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Guests at Brushstrokes on Canvas will feel about as far from a parochial art school as one can get and still have a paint brush in hand.

The new wine-and-paint business open in Lebanon at 721 Quentin Road is billed as a place "Where art and socializing meet," and is the first in Lebanon County.

Wine-and-paint is becoming more popular as a social venue across the country, where people have a social outing - snacks and alcoholic beverages are common - and with a group of friends or in a private party paint on canvas with the direction of a teaching artist.

John C. Olivo, president of Brushstrokes on Canvas, did the research on the business, went to school to learn how to do this, and then scouted out 'the competition' so to speak across the state to see how other venues of this type are run.

What he decided upon is a very relaxed, almost club-like atmosphere were every person can find their inner artist.

"This is not an art exhibit," Olivo said. "No one is going to judge you. Eat, drink and be merry!"

To cater to his target market - 25 to 55-year-old females - the events are held in the evenings from 7 to 9:30 p.m. The wine-and-paint studio can be booked for a private party - Bachelorette party, girls night out, retirement party, birthday party, after-work get-together, etc., but also offers "classes." That's the serious word for an event that's already planned, and you don't need a group to go with you. The painting of the night is already selected for you from Brushstroke's menu of 50 paintings - you just show up with your beverage of choice (coffee, tea and water are provided with the class), sip and paint.

There are three artists hand-picked by Olivo to run the classes or instruct the private party. All were selected as much for their artistic talent as their ability to have fun, project fun, and help guests relax and have some fun. The artist on duty will stand on a raised platform in front of the room, painting the canvas along with the class, giving tips and guidance.

While art school is typically rule-based - first you learn a technique, then you apply it - this wine-and-paint is much more laid back.

"There isn't a lot you can't do here," Olivo said, because his motto is "The answer is yes - what's the question?"

The master, or professional artist on duty, will show the art selection of the evening on a canvas already painted, and on the big screen via a macro-camera, so they can zoom in on details of the painting to help people see the detail. They are also painting at the same time the guests are.

When the artist isn't conversing, the digital audio system is streaming music on Pandora.

"It's more like a club. We break down the walls (of formality) and relax. We bring out the artist in you through our DJ (the master in front of the room) and fun," Olivo said, adding that this is literally a wine glass (or coffee cup or brandy snifter) in one hand and a paint brush in the other.

Olivo reached out to area colleges and school districts looking for art teachers who would want to spend a night or more a week painting alongside others, and making sure those folks were relaxed and having fun making art. The master of the class has to be part DJ, part instructor, be good at speaking in front of a crowd, be able to sense the crowd's temperament and adjust to it, and have "no ego," as Olivo explains it, to be the life of the party.

"I had to turn people away," he said of the applicant pool. He had 25 apply for the three positions.

Each Wednesday the Brushstrokes on Canvas studio has an open session where people can come in, use the space as art studio time, explore the gallery, and see if the venue is something they want to book for a party or make an RSVP for a class.

Established paint-and-wine locations end up being a six-day a week business, Olivo said, and he looks forward to that as the local business grows.

Individuals or small groups can select what class they want to join by looking at the calendar on the website, www.brushstrokesoncanvas.com. Each calendar day has a photo of the picture that will be painted that class, and a link to RSVP and pay the class fee of $35.

Why so popular?

When asked what makes wine-and-paint businesses - and events like this hosted in other businesses as a special event - so popular, Olivo said it's all about the clientele.

"If you're a woman age 25 to 55, what are you going to do (with friends)? You can hang out at a house, like a house party. People have done the parties with candles and jewelry and all that. There's got to be something else, right?

"You can go to a bar, but there's a concern of being hit on, or you can go to a club ... but this is a safe alternative with mostly females that's constantly changing," he said, adding that as the business grows there will be new art, new special incentives and give-aways for repeat customers such as gift cards and televisions - not the "get one free class" rewards programs other studios offer.

Also, if there's a lot of wine involved in paint night, local customers can get a ride home more easily than if they were doing this in Harrisburg or Mechanicsburg, where other wine-and-paint locations are.

For a private party, the host can pick the painting from the menu, and also decide if they want to bring all the food and drink in themselves, or have Olivo put the event together with their input so its catered, which would add to the per-person cost.

"We want to bring back that customer service that was lost with the Internet and doing things online," he said.

Guests should feel like they are specifically taken care of and that them having fun is the priority.

Why Lebanon?

Olivo is a Pittsburgh native who spent a lot of childhood summers in this part of the state, including Hershey and Lancaster. As a businessman looking for a site to launch a success, he was impressed with the direction he sees Lebanon City taking. The revitalization efforts, the presence of new and modern ventures like The Foundry, Snitz Creek and The Distillery and the effort to start a Business Improvement District were all in line with the kind of business climate he wants Brushstrokes to be in. He also did focus groups, which supported his theory that a wine-and-paint would be welcome in Lebanon.

His exhaustive research on the types of wine-and-paint venues around the state helped create the business model for Brushstrokes on Canvas.

"Some people don't take it to the level we do," he said.

That's why the list of rules for his paint nights include number five: "Don't be afraid to get a little crazy!"

Brushstrokes on Canvas can be reached by calling 673-0696 or online at www.brushstrokesoncanvas.com.

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