With soft background music setting a relaxed tone, nearly three dozen people focus on the intricate task of painting giraffes. Laughter breaks out in spurts as they attempt to complete the head, neck, body and legs with acrylic paint on canvas. “She’s walking uphill. That’s why there’s an incline,” says participant Michelle Leischner, trying to complete her second giraffe, which is set against a backdrop of trees and a sunset.

Some of the painters stop for an occasional sip of wine or a soft drink at this “Paint Nite” paint-and-sip event on a Saturday afternoon at AntoLin Cellars in Yakima. “As we go along, it starts to look better,” says Rene Perez, referring to the glass of Riesling that sits waiting for him, next to his easel.

The group is enjoying a pastime that is increasing in popularity across the Yakima Valley, according to Connie Psomas of Spokane, event coordinator for Paint Nite in Eastern Washington and northern Idaho. “We’re selling seats so quickly, we can’t keep up with it,” she says. The classes give participants the chance to “completely forget about their day, their week, the worries of the week. And, they go home with something really fun.”

For prices ranging from $27 to $37, people of all ages can join in, Psomas says. Classes are designed to accommodate those from ages 6 and up, 13 and up, 18 and up, and 21 and up. For that price, you are provided with a 16-by-20-inch canvas, easel, paint, brushes, a cup of water for dipping brushes and an apron. Beverages, for those who want them, are additional.

“All they do is arrive and bring themselves,” Psomas says. Then, an instructor guides attendees through the step-by-step process of completing a painting in just two hours. Class size can vary from about 15 to 40 participants. The subject of the painting also can vary from flowers to trees, sunsets to animals.

On this particular afternoon, the class includes both men and women, two 11-year-olds (one of whom, in his enthusiasm, has paint smeared from ear to ear) and a 7-year-old. There are pairs of women friends, a family of nine, mothers and kids, and even a three-generation group of women.

“I think everyone would enjoy having something to do,” comments Kira Fox, the 7-year-old who has come with her mother, Jessica. This is the sixth class in recent months for Kira, who is deciding between becoming a veterinarian or a painter one day, her mom says. “She’s also brought a friend. I do date night with my husband, too,” Jessica says. “We enjoy having our time together, not having stress.”

For Danielle Redtfeldt of Selah, today’s instructor, “Painting is happiness.” Her enthusiasm is obvious as she guides her pupils through their paces, encouraging them at every step. Redtfeldt and other Paint Nite instructors begin each class by asking students to take a pledge, designed to put everything (pardon the pun) in perspective. Today’s pledge is, “I am here to play and try something new. If I make a mistake, no big deal, whoop-de-do.”

“People really want to be creative, without knowing how to be creative,” Redtfeldt observes. A cardboard cutout of the face of Bob Ross, the celebrated TV painting instructor, sits at the front of the classroom in the midst of paints, brushes and a sample painting. “He’s good at inspiration,” Redtfeldt says. He teaches that it’s “OK to make a mistake. You can turn something that’s a mistake into something beautiful.” For “a lot of people (who) lead really fast-paced lives, it really helps to get away, have fun, relax,” she adds.

And that philosophy seems to work. At first, it can be a little intimidating, says student Leann Jones, who is attending her second class today, bringing along her son and his girlfriend. However, once the class is underway, Jones says that she enjoys the creativity of the event. Since each artist has an individual style, “I get to put myself on the canvas,” she says.

Looking around the room, that individuality is evident, with sunsets painted in varying hues, some trees much more abstract than others and giraffes that, well, are unique. One painter even decided to do a horizontal format, instead of the vertical sample followed by other class members. “When (participants) are finished, they look at what they did and they’re kind of ‘Wow,’” says Redtfeldt.

The paint-and-sip events are a win-win for everyone, Psomas believes. They help to attract business at slower times for beverage sellers, and participants “are generally pleasantly surprised with the outcome of their work. They’re like, “‘This is really great. I can’t believe I did this.’”

In the Yakima Valley, Paint Nite classes are held on Thursday and Friday evenings, Saturday afternoons and the occasional Wednesdays or Sundays. Locations include AntoLin’s, the Wenas Creek Saloon in Selah, D’Nile Tap House in Naches and Silver Lake Winery in Zillah. Paint Nite (which is being re-branded as Yaymaker) also offers candle-making classes. Fundraisers and private gatherings such as bachelorette parties may be arranged upon request. For details, including a preview of the pictures planned for various classes, visit paintnite.com or yaymaker.com.