Popping bottles, painting colors
November 19-25, 2018
By Becca Bona
Typically, when you ask business owners to tell you their story, the answer doesn’t usually start with Craigslist. For Painting With a Twist [PWAT] owners John and Brittany Wolfe, however, that’s how they set the scene.
“I originally found [PWAT] on Craigslist,” says Brittany, in 2011. “I thought it was some kind of scam,” adds John, referencing the ad, which was looking for part-time painting instructors at $15 an hour.
Now full-time business owners, the couple has come a long way from answering that initial Craigslist ad.
From Craigslist to ownership
Before PWAT was on the horizon, the Wolfes met at the University of Central Arkansas (UCA), where they were both studying art. After realizing they had more in common than the subject, they became an item. By the time they graduated, they were searching for jobs together when Brittany found the ad online.
“I sent in my work to the listed email address and got a response back immediately,” she remembers. “I thought, ok, now it’s really a scam because that’s too good to be true.”
The original owners were planning to open in North Little Rock, and Brittany signed on with the team of instructors. Right before the grand opening, however, one of the teachers quit.
Brittany immediately suggested John.
“He sent in his work, and I remember their immediate response was ‘These are all really great, but does he have any paintings, these look like computer generated images?’” After Brittany explained that his work was, in fact, paintings, John was hired on the spot.
As one of the original paint and sip operation in the U.S. – PWAT was born out of Hurricane Katrina.
“It actually started as a way to fundraise money and get people together – getting everyone’s mind off hurricane Katrina. It’s an excellent example of art therapy and building a community,” says Brittany. The North Little Rock location was the 49th studio to open in the U.S.
After nearly two and a half years working at PWAT, Brittany slipped into a managerial role while John was operating as head artist. At that time, the original owners sold to a new owner in the summer of 2013.
“She basically said to the new owner – if you keep Brittany and John happy you’ll be fine. […] We appreciated that,” Brittany remembers.
A few months after working under the new owner, the Wolfes decided to make a move and presented their plan to him.
“We’d been thinking about going off on our own before he even bought the studio, in general. We weren’t sure if we wanted to do PWAT or if we wanted to do our own thing, maybe a similar version of it. We basically told him, either you’re with us or you’re about to be our competition,” says Brittany.
The two had been looking at properties for a few months, lining out how they would run the operation if they were in charge.
“We were just scouting out our new location, basically, even though we had no backing. We had no entrepreneurial experience at all,” John says. “We believed if we were passionate enough about it - it’s going to work.”
“I just believed it was going to happen,” Brittany echoes.
With perfect timing, a passion for painting, and confidence on their side, the Wolfes were able to become co-owners alongside the already existing North Little Rock location, when they opened in West Little Rock in 2014.
Looking forward: artists turned entrepreneurs
One of the hindrances of working under a franchise included designing the dream studio. The couple had certain guidelines they had to meet, but knew they wanted to mark their own stamp on PWAT, locally.
They were able to lean on their experience at the North Little Rock studio to help.
“We knew what would make the dream studio because we’d worked at one for the past almost three years so we knew what we didn’t want,” says John. “We wanted a big space – we wanted people to have room.”
The Wolfes also had to learn how to handle every new thing that popped up.
“Every single thing that we were doing – we had to educate ourselves on the spot. […] All the sudden I’m a site manager – overseeing the construction that’s happening in a timely manner,” John explains.
As the 108 studio in the U.S. (there are now over 300), the Wolfes immediately made their mark. Most PWAT owners aren’t artists in their own right, in fact, there are only a few other studios that operate that way.
“That’s one of the things that makes us stand out,” John says. “We know firsthand exactly what it takes to operate day-by-day.”
As artists turned entrepreneurs, the two were surprised to find that the most frustrating aspect of running their business would be finding other qualified teaching instructors with some staying power.
“It’s really hard to find a balance between somebody that is talented enough on the artistic side but then personable enough, friendly enough, and outgoing enough to teach a class,” Brittany explains. The two have taken to recruiting artists that they know from school or through the community to build up a team that they are quite proud of.
Goals for PWAT and beyond
These days the couple has their various roles down. Brittany does a lot of the behind the scenes activities, although she teaches a few classes here and there, while John is the main artist and often teaches the popular classes in the evenings.
Throughout their time as painters, managers, owners and beyond, John says he hopes to keep growing. Brittany made a point to carve out the social media marketing plan this past year, while John continues to keep his mantra strong – give folks the experience they are looking for.
“Some people couldn’t care less about their art – they just came to take their wife on a nice date night or came to have a girl’s night out while catching a few drinks and chilling out,” he says.
Another reason that the two are so passionate about PWAT, is that it fills a creative void.
“People are so starved of any kind of creation that I don’t think they’re even aware of it,” says John. “I think everybody’s got this drive to be creative in some sense, but I think people are so critical and they’re worried about the end result and not engaged in the act of creation.”
Along that note, PWAT hosts gallery nights, in which the instructing artists and the owners sell their personal work. “You get to know people more, at the end of the day it’s not even necessarily just about our little art community – I feel like it’s a community as a whole that needs to get back to their creative roots,” says Brittany.
As far as the art community in Central Arkansas and Little Rock at-large goes, Brittany says, “I feel like there have been some really great things happening, especially in the SoMa area, murals coming up […] anytime I feel like you can bring the art to the streets, art to the people – it’s a good thing for everybody.”
John echoes this feeling of wanting more, saying, “I think what we’re lacking – is this youthful creative culture. I saw it in New Orleans, I’ve obviously seen it in California, Colorado, and Austin. I would love for us to be a part of it, more.”
The little time the couple has outside of PWAT, is spent with family and friends as well as in an exploration of their own artistic expressions.
John has played around with painting, leatherworking, woodworking, and is now working with denim. “I’m just playing and having fun – this is my art exploration. I feel like as an artist you’re never done growing,” he says.
Brittany has been paying attention to her jewelry line as well as her paintings. “I would definitely like to get my jewelry in some boutiques and get my paintings in some local galleries,” she says.
Keep up with Brittany and John, PWAT, and the entire team on Instagram, Facebook, and their website: https://www.paintingwithatwist.com/studio/west-little-rock/.