Five Minutes with PopUp Painting

Social Painting is the biggest craze to hit cities all over the world to encourage people to get creative. Pop Up Painting is the first company in the UK to introduce the concept of taking art out of the gallery and making art accessible to all. We chat to Gareth Shelton, one of the founders of the company about what it was like to introduce a completely new idea to the social scene.

What is Pop Up Painting, and how long have you been running?

PopUp Painting is a ‘social painting and wine’ events company, inspired by the ‘sip and paint’ trend in the United States. We’ve been running for three and a half years – we launched in 2013 in the Soho Hotel. All of our events are themed around masterpieces (Van Gogh, Banksy) and have accompanying soundtracks, and sometimes even themed locations and other touches. We pop up in bars, restaurants and workplaces across London, Birmingham and Brighton. Importantly, our market is young professionals who don’t consider themselves ‘arty’ or even particularly creative. We get a lot of people working on law, finance or health come along. It’s a chance to do something a little bit different on a night out, and unleash your creativity while having a good time with friends or meeting new people.

What inspired you to start your business? Tell us about the first moment you decided to start PopUp Painting?

Our business partner, Rick, initially suggested to us that we start a ‘sip and paint’ company in the UK. He is a serial entrepreneur (and former US Air Force Pilot), and owns Cocktails and Creations, our sister company in the States. In February 2013 we flew over to Boston (USA) to try an event. None of us (neither myself, Phyllisa nor Rick – the founders) have an artistic background. I was personally really surprised by how much I enjoyed it. From there we definitely felt this was something that could work.

What’s your background? As a non-artist, what has it been like working in a creative business?

My undergraduate degree was in History and Politics, and I’m now taking a Masters in Political Economy at the LSE. So painting and events are quite different to me. It's been very interesting to see how artists live - it's often quite precarious - and it's been rewarding to see guests enjoying themselves and really unleashing their creativity. 

What is the best advice you've been given since starting PopUp Painting?  

Be customer focused, not product focused. It's not so much about what you want to sell, but what your customer wants to buy. Have a clear idea of who your customer is, and go from there. What do young professionals want? That's got quite different answers to 'what does an art lover want?' or 'what do children or elderly people want?'.

What advice would you give to someone trying to start their own creative business?

Be patient. Be really, really patient. And while it’s not always easy – you need to carve out the time for real business development. Especially in a small company, it’s easy to get bogged down in just handling things as they come in. Wherever possible, carve out time for planning and being proactive, rather than just reactive.

But also, don’t let perfection be the enemy of the good. Don’t get so bogged down in making the perfect campaign or email that you don’t end up sending it at all!

What have been the hardest moments?  Have you ever thought about giving up?

Anyone who is self employed or runs an SME will know that it is hard work. Events, especially, are really time consuming. In the day we're doing promotional and business development work, and then in the evening we're out on location. It doesn't leave a lot of time for your personal life. And when you're just starting up, you're not in a position to hire more people to do the work for you. We've just got to that point now, but getting through that was hard. Cancelling events, too, is always horrible. We're running more events than ever before, but a couple of times a month an event just doesn't sell - which is disheartening. Giving up has crossed my mind, but never given serious thought to it. Despite everything we're going in the right direction, even if we wish we were going a little bit faster from time to time.

What do you love most about running PopUp Painting? Has there been a highlight?

I think it has to be those moments where someone who started the event a little anxious sees their painting come together, and they are glowing with pride. The painting doesn't have to be perfect - but they're amazed at themselves for being able to paint anything at all. That's lovely. 

Please tell us how can someone find your company online: 

People can find us in bars, restaurants and workplaces right across London, Birmingham and Brighton. People can book for one of our public events (we schedule over 30 a month!) or find out about our private and corporate events at, and we’re on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram @popuppainting/#popuppainting.

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