Two “social painting” businesses opened in the last year. But what’s social painting?

The Paint Station and Paint and Pour produce events that fall about halfway between a class and a party. A group of people, presumed to be complete novices, are supplied with prepped canvases, brushes, and acrylic paints and given enough instruction to allow them to replicate a painting, usually a fairly simple one chosen in advance from a selection on the website. Unlike the serious atmosphere of an art class, the students are encouraged to laugh, chatter, snack, and ignore the teacher as much as they care to. Kids should find this easy–just pretend there’s a substitute teacher–but adults sometimes need alcohol to loosen up this much, which is what puts the “pour” in Paint and Pour. The Paint Station takes a little higher road, casting itself as a tad more educational: it doesn’t allow alcohol on the premises.

Dennis Spencer says this brand of entertainment has been big in the South for a number of years. Like grits and beauty pageants, it seems to be one of those things we northerners have been unaccountably slow to appreciate. He and Mike Patino opened their first Paint and Pour in Brighton, and are now expanding with Paint and Pour Underground.

The added “Underground” specifies the local store’s location in the basement under Elmo’s T-shirts on Main. Reached via a graffiti-covered stairwell, it has a noir, comedy club-like ambiance, and Spencer hires his art teachers for their ability to “joke around and keep the energy at a high level.” Spencer and Patino themselves look a bit like the Blues Brothers in their nearly matching fedoras and deadpan demeanor. There’s no liquor license at Paint and Pour, by the way–the business doesn’t sell or distribute alcohol. They get away with allowing customers to bring their own because “we’re heavily insured.”

Paint Station has a more wholesome vibe. Kendra Wilkins and Catrina Vaughn both are educators (though not art teachers), and their studio occupies a sunny second-floor space above Panera Bread on Washtenaw overlooking Whole Foods. “We think art is a powerful tool to nurture creative abilities in all ages,” Wilkins says. Spiderman and dinosaurs are two of the kid-session paintings offered, though, like Paint and Pour, they have a wide-ranging inventory of paintings on hand suitable for sessions ranging from couples’ night out to bachelorette parties to team-building activities. Wilkins is also a caterer and can provide more elaborate, organized food service for an additional fee. Baseline classes at both places cost about $35 per person for a two-hour class that includes all materials.

Paint and Pour opened last spring, and Paint Station this fall, but Spencer says that a shark is already circling the waters–a Painting with a Twist franchise is looking for space in Ann Arbor. “They’re out to smash the small companies. They’re going to try to eat both of us up.” The Louisiana-based outfit was actually his former employer–he briefly worked for the company’s Ferndale franchise, and if social painting as described above sounds fairly regimented, it’s anarchy compared to the Twist method. “If we wanted to use glitter paint, we’d have to get permission from corporate,” he says, rolling his eyes. “They’ll start by taking our U-M business,” he says philosophically. “Eventually, we may just have to move on.”

The Paint Station, 3227 Washtenaw, Suite G (Huron Village Shopping Center), 477-6963. Call or check website for class times:

Paint and Pour Underground, 220 S. Main, 720-9777. Daily 10 a.m.-10 p.m.