ActivitiesArtFamily Fun

Paint a Picture

Everyone possesses a creative streak looking for a way to express itself. Here’s something that did the trick for me.

I’ve always had an artistic side. Obviously. I’m a writer and photographer. But I hadn’t sat behind an easel since grade school. For one reason or another I’ve kept putting it off, but that love for painting never checked out of my consciousness. But like all old hobbies sometimes do, it suddenly beckoned me again. This time I listened.

Sometimes inspiration hits at the moment of opportunity. That cosmic intersection led me to look into a class I read about called Painting with a Twist. The class description stated that my painting subject could be a pet. That sealed the deal because my world revolves around a very spoiled dog named Amber.

So, I became a student of Painting with a Twist. The activity boasts 350 franchises across the U.S. The company is the number one employer of artists and the number one Paint & Sip Franchise with over 8,000 copyrighted works of art created – each an easy-to-follow piece of art for even the most inexperienced would-be Rembrandts.

Their motto? “A little bit of paint, a little bit of wine, a whole lot of fun!” How inviting is that?

Subjects range from abstracts and landscapes to creative renderings of animals, food and florals.

Being a Floridian, I personally adore the palm trees.

Painting with a Twist offers a place to create memories. In two or three hours, you receive step-by-step instructions and go home with a painting of your own creation.

Vincent van Gogh expressed it best — “The only time I feel alive is when I’m painting.”

But you needn’t be a master to paint. Bob Ross, television host of The Joy of Painting said, “All you need to paint is a few tools, a little instruction and a vision in your mind.”

Painting with a Twist (PWAT) was started in 2007 by Cathy Deano and Renee Maloney in Mandeville, Louisiana. Their concept pairs painting with friends, wine and a lively instructor to produce individual works of art.

Marvin and Leslie Gay opened their first PWAT franchise in St. Pete in May 2009. Leslie had been Director of Grants and Contracts Accounting at Tulane University in New Orleans. Long-term plans took her and Marvin – a CPA in the oil field business – to St. Petersburg, Florida, for retirement, but Leslie had other ideas.

Marvin Gay, co-owner of Painting with a Twist in Clearwater, Tampa and St Pete

After their success in St. Pete, they decided to open another PWAT in Tampa. And after that success? They set their sights on opening a studio in Clearwater. As Leslie says, “Retirement will have to wait. We’re having too much fun!”

Located in the Bay Bridge shopping center – sandwiched between Cici’s Pizza and a tanning salon – the Clearwater PWAT location is open six days a week, Tuesday through Sunday. Multiple classes are held per day.

Kids classes and Family Fun Days are offered for those 7 and up.  You can even host your private parties at PWAT during the week.

Classes after 7 p.m. are for painters ages 17 and up. It’s a time for moms to go out and have a good time where they don’t have to be filtered.

Some men show up with wives or girlfriends for a unique date night. In fact, two painters may place their canvas’ together to create one large Couples Masterpiece. Valentine’s Day, anyone?

Fifteen minutes before the session, participants gather for BYOB snacks, champagne, wine and beer.

Classes can usually range between five to 50 people, but during the pandemic, classes are a lot smaller and spaced out. Masks are required when standing, but not while artists are seated and painting.

A regular session lasts two or three hours. The Clearwater location also offers a more personal, three-hour Paint Your Pet class <insert excited emoji here> held monthly, in which a participant emails a photo, an artist pre-sketches the image onto a canvas and you complete the painting.

Painting can be created on small canvases to much larger ones, or on wood boards, cut-outs and slates.

There are even cut out canvasses which you can then hold up to your face to look like the Mona Lisa or Bob Ross.

Paint-spattered aprons are testament to the fact that I’m not the only messy painter out there. And thank heavens for that – I was wearing my favorite t-shirt.

Instead of their regular kids’ camps, PWAT hosts a Virtual Kids’ Camp for ages seven to 14 in the safety of your own home. A different painting is offered each day during camp sessions, streaming via Zoom. An artist provides step-by-step instruction. Twist at Home kits are available for pick up the day before the class.

All classes are available for sign up on PWAT’s online calendar. Reservations are recommended.

With fun music and a social environment, PWAT events include private parties, kids’ parties, corporate team building and 501c3 Painting with a Purpose fundraising events.

Using #pwatclearwater, painters can share their paintings on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

During my session, participants were laughing and having a ton of fun – something you rarely see nowadays. It was wonderful just to be in such a joyful atmosphere.

PWAT manager, Yesenia (Yesi) Vazquez told me, “This is the best job. It doesn’t feel like work, it’s so much fun.” Now that’s the place where you want to be!

Yesenia (Yesi) Vazquez, Manager at Painting with a Twist Clearwater

My particular class was taught by talented artist, Joshua French (jfrenchdesigns on Facebook.) Funny and engaging, he made all the difference in the world to someone that hadn’t picked up a paintbrush in so long.

Joshua French, artist and PWAT instructor

Joshua was assisted by artist Rebekka Huneke ( or

Rebekka Huneke, artist and instructor at Painting with a Twist

Many of the participants (including me) didn’t want to mess up their dog or cat masterpieces, so Joshua, Rebekka and Yesi were on hand to help finish the pet paintings – usually typically not done in the regular PWAT sessions.

But everyone wants their pets to look fabulous, right? My finished work of art holds a special place of honor over my TV so I can look at it frequently.

But for those who insist on painting their pet pieces entirely on their own, the artists at least fill in the eyes and noses, for as Josh says, “If they don’t look right, it ruins the whole artwork. Your dog ends up looking like Picasso!”

Some of the other painters had very creative (and fabulous) finished pet pieces of pink and blue, so there are no rules. I’ll have to try that next time.

Josh also explained that they held SOS classes: If anyone didn’t finish their creation, they could bring it back to another class to finish – free of charge.

One young-at-heart woman in her late 80s came in and said she hadn’t painted since she was a child and was really nervous. She said, ‘My art teacher told me I couldn’t paint, but in fact I’m an artist and didn’t even know it!’

I cannot wait until my next visit to PWAT – whether with my friends or grandkids. I know I’ll have a blast!

Let the creativity within you bursting to show itself at Painting with a Twist.

1570 N McMullen Booth Rd Unit H2, Clearwater, FL 33759

(727) 797-7928


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Kelly Kelly
the authorKelly Kelly

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