Erie bars have been given a splash of color.
In September 2013, Gretchen Wheeler started up Cocktails and Color, an event where people can learn how to paint different things on a canvas while sipping on their favorite cocktail.
Wheeler and her sister own Claytopia, a paint your own pottery venue in Yorktown Plaza that has been in business for 10 years. Wheeler said a woman who works there teaches adult and children painting classes.
Wheeler said she wanted to take that idea to the next level and have someone teach painting classes while showcasing local bars and restaurants.
“I have seen the idea in other cities across the country and I thought that Erie would really enjoy something like that here,” Wheeler said.
Wheeler said she is not only the founder of Cocktails and Color – C&C – , but that she also organizes the different events. Her job is to schedule public events and coordinate the artists for each event. She also handles publicity and marketing and she and her husband are usually the set-up and cleanup crew for each event.
Wheeler said the first event took place at the Brewerie. She is very good friends with the owner, who was supportive from the very beginning.
Wheeler said when it comes to spaces, she generally looks for restaurants that have enough space for the class, decent lighting and a good atmosphere. Some of the places in which C&C has been held include Fox & Hound, Roadrunners, Quaker Steak and Lube and El Toro Loco.
Wheeler said the events usually last about two hours and she and the artists always have the beginning painter in mind.
“We know that most the people who come may not have painted since elementary school and we want them to be comfortable, confident and have some fun,” Wheeler said.
Wheeler said the classes are laid-back and casual, people are welcome to ask questions and artists always walk around and help.
Wheeler said she knew the events would be popular, but she didn’t know that they would catch on so quickly. She said she now posts the next month’s events on the website and in as little as 24 hours, 40-person classes are full.
Wheeler said she’s friends with all of the girls who teach the C&C classes.
“Working at and owning Claytopia just breeds creative friendships,” Wheeler said. “All the girls have different levels of artistic training and ability, which always keeps a variety to the classes.”
One of the girls who teaches classes, Connie Bootz, met Wheeler through Claytopia. She said since she was a regular there, she would always see Wheeler and they became friends.
Bootz said Wheeler told her about her idea to bring C&C to Erie within the first 24 hours of deciding to do so. She said she was so excited that she asked if she could be a part of it.
“I love learning new things, and feel rewarded by sharing what I have learned with others,” Bootz said. “It’s so relaxing and fun.”
Bootz said though she has never taught painting, she used to teach music to preschoolers. She said she usually teaches two classes a month and five private parties.
Bootz said she usually begins classes by giving names to each of the brushes.
“Everyone always laughs at their names,” Bootz said. “‘Big Guy’ seems to be a favorite.”
Bootz said after that she asks the class to paint the canvas with water to get a feel for how to hold the brush, how much pressure to use and whether to paint horizontally or vertically. She said all of her classes normally have step-by-step instructions with three steps at the most.
“There’s a turning point in each class where the students start to love what they are creating,” Bootz said. “They turn to their neighbor and start complimenting them.
“You can see the newfound confidence on their faces. It’s magic, that’s my favorite part,” Bootz said.
Bootz said a series of three wine bottles seems to be the most requested painting. She’s also taught how to paint a winter tree scape, kites on a beach and seagulls on a pier – just to name a few.
Bootz said at the end of each class, she loves walking around and seeing what each student has created. She said each painting is unique and creative in its own way.
“The most rewarding feedback is when students stay after class and approach me to thank me for being such an inspirational and patient teacher,” Bootz said.
Wheeler said she thinks that C&C would appeal to college students because it would be a great way to try something new or if they have painting experience, it’d be nice to have all of the supplies provided for them.
Wheeler said in the future, she hopes C&C can work with businesses and corporations to put together some team-building events.
“We hope to just keeping spreading fun and the love of painting,” Wheeler said. “It has become a crazy whirlwind of painting and cocktails and fun.”