Plug in and pour up, Harrisonburg's sip and paint classes have gone online to allow a creative escape for individuals and groups to reconnect.

Allison Nickens, a James Madison University fine arts graduate, began teaching sip and paint nights around town venues fives years ago through Yaymaker, creators of the original Paint Nite. As a full-time artist and instructor, Nickens was thrust into the online world to maintain employment but said the transition to Zoom Paint Nites has been for the better in several ways.

“In-person, not everybody gets a front-row seat. Sometimes the lighting isn’t great. They feel obligated to buy something from the venue. … Online, I can get my painting within 3 inches of the camera and everyone can see the same details at the same time,” she said. “A lot of people tend to sign up the day of, which is cool. ... It used to be my events would sell out two weeks at a time.”

Classes previously gathered in breweries or vineyards and sit side by side to observe Nickens as she guided novice artists into a pre-determined design. To cover the cost of location and supplies, prices were $35 before with frequent coupons dropping the price to $25. Now, classes are $15.

Nickens hosts at least one class every week from Tuesdays to Thursdays and said business has slowed to one-third of its pace, but her Zoom class size can range from five to 20 people.

“I've had people from Arkansas and Hawaii joining, even Canada sometimes, which is pretty cool,” Nickens said.

Two tiny, rambunctious kittens with a knack for meddling in supplies prevent Harrisonburg resident Kimberly Lester from participating in at-home Paint Nites, but she attended nearly 20 Yaymaker art events pre-pandemic. Lester said being able to socialize and pour over a colorful project without any fuss is what attracts her to Paint Nites, so she eagerly awaits the return to in-person classes.

“The thing I love the most is that I get a chance to paint without the hassle of getting materials together and doing the cleanup,” she said. “There's definitely a social aspect to it.”

From her Harrisonburg apartment kitchen counter, Keitha Truong has completed five virtual Paint Nites following Nickens’ instructions. Because she is immuno-compromised, Truong does not often leave her home and describes the chance to delve into artistry online as a relief.

“It’s a break outside of quarantine,” she said. “The Paint Nites is a nice, light change from my everyday health situation.”

Before joining Yaymaker Harrisonburg’s classes, Truong said her last art endeavor was finger painting. Approaching her one-year mark of Paint Nites, she said the virtual option is an even easier means for beginners to dip their toes into painting.

“If you don't like it, no one else has to see it. … If you're unsure or nervous about your skills, being in a virtual class, you don't have to show anybody. You can just be there to have fun,” Truong said. “I still feel proud being able to have that creative outlet and be able to enjoy something that’s not work or children related.”

Today’s class is painting “American Sky,” mirroring the national flag, complete with firework stars and a patriotic sunset, from 6 to 8 p.m. Wednesday’s class will complete “July 4th in the Tropics,” a visual of shadowy palm trees overlaying a luminous firework display.

Contact Kathleen Shaw at 574-6274 or kshaw@dnronline.com. Follow Kathleen on Twitter @shawkareport

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