This is not your normal wine tasting experience. In a little room with ten other enthusiastic drinkers it is early day; rain drums on the skylight, surrounding piano wafts through hidden speakers. In one hand we are all holding a glass of red, from the Yarra Valley. Thus far, so ordinary — except that in our flip side we are all holding a stick of charcoal.
Artist Andrzej Nowicki is our instructor today. A minute ago, he had been asking us to utilize our charcoal to draw the still life he has arranged in the center of the studio, to take into consideration the marks we are making, about the spaces between the lines as well as the blocks of light and colour. Now he is telling us about the history of the Yarra Valley wineries as we sip out of our glasses.
Welcome to the Grey Eye Society, a wine and art course that Nowicki runs at the attic space of Melbourne’s Foolscap Studio. Nowicki clarifies Grey Eye as “a drinking club with a drawing problem”, an opportunity for individuals to research or reconnect with the joy of drawing while learning something about wine — and, of course, fulfilling other like-minded spirits over a glass of something yummy.
It is an appealing concept that has attracted all kinds. Pupils this evening array from an IT professional looking to try something different and a theater designer eager to enhance her drawing skills to an emergency services worker and her mum who’s never drawn before. Nowicki grew up in South Africa, where a motivational teacher instilled the belief that drawing was something everybody can do and could change how you thought about the world. He also cites influential US art instructor Betty Edwards, author of Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, as an inspiration.
Nowicki indicates that learning about wine in this casual, relaxing environment also gives people confidence about what they are tasting and drinking, in precisely the exact same manner that drawing gives individuals confidence in the way they see things and respond to the world around them. Art and wine classes like the Grey Eye Society have been popping up across Australia. In November last year, Hillary Wall and her husband BJ, recently arrived from the US, opened Cork & Chroma, a “paint and sip” studio in South Brisbane, where folks gather over BYO bottles for communal painting sessions. Again, the concept was embraced warmly: the Walls now run five sessions per week in their studio and can take up to 32 painters in each class.
“People love the idea that it is not a formal art class,” Hillary Wall says. “There is an artist available to provide directions if people want, but mostly it is a social setting: the music’s playing, everybody grabs a drink. They have such a fantastic time.”
Finding art and wine courses
THE Grey Eye Society’s next round of courses begins on Wednesday, May 14, and runs until June 11. Featured wine areas will include Heathcote, the Barossa and Tasmania. Courses run from 6.30pm to 8.30pm. Price — covering all wine and art materials within the five weeks — is $280.
AIMED more in the fun events marketplace in relation to the budding artist or oenophile, Cocktails and Canvas runs hot paint and sip sessions in Moonee Ponds. Cost is usually about $40. Art materials are provided; beverages can be bought.
CORK & Chroma’s “paint and sip” sessions operate five evenings a week at a studio in South Brisbane. Each session explores a different type of painting and, while all art materials are supplied, it is BYO wine. Cost is usually $50 a session.
This past year, The Oak Barrel wine store in Elizabeth Street in the CBD conducted an event where tasters attempted a couple of wines and, with the advice of two guest artists, painted abstract images of what they were tasting. The event is scheduled to run again sometime in June or July. Price is $20.
IN Glebe, the Friend in Hand pub runs three-hour social life-drawing courses every Monday from 6.30pm, with pupils encouraged to partake of the institution’s liquid refreshments. Price is $15. BYO art materials.