Real Life

How the Christchurch earthquake helped me learn to paint

Amanda Anthony (30) has perfected the art of bringing people together.

I’m the owner and host of Paint ‘n’ Sip in Christchurch – we offer a chance to let loose and have fun, to have a drink and try something new. We’re not doing fine art, it’s fun art, but we have experienced artists in studio to show techniques, so at every class you’ll learn something different.

What I enjoy seeing is the people who walk out with a smile because they are so proud of themselves for trying something they have never done before.

The ones who tell me, ’I can’t paint, I can’t even draw a stick figure’ are the ones who get so entranced you can’t stop them! There are also those who have never painted before and they unearth a natural talent. Friends might have dragged them along but the inner artist just comes out.

Of course, there are also the ones who, after a few sips, will turn any type of painting into parts of the anatomy!

We’ve had children as young as two – where there’s no sipping of course – and some aged in their late eighties. We’ve even hosted a stag party with 28 guys in the studio. They painted the groom in pink undies and high heels, and he dragged his ball and chain. After that, I swore we’d never do a stag do again, but we hosted a couple more.

There are hen parties, birthdays and team building, but Paint ‘n’ Sip really came about so that people could reconnect and socialise in the wake of tragedy.

I arrived in Christchurch with my Kiwi fiancé Shannon three weeks before the devastating February earthquake struck in 2011.

On the day, I was working in Manchester St in the city and I remember the people pouring out of buildings, covered in liquefaction, the women pulling off their high heels just so they could get out of there.

I’m from New Orleans, so I’d already witnessed several natural disasters. I was 19 and studying in Baton Rouge when Hurricane Katrina struck. My mother’s house flooded and my grandparents had to demolish their house due to flooding.

The two disasters were quite different – New Orleans didn’t lose its city but rather its suburbs, but people felt the same feelings there that they did in Christchurch. It’s a vulnerability of not knowing what to do next. In natural disasters, it’s always the community spirit that brings back hope.

It was in New Orleans, following Hurricane Katrina, where the business concept for Paint ‘n’ Sip first began. At first, the classes were a way to fundraise for people who needed clothes or food, but it soon became a great way for people to get away from their reality, of dealing with insurance companies or repairing their houses.

I first saw pictures of my friends on Facebook at these Paint ‘n’ Sip classes and I thought, ‘How the hell do they know how to paint, what is this?’

Being a world away from my friends and family in the States, I wasn’t having that social connection, especially in a post-quake city and I wanted to do something to get people having fun again.

It just so happened a friend of mine had taken Paint ‘n’ Sip to New York, so I spoke to her about how to set it up in Christchurch. I wanted to bring people back into the CBD, which was probably a bit naïve, but I had big goals! The rent was astronomical and the landlords thought my business idea was too risky so they wouldn’t take me on.

We moved to the suburb of Ilam, which was a blessing. The neighbourhood is really supportive and our teachers have come through the Ilam School of Fine Arts.

I had my fair share of sceptics, people who would walk in and say, ‘This is never going to work.’ I even received an email from a local artist who told me what I was doing was a commercialised disgrace and shame on me.

I was shocked. Even now when I tell people what I do, they say, ‘Is that a thing? How does that even work?’ But when I show them a photo, they can see that everyone is just having fun.

It’s taken us two years, but Paint ‘n’ Sip has gone from everyone saying, ‘no, no, no’ to ‘yes!’

We’ve now expanded to Queenstown and last year, we were a finalist in the Champion Canterbury Business Awards. We didn’t win but we didn’t care, it was awesome to be up against businesses that had been around for 15 years.

And another great thing is I’ve learned to paint now. I’d never picked up a paintbrush and I never had any desire to.

I may not be off to pursue a career in fine arts, but it shows that painting is something people can pick up and do, you just have to do it. If I can do it, anyone can!

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