They enter the bar in twos and threes ... ordering a drink, donning yellow smocks and eventually settling down before blank canvases, brushes and styrofoam plates with dabs of acrylic paint. For the next 90 minutes, an instructor guides Paint Nite students in creating their own interpretation of a professional painting. Master Artist Marian Pham tells us about these events and their growing popularity at watering holes in the Salt Lake Valley and beyond.
Where did Paint Nite begin nationally?
In Boston, Massachusetts, where the first Paint Nites began in 2013. Paint Nite in Utah launched in 2014.
What's the size of your typical group? And are there "regulars"?
Our events in Utah range to about 35-40 people on average, though we do hold some 50-plus events at venues that have the space. Regulars are our best customers. Often, about one-third of the room are regulars.
How many have you staged over the past three years, and where?
According to my artist profile, I have hosted 147 events as of today. We have two major markets—Salt Lake City and Ogden and all of their surrounding cities. I launched Paint Nite Logan not too long ago, and we are in need of bars and restaurants there to host Paint Nite.
You have several instructors. Do they "graduate" to become Master Artists?
Something like that. In addition to passing the interview processes and proving their experience with art and people, we train our artists until they are ready to host an event on their own. Our guests should be having fun, so our artists should be fun people. Knowing how to teach and move paint around on a canvas is only part of the job; a Master Artist connects on some kind of level with the people who attend. It's pretty powerful stuff, sharing our love of art and creativity with everyone.
Where did you train as an artist?
I showed an interest in art through most of my Utah childhood and teenage life, but the bulk of my knowledge and skill came from studying at California College of the Arts and Academy of Art University in San Francisco. I graduated with a degree in Illustration—but any artist will tell you that learning art and mastering your craft is an everyday practice, no matter your age or level of education.
Do Paint Nite artists keep their paintings? And you offer frames, right?
Yes. But we accumulate a lot of duplicates. We usually use those extras to promote our events in a variety of ways: charity auctions, donations, etc. The frames are made by a wonderful local company called Frame This, a subset of Picture This! Photography, and they are an optional piece. The frames give a nice finishing touch to every painting and they are offered in a wide variety of styles, colors and price points.
Alcohol decreases inhibitions. Do you think it releases creativity?
I think it's one way a person allows themselves to be creative, among other things. As painters, we can be our own worst critic, so if you need a cocktail or soda to quiet that criticism in order to feel creative for two hours, it's all right with us. Drinking is certainly not mandatory, but we do encourage an open mind and spirited attitude to give it a chance.
Do participants ever have one too many and give up?
Well, yes, [laughs]. 'Failing' is an inevitable part of art making, in general, because you're being challenged and put out of your comfort zone. It's not so bad when you're with people you love, anyway. Coming to a Paint Nite because, 'I'm going out to try something new with my friends,' is already a courageous step forward into the unknown, and I have told this to many participants who come absolutely nerve wracked. On the other hand, a participant would get so wasted that they couldn't be bothered to continue following along with the instructor, and will paint over all their work with solid black—that has actually happened—and you just gotta laugh with them and leave them be.