By Lori Szepelak
WEST SPRINGFIELD – Co-workers, friends, and family members descended on the conference room at Mercy Home Care on Riverdale Street recently to test their artistic abilities.
Anxiety was running high for several of the would-be Picassos since many participants noted they hadn’t picked up a paintbrush since their school days.
As paint brushes, canvases, paints and aprons were being distributed, Paint Sip Fun entrepreneur Erin Leigh of Hampden assured everyone they would be pleased with their work once completed.
Leigh, a fine art painter, interior decorator and art teacher in Western Massachusetts, started the business last November as an additional income outlet for herself and her two middle school aged children.
“After my first class I realized I am doing this business for others, to show them they too are artists,” she said during an interview with Reminder Publications.
Leigh stressed to the class of 40 that “art is for everyone and everyone is an artist.”
As participants looked at each other with weary smiles, the class started simply by painting the canvas by mixing green, blue, white and a hint of purple paint. As the tension quickly dissipated, laughter and encouragement to others quickly became the norm of the evening.
As Leigh and her assistants worked the room, giving directions, answering questions and offering advice, she noted that her classes “make people feel accomplished.”
“The parties are fun and we give all our painters the confidence that they can create something beautiful,” she said.
Anne Wright of Agawam was attending the class with her friend Betty Voltz, and was a bit nervous leading into the evening’s class.
“I couldn’t believe I painted this, I can’t even draw a straight line,” Wright said. “It was so much fun, I plan to hang my painting in my family room.”
Jennifer Gormley of West Springfield echoed those sentiments.
“I loved that Erin was so open to creating a picture just for us,” said Gormley, who organized the affair. “She made the planning of this event fun and easy. She brought a lot of energy to the room, and made believers out of people who had said they can’t paint.”
Since November, Leigh has increased her sales by 200 percent and has hired Kelly Pramberger of Wilbraham as her office manager and director of communications. Additionally, Leigh has hired artists Emily Santanella of Stafford Springs, Conn., Cheryl Wylie of Westfield, and Maxine Verteramo of Ware.
In the next month, Leigh plans to hire two more artists and three more assistants.
“Paint Sip Fun is the perfect vehicle for me to share my gifts with the world,” Leigh said. “Being a small business owner most of my adult life, I realized I could combine my business savvy, marketing and sales experience, graphic design skills, my love of teaching, and my love of painting with those around me, all while I inspire, empower and re-ignite the love of art within everyone.”
Leigh, who holds a bachelor of fine arts degree from the University of Connecticut, noted her artistic development was influenced at an early age by the drawings and paintings of her aunt, internationally known artist Nanci Sarisley Costanzo, as well as the works of the masters. She added that reflections from her international travels, her study of Reiki and Native American Feng Shui, plus the artwork of Native American artisans, has helped shape the type of artist she is today.
“I saw this business concept that offered a relaxed and social type atmosphere where painters could let their hair down, socialize with friends, and feel accomplished with themselves for creating a beautiful work of art,” she said.
Leigh added that participants have commented that painting in this type of setting is also “therapeutic.”
As Leigh’s business model continues to evolve, she is now incorporating events that include fundraisers for organizations.
“Fundraisers are a great way to not only empower people to get back in touch with their inner artist, but to also raise money for worthy organizations,” she said.
Leigh describes Paint Sip Fun and Paint Sip FUNdraisers as an “art studio on wheels,” that offers fun art events as an alternative to fine art classes.
“Our personality and entertaining teaching style, and our attention to customer service make each event special,” she said. “You will recognize us because we are always dressed in black and white, with fedora’s.”
Leigh noted that her classes provide the aprons, palette, brushes, canvases, choice of paints and instruction for two to three hours, and painters walk away with their own finished masterpiece.
“We use higher end supplies,” she said, adding she and her assistants promise an unforgettable, fun, friendly and creative event.
For more information on Paint Sip Fun, visit www.paintsipfun.com
or visit her Facebook page at www.facebook.com/paintsipfun