Eat, drink, paint and be merry is the mantra that guides a “painting party". It isn’t quite a party nor is it your run-of-the-mill painting session. Taking the middle road, it dispenses with the hedonistic spirit of the former and retains the artistic rigour of the latter. Participants come together to paint in a feast-like atmosphere in the belief that conviviality, fuelled by food and beverages, can crack open taps of creativity.

With this belief, Snehal Patil founded the Bombay Drawing Room in August 2015. A trained architect and self-taught artist, Patil settled on the idea of the “painting party" venture almost by accident. Planning for a social evening at home one day, and tired of the usual eat-drink-chatter pattern, Patil decided, “I’m going to make my friends paint this time." On the phone from Mumbai, she says she half-jokingly set up a Facebook page titled “Bombay Drawing Room" and guided her friends through the event. “I saw them turn into little children, wanting to play with colours." The party went “crazy" and images from the first session went viral. Next came a flood of requests from friends of friends—and then strangers.

The numbers grew rapidly, going from a handful to 40-50 in weeks, and Patil realized something was “bubbling". “I knew then that this is basically a need for artistic expression in the city," she says. “And now I have to capture this love." She hired artists to organize more events and formally set up the business venture, turning her voluntary contribution box into a revenue stream. Along with her team of four, she decided on themes and techniques for every session.

At each party, of about 2 hours, the participants work through a painting, led by the host artist one brushstroke at a time (each ticket priced at around 1,500). They’ve tackled subjects like Vincent van Gogh’s The Starry Night, the Mexican artist Frida Kahlo’s work, Chinese ink-and-wash painting and Mandala art. They get canvas, paints, aprons, brushes, easels and a meal. “They just have to come."

Photo: Wikimedia Commons
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

As a one-off event, the painting party has carved a niche for itself. It sits neatly in the space between full-time art training—where the long-term commitment risks dulling the edge of fun—and short-term hobby course, which can begin to feel obligatory. “No one before us catered to people who don’t want to commit to, like, a month-long, three times a week arrangement," says Patil.

Following the Mumbai success, she launched the Delhi and Bangalore Drawing Rooms in February 2017. Patil says metros are crying out for such places. “You’re either stuck in traffic or working hard in office." On weekends, most people fall into the usual rut of movies, drinking, dining or telly-bingeing. The events therefore are positioned as an antidote to a conventional city life.

Bengaluru picked up pace quickly, but Delhi was initially slow. She laughingly explains the difference by offering this anthropological insight: “See, Delhi junta is not used to art. They’re used to drinking and partying."

The beauty of the format, Patil says, is that in a couple of hours you finish something and take it home, so the gratification value is immense-

Today, the Mumbai chapter holds around 40 events a month; Delhi, 16; and Bengaluru, 8. The focus here is not quite on the artistic merit of the work but the act of creating, which is informed as much by personal creativity as communal bonhomie. “We’re also building a community here." Patil stresses the non-judgemental atmosphere, where there is no right or wrong, and people can express themselves with all their imperfections.

The moment they actually start painting well, according to Patil, is when they stop worrying. Which is why the events are held not in studios or workshop spaces, but “places where we hang out and know best", like restaurants or coffee shops. The idea is to bring art to the people, she says and for many, art galleries remain intimidating spaces.

Patil gushingly describes people who had never painted in their lives, but came to believe in their creativity. The beauty of the format, Patil says, is that in a couple of hours you finish something and take it home, so the gratification value is immense. “They can look at their own creation on their walls and say, ‘Hey, I can paint!’" For many, the process is therapeutic. “We don’t position it as therapy" but there are so many, she thinks, who are in dire need of creative expression.

Some of their regular attendees have now painted with them 40, even 50, times. “It’s difficult to describe (why) really," she says. “I don’t know…something just opens up in you—and you just want to keep coming back."

The painting parties are held every weekend. For details, visit Drawingroom.co.in.

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