TRINITY — I hid in a corner of the art studio, hovered in a cloud of rising vapor, pouting while fiddling with my phone.
This — publicly using a nebulizer to inhale albuterol, a drug that opens up my seasonally uncooperative lungs — was not how I hoped to start my first class at Painting with a Twist. My cough was unrelenting, along with my stress level.
While my carefree classmates put on smocks and sipped the wine they brought (You can bring snacks, too!), I dwelled on my unending to-do list and my health. Then I picked up a brush and with each brush stroke understood more why this place is so popular.
I relaxed. I had fun.
In each class at the studio, participants re-create one of more than 3,500 paintings from the Painting with a Twist library. Our instructor, Maria, stood on a platform in front of an easel, spoke through a hands-free microphone and promised to give us step-by-step instructions for our painting, called "Group Therapy."
"We won't send you home a Picasso," Maria warned our class of 22. But that's okay, she said — "This is fun art, not fine art."
She was right.
She told us what colors to use and where and when to use them, when and where to draw chalk outlines of wine goblets, what colors to mix and when to take a break. She cracked jokes over loud pop music and everybody laughed. A lot.
I poked the acrylic paint on my paper plate palate with a brush. I mixed some of the red with some of the black. Then, I painted.
The process took me back to middle and high school art classes, where I first and last painted. I found myself completely absorbed. I forgot any troubles, which owner Michelle Beres said is part of the point.
Painting with a Twist — which now has locations all over the country — started as a series of painting parties in 2005 in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. A couple women in Louisiana organized the events as fundraisers, and "to pull (people) out of the reality of all the horribleness," said Beres, 53. It worked.
Beres co-owns the Painting with a Twist location in Trinity with Sharon Reis, 50, and the artists will open a second location in North Tampa this spring. The studio has seven instructors, including Beres and Reis, and hosts classes regularly. The studio also hosts private parties and corporate events, and a monthly fundraiser called Painting with a Purpose, which benefits local nonprofit organizations.
Most patrons are women, the owners said — only one of my classmates was male. But men are invited, too, said Beres: "It's a great place to meet girls."
My classmates and I held up our finished products, wholeheartedly proud of our work.
"So many people leave (saying) 'I'm an artist and I didn't even know it,' " said Reis. "Don't underestimate your artistic talent. You've all got it."
Arleen Spenceley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 869-6235.