In downtown Tuscaloosa, next to FIVE, is an art studio that has become a place of social gathering called Sips n Strokes. The idea of painting as a social activity is not new, as people have painted their caves and houses together for centuries.
Vicki Meads is the owner of this franchise and her partners are her two daughters, who run shops in Florida. The franchise is based in the South, with one location in Wisconsin. The idea of Sips n Strokes began in Birmingham in 2002.
Meads is proud of what the studio accomplishes.
“A lot of people claim to have no [artistic] knowledge, but ninety-nine percent of people leave happy,” said Meads.
For people who would like to learn how to make a painting, but feel like they do not know where to start, Sips n Strokes could be the place. To help break down the process, teachers Megan Neelsen and Kelly Magadan show the painters how to work from an image on their canvas.
The image is different for every class. Sips n Strokes has a schedule online with information on each new picture of the day. Ballet dancers, roosters and Alabama elephants grace the walls, but what really stands out are the colors of the paintings of more nondescript images such as a vase of flowers. The colorful, loose paintings attempt to convey that the studio is made for fun.
“A lot of people don’t have a place to express themselves,” Neelsen said.
Sips n Strokes also visits hospitalized veterans, DCH cancer patients and children with special needs to teach painting because it’s part of the franchise’s mission to be a part of the community.
Neelsen graduated from Alabama with a BFA and this is her first job out of school. She has really enjoyed it for the past two years because she loves people and art.
In this environment, sweet things have happened, according to Meads. Twice in the store a boyfriend has proposed to his girlfriend in paint, on a canvas. The first time Meads said the suitor painted “Will you marry me?” on a canvas and wrapped it, then asked everyone in the painting session to draw raffle numbers, and the staff made sure his girlfriend got the right number. She said yes, of course.
This style of art can be a special event for friends, but Meads says many people come by themselves or in groups of kids from school.
The cost including art supplies is $25 Monday through Wednesday and $35 Thursday through Saturday. Alcohol is not essential for this art form, but Sips n Strokes sells drinks, including Michelob Ultra, White Zinfandel, Bacardi Silver and red wine.
“I think for some people maybe [alcohol] can make them more creative,” said Meads.