Spokane Journal of Business

A palette-able trend

More sip-n-paint studios open in Inland Northwest

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-—Judith Spitzer
Hepherson Riggins and his family recently opened Sip ‘n’ Paint Studio on Spokane’s North Side. A handful of similar business have opened here during the past year.

Start with a glass of wine or a microbrew, sprinkle in artistic expression, mix in friends, old and new, and a quick sense of accomplishment. It’s a recipe for what seems to be the new thing in Spokane and Coeur d’Alene: art-lessons-while-you-drink studios. 

The business concept is simple. Customers pay $30 to $45, depending on the length of the lesson, for an evening of art instruction in a party-like atmosphere. Wine, craft beer, and snacks can be purchased during class.  Participants learn a specific step-by-step process of painting from an art instructor, who usually demonstrates the painting and participants paint along. Music typically plays in the background, sometimes live, and customers happily go home with a 16-by-20-inch work of art. 

The cost of the class includes all of the materials needed to participate, such as brushes, canvas, easels and paint. The beverages are extra.

The concept seems to be spreading to the region as entrepreneurs in both Spokane and Coeur ‘d’Alene have opened similar businesses. 

One of the most recent openings came last week with the debut of the Sip’n Paint Studio, at 7704 N. Division on Spokane’s North Side, which is co-owned by Hepherson Riggins and business partner and mother Diana Riggins, who are hosting classes for wanna-be artists. 

Diana Riggins, an entrepreneur and businesswoman in her own right, is the wife of Rig Riggins, Heph’s father and the longtime president and CEO of Spokane’s YMCA of the Inland Northwest. The couple now lives in Pittsburgh, where Rig Riggins was appointed president and CEO of the YMCA of Greater Pittsburgh in 2012.

Heph and Diana opened the new painting studio in a 1,600-square-foot space, across Division from Costco, in the same building as a Batteries Plus store and a Spokane Exercise Equipment store. Spokane-based brokerage NAI Black’s Kaitlin Cavelle and Chris Bell negotiated the lease of the space for the Sip ‘n Paint business.

Hepherson Riggins spent five years working for local nonprofit organizations before he left Spokane several years ago, to focus on art full time. He moved back to Spokane to pursue the Sip’n Paint Studio.

Diana Riggins says classes will be held on Thursday through Sunday evenings. Riggins, in town recently to help her son get the business up and running, says the studio will be available during the day for people to drop by and paint.

“Heph will be here working on his own commissions during those hours,” she says.

With a part-time staff of four, Heph says he has a tavern liquor license, which means he can sell beer and wine. All the beer and wine is from the region, he says, with the exception of one microbrew from Pittsburgh. 

Although not required, the drinks definitely help alleviate the anxiety of trying something new, and the bottom line is to have fun, he says. “I want to engage with people and have fun, and people are having fun doing this,” he says. 

The idea for painting a picture is simple, Riggins says. He instructs his students from beginning to end, starting with brushes that he’s affectionately given names such as Big Papa or Slim Shady, and a “masterpiece” evolves.

Instructions about what brush to use, paint colors, and quantity of paint to use all reduce indecision, but there is still enough room for interpretation, so that making a unique painting is attainable even for those who don’t consider themselves artistically inclined, he says.  

Riggins says he’s combined his love of working with nonprofits with his love of art and painting, which brings purpose to painting, he says. 

A portion of all class proceeds will go to a different local nonprofit every month. This month, he says $3 of the fee each client pays will go to the YMCA of the Inland Northwest. 

“I’m painting it forward,” he says. In this way, he says the business concept brings together art lessons, friends, wine, and a lively instructor who produces fun, individual works of art while giving back to the community.

The trend has hit the Coeur d’Alene area as well. 

Tracy Hofius and her mother, Beth Marceau, plan to open Paint Buzz in Riverstone Village at 2145 N. Main in Coeur d’Alene between mid-March and early April. 

Hofius also owns and operates North Star Child Development Center, for children with autism and other developmental disorders, in Coeur d’Alene. She says she decided she needed some downtime. 

“I was looking for a change,” Hofius says. “I was looking for more fun in my life.” 

She says she happened upon Pinot’s Palette, a similar business in Spokane, and took a class.

“I fell in love with it,” she says. Her mother was open to starting a new business and the result is Paint Buzz. 

Hofius says one of her favorite things about the business model is that anyone can attend the classes and leave with a work of art. 

“You don’t have to have experience as an artist. Our well-trained art instructors will break it down into simple steps and there will be wine and music,” Hofius says, adding that there is no requirement for art training, but it appeals to experienced artists as well. 

Hofius says participants start with a blank 16-inch by 20-inch blank canvas and add elements as they’re instructed, all while socializing and having a glass of wine or a beer. She plans to have other artists walking the room to assist people. Initially, she says she’ll start with three full-time employees—including her, her mother and one other person, and seven part-time art instructors. 

Eventually, her goal is to add nontraditional classes, such as classes that combine meditation and painting. 

She says prices for the classes are $30 or $40 for a two- or three-hour class.. Classes will be held Thursday through Saturday, and Paint Buzz will open for private parties, as well as for corporate team-building workshops, at other times during the week. 

People who want to register for a class can do so at its website at thePaintBuzz.com, Hofius adds. 

Jackie Casey and her fiancé Jeff Hansen, who co-own Pinot’s Palette, an art-wine franchise at 32 W. Second in downtown Spokane, are celebrating a one-year anniversary this month and looking for a space in Coeur d’Alene to open a second location. 

Casey, trained as a teacher, says she doesn’t consider herself an artist but after attending a Pinot’s Palette in Oklahoma, she had so much fun she wanted to buy a franchise. 

“I had a blast. It was so much fun,” Casey says. “I was amazed at what you can do when someone walks you through it one step at a time.” 

After investing $25,000 and making   trip to the franchise owners company headquarters in Houston, Casey says the couple opened the 1,250 square-foot studio on Second Avenue. 

Even though the location is highly visible on the corner of Second and Division, she says she and staff still have to explain what’s going on. 

“Word of mouth and constant educating is exactly what we do,” she says. “But once they come they have a great time.” 

She adds that in the year they’ve been open they’ve filled up 95 percent of classes, and have had fewer than five complaints.

The cost for classes is $35 for a two-hour class and $45 for a three-hour class.

Hofius says she’s seen a lot of people who are really nervous and not that excited about the idea.

“Everyone says, ‘I don’t know how to paint,’” she says. “But, it’s been really empowering for people. And it’s a very positive atmosphere. This was made for people who don’t usually pick up a paintbrush.”

Casey has part-time instructors who rotate between teaching the classes and roving during class to assist people with questions or technique. 

Classes are held Thursday through Saturdays, and private parties can be scheduled by appointment. 

Casey says she’s still looking for suitable space for the Coeur d’Alene studio.

Judith  Spitzer
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Reporter Judith Spitzer covers technology, mining, agriculture, and wood products for the Journal. A vintage-obsessed antique collector in her off hours, Judith worked as a journalist in Colorado and Oregon before joining the Journal.

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