There are all kinds of things one could expect to see in a Calgary bar: booze, food, music, flirtations and fights among them. One thing you probably wouldn't expect is a room full of easels.
All over the city, and often at several bars each night, that's exactly what you'll find as Calgarians mix booze, camaraderie and art at Paint Nite.
"I've taught 2,000 Calgarians how to paint at this point with Paint Nite and I think it's such a great opportunity because when you try something creative and you step out of your box, then you're more likely to think of great solutions at work or at home, you're a little bit more creative minded," said Kate McKenzie, one of the six artists who host the local iteration of the event.
Growth of events
Paint Nite started in the U.S. in 2012 and now takes place in over 1,500 cities worldwide, with around 4,700 events each month, according to the company's website.
Participants can buy tickets online and show up to a room already laid out with canvasses, brushes, and aprons to protect their clothes. From there, an artist instructor guides the group as booze and conversations flow.
In Calgary the events are often sold out, even though several occur most nights.
On a recent Monday at Nicastro's Pub on Centre Street, McKenzie was showing the gathered crowd — mostly women — how to create a brightly coloured flower on a black backdrop.
"You know, I tell all of my single guy friends that Paint Nite is where they should be at, because man, we get a ton of women," said McKenzie. "But we also get a lot of couples coming out and trying it for a new type of date night. So it just depends on the night."
The reasons for attending are diverse, but mostly focused on having a good night out and trying something new.
"It's an excuse for a mom with twins and a hubby and dogs and work and chaos to get out of the house and have a break," said Karissa Daigneaulet, sitting next to her friend at Nicastro's.
'You have to have a drink while you're painting. But not the paint water."
'This is something a little different'
The following day in southeast Calgary, Kenzie Browne instructed dozens of people packed around long tables at the Riverbend Station pub on how to paint a river rushing over a Niagara Falls-like drop set against a lurid orange sunset.
Browne is a university student by day, but four nights a week she lugs her supplies to a bar or restaurant to lead these get togethers.
Rebecca Turner, taking in her fourth Paint Nite, was one of Browne's students along with her boyfriend Stephen Forsythia.
She said she's not a painter but finds the guidance from the instructors helps her brush-stroke her way to a painting she might even hang on a wall.
"We don't drink so we wanted an activity that's affordable," said Turner, 23.
Forsythia, also 23, strokes shades of deep blue on the canvas.
"She begged me to do it, and it's a lot of fun so far," he said.
"At our age, everybody is out at the bars, drinking. This is something a little different that you can do to spend time with a significant other."
The events last about two hours, and by the end of the night at Riverbend Station the instructors corral everyone to the front, clutching their canvases in order to snap a group photo.
And as the crowd departed, the Paint Nite crew got busy cleaning up the mess, just another perk of painting at the pub rather than at home.