It was in May when Dawn McGee, owner of West Fenwick Island’s Smitty McGee’s, got an unsolicited email about PaintNite Delaware and its slogan, “Grab a Drink, Grab a Brush and Let the Fun Begin.”
“‘What do you think?’ I asked two older men, regular customers, who happened to be sitting at the bar,” recalled McGee. “And when they both agreed, ‘That’s a hit,’ I decided to follow up.”
McGee’s office is located on the side of the building adjacent to the Lucky Dining Room. Previously at this time of the year, after the crowds have left, the room was always quiet. “But now every Wednesday evening and Thursday afternoon, I hear happy sounds of lots of people having a good time and laughing,” she said.
“I was surprised how many visitors came in the summer for the Thursday afternoon classes, as a break from the beach. Now the afternoon sessions provide a perfect activity for stay-at-home moms before the kids get home. And they all get to take home their own signed masterpiece,” she added.
PaintNite involves a social atmosphere in which an instructor and an assistant teach groups of people, seated at long tables, how to paint specifically designed paintings. Each participant starts with a blank 16-by-20-inch canvas on an easel, three different-sized brushes, a paper plate with squirts of the different colors of acrylic paint needed, a cup of water to clean the brushes… and a glass of one’s beverage of choice.
Everyone is warned not to accidentally dip their brush into their drink… Apparently, many a perfectly good glass of wine has been ruined in this way!
Laura Erlandson, who lives close by, in Swan Key, and her friend of 25 years, Sally Fitzpatrick, attended the first session hosted at Smitty’s. They enjoyed it so much they went back twice more; each time painting a different picture.
Then Fitzpatrick noticed on the PaintNite Delaware Facebook page that new pairs of instructors were being sought as the program was becoming so popular throughout the area. They signed up, got trained and are now the regular Smitty’s instructors.
“We love it,” said Erlandson. “It makes our early retirement so enjoyable. We meet lots of new people and encourage them to think outside the box and get creative with their painting. Some people choose their PaintNite based on the location, like they know they will have a fun time at Smitty’s, and others look on the website for the particular painting they want to do that evening.”
On Wednesday, Oct. 1, the picture of the evening was “Mystical Halloween Moon.” By the time the class started at 7 p.m., approximately 40 registrants and last-minute walk-ins filled the room and waited expectantly for their first instruction. All must be 21 or older, because the venues are in drinking establishments, and it was a nice mix of women and men from their 20s to 70s.
Lauren and Billy Smith drove from Seaford to have a date night to celebrate their third wedding anniversary. It had been Billy’s idea, because they had never done anything like it before and Lauren likes artistic things. They, like several participants, used a Groupon discount for the $45 all-inclusive registration fee (not including food or drink). Return painters were happy to apply a $20 discount code.
There were six ladies from the Millsboro area, mostly graduates from Indian River High School, who look for different things to do together and share a love of camping. Crystal Croll had been to two previous PaintNites and knew it would be a great “girls’ night out.”
“After all, you don’t need a special talent!” Croll said.
Kathleen Mathews lives nearby, in Bayside, and came because she had nothing better to do and didn’t feel like cooking. As well as having fun, she was pleased that Wednesday evenings feature $5 hamburger specials at Smitty’s.
“It was perfect timing,” she said. “I ordered before we started, and the server knew to have it ready just in time for the break, when my purple and black paint for the background sky was drying!”
Sean Emler is a server at Smitty’s, and Tristan Oldershaw is a bartender. They enjoy working Wednesdays and Thursdays and have followed along with the class, creating several paintings of their own while standing at the bar, ready for the next order. Both agreed it is the camaraderie that develops at all of the sessions that makes their work enjoyable.
“Nobody leaves unhappy,” said Oldershaw.
“Awesome… We loved it… You should encourage everyone to come out,” said Lisa West, one of the Millsboro ladies, at the end of the evening.
Throughout the evening, Fitzpatrick, the primary artist, demonstrates on her own canvas how to proceed with painting the picture. She walks around the tables, giving support, answering questions and always being encouraging. Lively music plays in the background, and many fun photos are captured.
On Wednesday, Oct. 15, the painting will be “A Whale’s Tail,” and for Thursday, Oct. 17, it will be “Surfboards in the Sand.” Classes are from 7 to 9 p.m. on Wednesdays and noon to 2 p.m. on Thursdays, with sign-in starting a half-hour earlier.
Other venues at other times and with other instructors include Arena’s at the Airport, Irish Eyes in Lewes and Dead Freddies Island Grill in Ocean City, Md. Private parties and fundraisers can also be booked. For more information and to register online, go to