PopUp Painting at 8: how it started and where it’s going
Today PopUp Painting & Events turns eight years old! Since our launch in 2013 we’ve painted with more than 50,000 people from around the UK. We’ve loved seeing people from all different walks of life unleash their creativity (wine glass in one hand, paintbrush in the other!). It’s been enormously rewarding to hear countless people say “wow, I had no idea I could do that”. There have been so many great and interesting moments over the year. To mark our eighth year, here’s our story of how we started, and where it’s going.
‘Sip and paint’ didn’t start with PopUp Painting, but we like to think we’ve brought our own unique take to the phenomenon. The idea took off in the US in the late 2000s, and by the time we launched there were already many businesses in the US with all sorts of different approaches. In 2013 we visited Paint Nite in Boston, USA to see what it was all about. We enjoyed ourselves and we came away with all sorts of ideas of what we’d do differently and what really mattered.
From there we launched in the April of 2013, first running at the Soho Hotel in London.
You may or may not know this, but the founders and directors of PopUp Painting are not artists at all! We have Phyllissa, who comes from a career in health service management; Gareth who loves political economy and campaigns; Iain who comes from an engineering background; and Chris who is a lawyer!
Not coming from an art background could have given us a bit of a disadvantage compared to others – but instead we leaned into it. If each of us – who have no experience in the arts – can enjoy creating a painting, then so can countless other people just like us. This perspective also contributed to us thinking of ourselves as a social event with painting, rather than a painting event that happened to be social. We’re all about the experience!
We knew that people were brilliant and creative, and that creativity was vital for innovation and life in the workplace, but that not everyone had the confidence or opportunity to unleash their creativity. That’s where we would come in, setting ourselves a mission: to bring art out of the classroom and gallery and into the places that people meet on an everyday basis.
This mission would take us into bars and restaurants – seeing friends on a night out and many, many dates – and into workplaces and offices – helping facilitate team building and creative exercises.
Building a team
Over the years we’ve built up a fantastic network of artists and events professionals who make our events what they are. In our first year we had a team of 5 or 6, and gradually built up. Now we have more than 40 people on the team, based in half a dozen cities. We know that we wouldn’t be where we are today without the ideas, energy and good humour of our team!
What’s always been brilliant to see is how everybody brings their own slant to things. That could take the form of a dozen different approaches to Van Gogh’s Starry Night; different styles of comedy and performance; or people who know a magical way to fold napkins in double time.
Popping up more and more
In our first year we were running about 8 events a month. Believe it or not, we even avoided Friday and Saturday nights in our first year! As we refined our events and style and built in confidence, we began popping up more and more. By March 2020 we were running well over 60 events a month!
First of all we expanded across London – reaching from Ealing all the way to Canary Wharf, and from Clapham to Hampstead and beyond. Then we started appearing in more cities across the country: Birmingham first, then Manchester, then Leeds and York! We weren’t just in bars and restaurants, but in countless workplaces and offices and even some people’s homes and gardens.
Things we tried
We talk about creativity and experimentation as being vital for innovation, and it would be remiss for us not to mention the different things that we tried over the years. While our core painting events have remained pretty consistent (with lots of revisions and improvements along the way), some things came and went. For example, for a couple of years we even ran our own street art events in the Leake Street tunnel by Waterloo.
Lockdown prompted us to experiment a lot too. Before launching our Zoom ‘online parties’ we experimented with YouTube and lives.
Coronavirus and the following lockdowns changed everything for us – as it did for almost everyone. You’ll probably remember how surreal everything felt at first. As we grappled with what was happening, we began writing to hundreds of booked guests to advise them of their ticket status (thanks to everyone who supported us by joining our ticket bank!), and started planning what on earth we were going to do.
After a couple of weeks of fire fighting we launched PopUp Painting Live – a series of free, live-streamed events on YouTube and Instagram.As lockdown continued, we started up Online Parties – trying to capture as much of the interactivity of our in person events as possible, all the while doing them on Zoom. It was really heartening to see how guests and team alike adjusted to these strange new ways of doing things!
Our first in person events of 2021 are set to run from around 20th May and our excitement is hardly containable!
We have a lot of lost ground to make up – just like everybody else. But despite everything that did change over the course of the last year a lot of things have stayed the same: people are still innately creative; people are still looking for new experiences and memories; and people are still pretty great to be around!
We have exciting plans for the future, and we’re very grateful for our wonderful guests and brilliant team who do so much to support our mission to unleash Britain’s creativity.