ever get nervous?” I asked her.
“Totally. That’s what the wine’s for,” she replied.
On a recent Friday, four students, all women in their 30s, arrived to a painting class not nervous at all. A politely gregarious dog named Bozo greeted each person. It felt like happy hour, with the addition of a structured art project, as if the Woods sisters had simply decided that the list of traditional bar activities—karaoke, pool, trivia—should include an option for crafters.
The tables were carefully set, each with table-top easels, mason jars full of brushes and clean water, and a floral centerpiece. A Duran Duran song played in the background, lively but not too loud. Alanna, slightly dressed up for hosting, promptly brought each student a piece of red velvet cake, took their wine orders, and surprised them with jelly jars full of strawberry-blueberry-mint-infused water to drink.
A student told her, “You know, if you’re like this to us, we’re not going to leave, ever.”
One woman saw the Picasso-like portrait among Alissa’s samples and asked if the class could paint that one instead of the bright yellow guitar picture they’d intended to recreate that evening.
“I’ve been to the museum in Barcelona,” the student said. “I’m obsessed with Picasso.” After checking with the rest of the class, who OKed the idea immediately, Alissa easily changed gears and began pumping the requisite colors onto her palette.
Alissa, casual and stylish in a retro bob cut, lo-top Converses, and lipstick, began with the advice she always gives: Don’t get hung up on perfection, and feel free to stray from the assignment to make this picture all yours.
She explained how to mix brown and pink to get a skin tone like the one in her sample painting. She painted the silhouette of a face, and the students copied it un-self-consciously.
The two-hour class ended three hours later. By then, each student had taken her Picasso-esque painting in its own direction.
Alissa recounts, “They all decided to make her look like themselves. One had red hair. None of them looked alike. Those girls were a hoot. It was so much fun. We posted the pictures on Facebook. It got hilarious about the time we started putting the hair color on. They said, ’I want mine red;’ ’I want mine auburn.’ One girl’s was all gothic: ’I’m totally gothic inside.’ I totally push people to do that, if that’s something they want to do.”
The students took home their new works right after class. Alissa says she thins the acrylics a little with water before using them and coaches people not to use excess paint, tricks that helps speed drying time so students can leave with paintings that aren’t dripping wet.
Picasso and Wine has several similar evening sessions on the calendar, a weekend series called “Bottomless Mimosa Mornings,” wine and cheese pairings, and discounted classes on Tuesdays. In mid-March they’ll begin classes for kids and families.
Alissa and Alanna are also planning a few different ways to branch out into the community. They’re considering forging relationships with a few different non-profits. They’re currently considering two different animal rescue foundations, and they’ve scheduled a mid-March class called “We HeArt Reno Bike Project” to benefit Reno Bike Project’s “We HeArt Bikes” exhibit in April.
“We’re going to focus the class on doing bicycle art,” Alissa explains. “I’ve been playing around with some ideas. It’s going to depend on the level of artistic ability of the people who sign up. I’m thinking about a couple different options for them to choose from. … We are taking Picasso and Wine on the road. We’re going to start holding satellite classes in Sparks, Gardnerville, Carson City, and south Reno [at bars and restaurants].”
They’re also planning summer classes for children, event partnerships with local organizations, and, of course, plenty more happy-hour painting sessions.
Although Picasso and Wine has only been open a couple of months, Alissa says she’d already learned a lot, and she feels her students have, too.
“I stepped away from doing art, and coming back to it is so therapeutic,” she says. “A lot of people who come to the class, they say the same thing after about the first hour. You focus. You don’t think of anything except that painting.”