By Saundra Amrhein

After they fill their cups with wine and their plates with finger foods of cheeses and cucumber slices, the budding artists take their places upon stools before canvases that are blank except for a sketched outline of the Brooklyn Bridge.

By night’s end they hope their canvas will bear some resemblance to the model painting at the front of the room – a shimmering New York skyline – though the clusters of friends and families laugh nervously over the prediction of their talents.

“Whatever you’re drinking, keep it away from the paint cup,” said Curtis Sneary, the entertaining art instructor on this night at Painting With a Twist in downtown St. Petersburg as about 30 participants don aprons and arrange their brushes.

Drop-in art activity classes like this for residents and visitors have boomed not only in west Central Florida cities like St. Petersburg, but also across Florida.

From pottery to jewelry making to woodwork, tourists and visitors now do more than tour galleries when on vacation – they get to explore their own artistic side while taking a break from the area’s white-sand beaches and other attractions. Many classes, like this one, welcome students to bring their own beverages and snacks.

Tourists especially turn to the classes as a fun alternative on rainy days or if they’ve been in the sun too long, said Leslie Gay, who co-owns this Painting With a Twist franchise with her husband. They also own two other stores, in Tampa and Clearwater, which are among the more than 30 Painting With a Twist sites throughout the state of Florida. Sometimes entire families or groups of friends book a night. Painting themes run from seascapes to lighthouses to visitors’ own pets.

“It’s a great stress release,” Gay said.

“The Painting With a Twist in Syracuse is painting a Florida scene tonight,” Sneary said, joking with the class, which holds about a dozen New Yorkers-turned-Floridians. He loosens them up before guiding them step by step on applying various colors in different blocks – the Big Apple’s skyline slowly taking shape on their canvases in the next two hours.

The theme is perfect for April Sherwin, 24, who lives in New York City. She is visiting her mother in St. Petersburg this weekend and the two sit side by side painting along with her mother’s cousin.  

“We wanted to do something we could all do together,” April said. “This was the only date and time we could all go. It was ironic that it was New York. It was very fitting.”

For more information on prices and schedules at Painting With a Twist in St. Petersburg and other west Central Florida locations, visit:

For more ideas on feeding your artistic soul while on vacation on Florida’s central Gulf coast, check out these locations:

  • Morean Arts Center in St. Petersburg: This arts center is one of the largest working potteries in the Southeast and located in a historic train station in St. Petersburg’s Warehouse Arts District. It offers everything from weekend workshops to Friday Night Clay – two hours of fun and wheel throwing or hand building with friends, family and your favorite beverage, topped off when organizers glaze or bisque your selected piece. For more information, visit:
  • Painting with Fire Studio in St. Petersburg teaches everything from basic techniques on torch-firing enamel to jewelry making to metalworking to wire- and seagrass wrapping. For more information, visit:
  • Dunedin Fine Arts Center: Located in the charming waterfront village of Dunedin five miles north of Clearwater, the center provides classes and workshops on everything from photography and painting to pottery, stone-carving and drawing. It also holds art summer camps for kids. For more information, visit:


Shot of glass making at the Zen Glass Studio in St. Petersburg

Zen Glass Studio in St. Petersburg

- Lara Cerri for VISIT FLORIDA

  •  Zen Glass Studio in St. Petersburg offers classes and workshops on making everything from pendants to craft beer glasses to wine glasses, including how to melt, twist and mix colored and clear glass together. For more information, visit:
  • Colleen Cassidy’s Art Studio and Gallery in Sarasota offers everything from watercolor and wine classes; beginner to advanced water color classes; to furniture painting and basic drawing; to camps for children. For more information, visit:
  •  Paint Nite holds two-hour painting parties at local pubs throughout the region from Tampa to Sarasota to Spring Hill. For more information on schedules and locations, visit:
  • The Charlie Parker Pottery Studio located in St. Petersburg’s Warehouse Arts District offers a variety of ongoing or one-time classes, including Happy Hour, when visitors are welcome to bring their favorite wine or beverages and munchies while getting a lesson on the wheel with Parker, a legendary potter and ceramics educator. For more information, visit:
  • Pinot Picasso in Bradenton offers two-hour painting classes – landscapes, architecture, animals, florals and more – at which guests are invited to bring snacks and beverages of their choice. Summer camps are also available for children. Come alone, with a partner or a group. For more information, visit: