Social activity combines artistry and happy hour

"No paintbrushes in wine cups! No drinking the paint water!" My co-workers and I laugh as our art instructor, Lynnette Anderson, reads one of the rules for the evening. Her attempt at putting us at ease is working.

We're gathered at Painting With a Twist in Grapevine for a girls' night out. A 16-by-20-inch blank canvas on a tabletop easel, a paper plate palette with eight mounds of paint and three brushes sit before us for the "painting." And for the "twist," we've brought our favorite bottles of wine and other beverages.

For groups of girlfriends such as ours, a meet-up at a DIY art studio has become the new happy hour. Instead of swilling wine at a watering hole and complaining about their troubles for the day, friends sip while they exercise a little creativity -- and go come home with something much more colorful than a hangover.

Since Colleen Grant opened her studio in Grapevine in 2009, seven additional Painting With a Twist franchises have located in the Metroplex, along with several independently owned businesses with the same casual, BYOB paint-and-sip concept across Tarrant County.

They're making for creative date-night activities for couples wanting to get out of the dinner-and-a-movie rut, too.

Whether with a significant other or a group of pals, no one has to worry about competing with a Picasso across the room at a DIY painting studio. Not only are all the art supplies provided, but the group lessons are designed for people who have never painted before, says Grant. Zero artistic ability is required, and most of her customers have never picked up a paintbrush.

If you can paint by number or have ever painted your bathroom, you can participate confidently.

"We major in fun and minor in art," said Leslie James of A Piece of Work studio in Fort Worth.

Personal style

"Dip your large brush into the blue paint and make strokes on your canvas starting from the bottom." Lynnette demonstrates for us on her canvas at the front of the room. Beside her is a finished painting like the one we're producing. Lynnette guides us step by step, telling us which brush and color of paint to use and the type of brush stroke to make. Painting couldn't be easier or more fun.

The instructor tells us that she'll ring a bell signaling us to stop painting and take a drink when she senses tension in the room or hears a negative comment.

"Eww! I don't like that color green," I say after mixing green and white paint and dabbing it on my painting. Ring goes the bell, and we all take a sip -- and relax. Then with Lynnette's guidance, I add more green to my paint mixture till I achieve a shade I'm pleased with.

As our paintings progress, we see how our individual creativity results in slight differences in each of our paintings, despite the fact that we're painting the same picture. One co-worker adds extra leaves, while another uses more white paint to highlight her tree trunks.

"I like how we are all doing the same thing, but it's all different," a co-worker says.

Tailoring classes

When groups schedule private parties, the leader gets to choose the painting they'll all work on from a gallery of sample artworks. Painting With a Twist offers 2,000, with more being added each month. Some businesses accept requests for a custom artist-designed painting. Art in the Vine in Grapevine allows private-party patrons the choice of painting on a canvas, a T-shirt or a canvas bag. It also offers lessons with intermediate and advanced pieces of artwork for painters who are more artistically inclined.

Want to make something truly special? How about a "Paint Your Pet" class at Art in the Vine or at Texas U Can Paint in Southlake. You submit a color photo of your pet in advance and follow the instructor's guidance about capturing your pet's personality.

Some locations offer "double paintings" for couples to create on special days like Valentine's Day and New Year's Eve. One person paints the wine pouring from a bottle, for example, while the partner paints the wine pouring into a wine glass. The resulting paintings are hung so they appear as one image.

Three men have proposed to their girlfriends during a painting lesson at her studio, Grant said. One man popped the question by painting "Will you marry me?" on his girlfriend's canvas when she took a break.

During alcohol-free, family-friendly days at some locations, children are invited to work on easier paintings, with or without an adult's help. Creative Canvas in Keller offers family classes in which a parent and child work together to create a single painting.

In addition to providing a fun and relaxing evening, a painting lesson can be good for your mental health, Grant said -- especially if you do it after a stressful work week.

Although participants go home with a piece of art, Grant says it's not about the finished product, but the process.

During my "process," I learned I had a few undiscovered artistic skills, and I'm fairly certain the wine, laughter and encouragement from friends only made the painting that now hangs on my wall that much more beautiful.