The happy-hour crowd at Spill the Wine in Uptown Minneapolis on a recent Tuesday evening was going through twice its usual volume of liquid fun. But only because half of it was acrylic paint.

No worries, they weren’t huffing it, but applying it to small canvases as art instructors roamed from table to table, pointing out how to hold the brush for a stippling effect, or which colors to mix on a palette to achieve a more muted shade of pink. In between adding leaves to trees and clouds to skies, participants tossed back mouthfuls of chardonnay or cabernet in a bid to unleash their inner muses.

Amy Salveson, a graphic designer, was working up an image of a woman in a pink dress with a heart tattoo on her shoulder. She said she hadn’t painted since she was 16, but “I like wine, and paintings, and my friend Becky who I’m here with, so that’s all I needed.”

The event — the launch of a franchise called Bottle & Bottega — was just one of dozens of such “paint and sip” nights across the metro area each month, combining social drinking with a bit of art instruction in malls, restaurants and studios.

“A lot of people are interested in trying something like this without having to commit to extensive study, and this is a fun way to do that, ” said Christy Myers, a Bloomington native and artist who is starting Bottle & Bottega in Minneapolis with her husband after working at one of five B & B studios in Chicago.

The group of about 50 would-be painters at Spill the Wine included technical developer Dawn Balke, who said she was getting some good pointers from the roving trio of instructors, which included high school art teachers and art-college students. “I never would have thought to blend these two colors to get this one.”

Doug Westendorp, one of 13 artists hired by Bottle & Bottega, said these kinds of events “take away some of the mystery of art. Most people don’t get exposed to enough art or educated about it as children and so it all seems as unfamiliar as numbers would be if we weren’t taught math.”

Stuart Wainstock, 32, and Crystal Rose, 28, live just around the corner from the restaurant and had come out of curiosity.

“I like the mix of just a bit of guidance, enough to push you off the deep end to then do your own thing,” said Wainstock, busily embellishing a rotund little sci-fi creature set against a swirly background on his canvas.

Jumping on the trend

At least nine small companies in the Twin Cities, with names like Art & Elixir, and Brushes & Brews, are marketing the paint-and-sip concept to everyone from groups of friends to mothers and daughters to corporate party planners.

The most audaciously named outfit, Cheers Pablo — a not-so-subtle nod to Picasso — is opening a second location next month in Burnsville to complement its Woodbury venue.

The routine varies. It can be as simple as one instructor in a classroom-style setting, teaching a group how to paint one image, such as the iconic Spoonbridge and Cherry from the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden. The Bottle & Bottega structure, by contrast, gives customers dozens of images to use as inspiration, but encourages freestyle imagination as well.

This may prove to be a flash-in-the-goblet fad — or it might taper off when no more cutesy names pairing art and booze can be dreamed up. But the concept’s appeal for both customers and small-business entrepreneurs is readily apparent. For the tippling dilettantes, it’s a way to think while you drink.

“It’s something else to do rather than just go get bombed with your friends,” said Angel Brasell, a server at Spill the Wine who is also a painter.

For the owners, it’s a relatively easy, low-cost setup.

The trend began several years ago in the South, where shops like Corks n Canvas in Louisiana — now called Painting With a Twist — were so successful they began franchising. The chain Paint Nite has more than 750 locations, including one in the Twin Cities. Start-up costs for franchises of national chains can be as low as $60,000, and independent studios can go it alone for a fraction of that.

Jean Forbes, co-owner of the indie operation Brush Studio in the Shops at West End mall in St. Louis Park, said repeat customers aren’t uncommon; one woman has come five times, and collected five canvases to hang on her walls at home.

“It’s mostly a social thing, but the painting is a big part of it,” Forbes said. “Some people find out they really have a knack and it shocks them.”

One repeat Brush Studio customer, LuAnn Nead of Shakopee, said she first tried it with one friend, went back for a fundraiser and then went again as part of an outing for four couples.

“I was quite amazed when my painting actually turned out the first time,” she said, adding that the social and art aspects of the experience held equal appeal for her.

An artist’s-eye view

In Chicago, Myers said, some members of the museum-and-gallery art elite have looked down their noses at the idea of someone walking in off the street and declaring themselves an insta-painter, “but I think it cultivates art appreciation. Instead of fostering a fear of art based on what you think you don’t understand, it encourages exploration.”

Camille Gage, a Minneapolis professional visual artist for more than 30 years, has no problem with the concept.

“Any activity that brings people together for an interactive experience away from the digital world — and on top of that gets them to exercise creative muscles — is a good thing,” Gage said. “It saddens me when I hear people say they’re not creative, because I believe everyone has that capacity.”

The paint-and-sip promoters also point to the jobs they provide local artists. Bottle & Bottega pays its 11 artists between $45 and $60 per two- to- three-hour event. On hearing this, Gage had another thought: “A bunch of artists should get together and do this instead of businesspeople,” she said. “We need to be more entrepreneurial.”