Becky Brice never intended to open a brick-and-mortar studio when she started The Wet Palette Paint Parties five years ago. Back then, the party traveled to its customers. Now, it stays in the studio.
And it’s an even bigger studio than the one she had at The Parkway in Richland for more than three years — it’s expanding to include a kitchen.
Six months ago, Brice moved into her new space at 1001 Wright Ave. in Richland, where she’s renovating a kitchen and getting a wine license. There’s even a new name and branding: The Wet Palette: Uncork + Create.
And she’s happy.
“I never wanted a restaurant. I didn’t actually want a brick-and-mortar location,” said Brice, who started offering classes in the new 2,100-square-foot space in January. “I started this business not looking at it as a business, but as a need I had.”
That need — undefined but acutely felt — came in the months after the birth of her second daughter.
With a master’s degree in fine arts, Brice missed being immersed in theater or painting. She also was later diagnosed with postpartum anxiety.
Her life took a turn while creating a tribute painting for her aunt and uncle of a cousin who had recently died.
“I felt really different,” she said. “I had a realization in the midst of doing this painting, something was wrong with me, and painting was making it right.”
A good and tenacious friend eventually convinced her to start a painting party service. Only problem was Brice preferred to work in watercolors and nearly all the services nationwide use acrylic paint, which is easier for novices to use.
“Watercolor can be very free-flowing and intimidating,” she said, adding that beginning painters often worry about paint running all over the paper.
She set out to invent her own process to allow and empower every painter to create a masterpiece, using stencil-like cutouts for masking, combined with solid teaching techniques.
It’s far from paint-by-numbers, but it’s pretty much fail-proof. Brice said she likes to occasionally surprise new painters by “accidentally” spilling an entire palette onto a sheet of paper, then letting them see how none of it gets into the areas they want to remain white.
For instance, if the scheduled class is painting hot air balloons, “it’s not going to look like some kind of amoeba,” she said. “It is a hot air balloon.”
Recent classes have included paintings of the cable bridge, a world map and a cat on an iron perch.
Upcoming classes will focus on flowers, creatures of the night, a dragonfly and a pineapple.
Two classes are offered each week, usually a Friday and Saturday or Thursday and Friday setup. Each class runs from 6 to 9 p.m.
One of the studio’s popular nights is a “paint your pet” class. Customers send in three photos of their animal, and the studio staff takes care of the masking.
“It’s a three-hour time period to socialize,” Brice said, “and you come away with an amazing masterpiece that is your pet.”
The next paint-your-pet night is June 22. For sports fans, a paint-your-team class is July 5, and a class for the Pasco High School class of 1999 reunion is Aug. 9.
Costs for classes range from $42 to $54, after taxes and fees, depending on how much setup is involved, as masking each individual painting can take 20 minutes or more. Wet Palette provides all the supplies and aprons.
The studio also hosts private parties, from client-appreciation and team-building events for businesses, to bachelorette and birthday parties.
Brice said creating a work of art can be a great team-building exercise, especially when each person receives a palette with colors that, when mixed, “look like poop.”
Instead, they have to search out other painters with colors that complement their own.
“You have to find people you don’t usually work with,” she said. It creates “a harmonious piece. Everyone has their own strengths and weaknesses.”
With wine and food on hand, Brice’s new space also is available for non-painting events — rehearsal dinners, baby showers and the like — for up to 60 people.
Brice’s initial aversion to running a restaurant was born in her first business endeavor.
She co-founded TASTE Tri-Cities in 2008, producing a quarterly publication on local restaurants and food and wine events in the Tri-Cities. The business was dissolved in 2011 when it looked like the founders were moving away, though Brice’s family wound up staying in the Tri-Cities.
She said she has great admiration for the restaurant owners she worked with, but didn’t want to take on the uphill battle of running one.
Wet Palette’s recent move came about when the studio’s former caterer, Cheese Louise, closed in November after the death of co-owner Tamara Felton Hoover Krieger.
Painting classes and parties simply wouldn’t fly without the food and wine, Brice said.
The new studio, which is leased, used to be an old hair salon with a kitchen service area, so the retrofit wasn’t too expensive, Brice said. A building permit filed with the city cited $6,200 in improvements using Cliff Thorn Construction as the general contractor.
Research and connections made in Sysco foods, a global food distribution company, from her TASTE Tri-Cities days helped her create a kitchen that isn’t extensive but was well suited to a menu that includes such items as paninis and salads, apps and desserts.
Most of the remodel expense, Brice said, was for plumbing work and commercial refrigerators, the latter purchased from Cheese Louise.
Adding the kitchen has expanded her workforce to seven full- and part-time employees, including Brice.
“Plus we have an amazing group of people who are volunteers,” she said.
At the previous studio, two people made up the staff.
Brice also sells painting supplies and kits online to help would-be painters try their art at home. Among the offerings are paint-your-team supplies for the Mariners and Seahawks, Huskies and Cougars, and Cubs fans.
Other designs range from superheroes to princesses, dinosaurs to Darth Vader, and there are tutorial videos to offer guidance.
The Wet Palette brand has expanded into Yakima, with former student painter and volunteer Kim Hutchens holding at-home parties as an independent contractor.
Brice said she’s had some franchising inquiries from customers around the country — and from some people who were excited that watercolor paint parties were available. But she’s in no hurry to take her model nationwide.
She said businesses — like people — are “not microwaves, we’re crockpots. It’s going to be slow, but it will grow, and it will be oh so wonderful.”
Her best advice to aspiring business owners — aside from avoid debt — is to “find your niche and embrace it. Stop being distracted by all the shiny things on the sideline. Instead, really hone in on your niche.”
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