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‘Social painting parties’ provide creative fun in a relaxed atmosphere in East Grand Forks

Mirna Berglund talks with Sarah Pilon (right) as they paint together during a recent Creatively Uncorked event. (Joshua Komer / Grand Forks Herald)1 / 4
Jen Cameron (center) takes a photo of her daughter, Lily Cameron, as Jen's mother, Sue Applegren (far left), looks on during a session at Creatively Uncorked in East Grand Forks. (Joshua Komer / Grand Forks Herald)2 / 4
Jugs of paint line the table for participants at Creatively Uncorked in East Grand Forks. (Joshua Komer / Grand Forks Herald)3 / 4
Shanna Cramer demonstrates how to lay down background paint for attendees at a recent Creatively Uncorked event in East Grand Forks. (Joshua Komer / Grand Forks Herald)4 / 4

In the front of the room, with an eager audience listening closely, Shanna Cramer describes what the would-be artists can expect of their evening at the Creatively Uncorked social painting event.

"Rule No. 1 is have fun," says Cramer. "Rule No. 2 is no negativity. This is fun art, not fine art."

Upbeat music is playing and the "bar"—a table set with a few bottles of wine, beer and other drinks and snacks—is open at the back of the room.

Cramer points out another table, set with a row of plastic pump dispensers, where members of the group can replenish their paint.

When not in use, their brushes should be placed in the jar of water next to their easels, she says.

"Repeat after me: I will not let paint dry on my brush."

Cramer has been operating her Creatively Uncorked business for nearly three years.

She learned about "social painting parties" online, where she discovered "there are lots of these (types of businesses) in the Southern U.S.," she said.

After traveling to Kansas to learn more about it, she started the business in January 2014 at Moorhead, where she lives, and moved it later that year to West Fargo, N.D.

After a couple of years holding events at 'l Bistro in the Canad Inn in Grand Forks, she opened in East Grand Forks this past spring. Six artists rotate as instructors.

"I love it," she said. "It's fun."

At Creatively Uncorked, people gather for a fun, relaxing painting party. They are seated at long tables, outfitted with individual blank canvases on upright easels, where they can chat and drink wine while creating their own masterpiece.

Everything they need, including paints and brushes and step-by-step instruction, is provided. The staff takes care of setup and cleanup.

The entertaining events are becoming a popular way for couples or groups to try their hand at painting and enjoy time together in a creative atmosphere. They might be family members celebrating a birthday, friends on a "girls' night out," bachelorette or kids' parties, or bridesmaids making art before the wedding day. But they are not necessarily artists.

They can choose to replicate one of the dozens of artworks displayed on the walls or, at certain events, paint an original picture of their own.

Step-by-step help

On this night in late October, the group is painting a landscape called "Fall Lake," following Cramer's instructions to replicate the artwork she has created as an example.

Sue Applegren, her daughter, Jen Cameron, and granddaughter Lily Cameron, 8, are among a couple of dozen at this session of Creatively Uncorked in East Grand Forks.

"My daughter asked me to do this. We're enjoying it," Applegren says. "I'm pretty sure my granddaughter is going to blow me out of the water ... I'm a quilter; I'm better with fabric."

Lily has always been "crafty" and artistic, Applegren says, noting that one of her drawings was selected for inclusion in the locally produced ArtWise calendar.

"(Being an artist) is what I want to do when I grow up," Lily says. "I love it."

Her mom, Jen, says, "I think I've created a monster. She's going to want to come here all the time."

Jen, who has taken other Creatively Uncorked courses with her husband, considers the opening of the East Grand Forks location a good omen.

"I'm really glad they've opened their own studio," she said. "It means they're more permanent."

Meanwhile Cramer, standing by her easel, says, "We're going to add our orange," as she points out the area and demonstrates the technique to apply the color.

Janice Tangen of Grand Forks also has taken a couple of Creatively Uncorked events.

"I do enjoy it," she says. "It's the first time I did anything with painting. I like to learn—if you learn, it gets more interesting."

One of her paintings is hanging in her kitchen, Tangen says. "There was a spot there."

Cramer guides the group in adding a lemony yellow to the upper-left corner of their paintings.

"It's a base for other colors to follow," she says.

She mixes a little green with the yellow and dabs it on "as highlights in the trees," she says. "Don't go overboard—not too much. A little bit of highlights goes a long ways."

'They walk out with a painting'

Jennifer Brandon, who as an employee of East Grand Lanes has been working the bar at these events for several months, has observed the groups.

"It's very interesting to watch them ... They don't have a lot of skills, and they walk out of here with a painting," she says.

"It's neat to see how everyone's (painting) is different. They each have their own way. They have fun."

"I know one lady who comes every week," Brandon says. "She donates her paintings. That's pretty impressive. I think that was really cool of her."

Since relocating from its former location at Canad Inn, Creatively Uncorked is attracting a growing number of people who are discovering and attending the events, Brandon says.

Painting while sipping a glass of wine creates more of a party atmosphere, she said, but she hasn't seen anyone yet who has overindulged.

"They may have two or three glasses at the most."

She expects the groups to get even larger over the winter.

"Last winter, every single time, the class I wanted (to attend) was filled."