Wine, beer, paint splashing around at downtown business

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Art Director Hunter Chambers (center) offers artistic advice to Julie Rosenthal (left) and Nadine Lord.

Splish Splash: Art Director Hunter Chambers (center) offers artistic advice to Julie Rosenthal (left) and Nadine Lord.

Charles and Donna Schwers are selling fun.

At their newly opened Splash — a downtown Colorado Springs studio that combines group painting lessons and a party atmosphere for $35 a pop — they’re selling opportunity for first dates, girls’ night out, birthday parties and even a little therapy.

And people are buying.

This painting and drinking social scene is new to Colorado Springs but studios like it are popping up across the country. People are paying to paint everything from sunflowers to cupcakes and they are buying fine wines and local microbrewery beers to help release their artistic inhibitions.

At Splash, where they can seat 44, there has been such a long waiting list for its Friday and Saturday night group art lessons that the owners are adding a third night starting this month.

“The trend is great because it is getting people excited about doing something creative,” said Hunter Chambers, a Splash art instructor. “No longer are people satisfied with just going to dinner and movie.”

In February the Schwers, with their son Eric, opened Splash at 115 N. Tejon St. Both father and son are no strangers to business. Charles Schwers owned a custom home building company in Colorado Springs for years until his recent retirement. Eric Schwers runs a successful men’s underwear store in Boulder. Neither of them would proclaim to be artists.

But, when they visited an art studio in Denver and sat down at a blank canvas with a paintbrush in one hand and a drink the other, they were hooked.

“I was doing contracts and closings and in charge of 70 contractors — this is a whole different thing,” Charles Schwers said. “This is really a fun thing.”

The business model is simple: offer group art lessons by a trained artist, sell wine and beer and play popular music.

“It’s genius,” Chambers said. “That’s why I think it’s happening all over the country.”

Most customers have not picked up a paintbrush since fourth grade, Donna Schwers said. Something happens to children as they grow up, she said, they start becoming more critical of themselves and of their artistic ability.

But, there is something satisfying about walking out of the studio with a piece of art that you created, she said.

Splash provides the canvas, paint, brushes and aprons. Customers can follow the color scheme used by the instructor, or choose any colors they want, Donna Schwers said.

“You cannot do anything wrong,” she said.

She cheers on customers to find their inner artist and “the wine helps too,” she said.

Leigh Buettner and her cousin ordered a bottle of wine and then sat down to create cherry blossoms one recent Friday night. It was Buettner’s second time at Splash.

“It’s a good way to meet people,” she said. “We talked to two Iraq vets — I wouldn’t have had that opportunity otherwise.”

Chambers, who studied painting at Baylor University in Texas, deconstructs the painting in four or five easy steps. He makes the instruction simple, but he will talk about color wheels, value and composition with any customer who cares to ask.

“I love the idea of demystifying art for people and making it accessible for them to pursue it on their own.”

Splash is also a small retail shop with a variety of gift items. The studio is open for private parties and open painting, which means for $25, customers will get a canvas and paint, but no art instruction.

Eric Schwers said he hopes Splash adds some fun to downtown Colorado Springs, which he said is experiencing a renaissance.

“My plan was to be open for six months and decide whether this was going to work,” Eric Schwers said. “I’ve been pleasantly surprised.”

Nathan Green, a sergeant in the U.S. Army stationed at Fort Carson, also has been surprised at how much he’s enjoyed painting. He found Splash seven weeks ago and he’s been there every weekend since. He joked that he could have his own art show.

“I didn’t know what to expect,” said Green. “They made it really fun and easy.”

Fun, said Donna Schwers, that’s what they’re selling.