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SIP OR SWIM IN LOCAL ARTISTRY

One new studio caters to nervous novices toting adult beverages, another to advanced, eager experts.

Two new businesses in the Grand Central District invite the public to get hands-on with art. One even uses alcohol as part of the palette.

Painting with a Twist, a franchise of a Louisiana-born business, is geared toward those who may never have picked up a paintbrush. Under the eye of a trained artist, visitors paint a canvas in acrylic that they take home. They are invited to bring their own alcohol - beer or wine are most common - and are encouraged to sip as they paint.

A block away, the Artista Project, a spinoff of the long-established Central Art Supply Co., recently began offering highly technical lectures and workshops geared toward serious artists.

Not long ago, the Grand Central District was better known for antique stores or industrial businesses. In recent years, with zoning that allows for light manufacturing, it has continued to grow an artist colony, and has been recasting itself as a family-friendly shopping, entertainment and dining destination.

The area already has three other businesses that offer art instruction. At the Craftsman House Gallery, the public can tour a pottery studio and have lunch on plates and mugs that are also for sale. Nearby, Grand Central Stained Glass offers classes in the craft, and figurative painter Augustine Ludovico offers studio lessons.

Marvin Gay, 66, and his wife, Leslie, 56, had no formal art training when they decided to invest in Florida's first Painting with a Twist franchise. He is a retired oil company executive, she's an accountant. Both came here as Hurricane Katrina evacuees.

"The whole Grand Central area has been very supportive," Marvin Gay said.

The store, next door to the new Queens Head bar, is in a building that was a rooming house in the 1920s and more recently an antique furniture shop.

At a recent Tuesday night class, eight students - seven women and one man - gathered before artist Emily Page, 31, who led them through the creation of a hypnotic "Everglades sunset" landscape.

With a tinkle of a brass bell, Page instructed her group to relax.

"Don't be afraid of paint. Paint is your friend," Page told the class. "And if you're afraid," she added with another jingle of the bell, "have a little liquid to help you." Several students picked up their glasses of merlot. And breathe, Page commanded them.

After the class, more than one said they were happily surprised that they completed a painting, and that the wine likely eased their inhibitions.

"You're not in a contest. You're not there to really learn lessons. You're just there to have a good time," said Scott Pownall, 51, a former city firefighter who came with his girlfriend and her daughter. "I love it. I've never done anything like this before in my life."

The Gays, who charge $35 for a two-hour class and $45 for a three-hour session, have also scheduled family days on Sunday, where kid-themed paintings will be the subject.

Page, one of four artists who teaches there, said her new job gives her needed exposure; the Gays allow the instructors to display their own work. A paralegal by day, she said that while the paintings she walks students through, mostly landscapes and still-life scenes, are not sophisticated, they can be valuable introductions to art.

"We call ourselves the city of arts, but we are not very educated about the arts," said Page. "It's not like we're doing high concept art here, but if it gets them interested, then it's good."

Just down the street, the Artista Project caters to the trained artist looking to try something new. It is housed in a 1,000-square-foot studio at 2401 Central Ave., part of Central Art Supply.

Pat Jennings, co-owner of the art supply store, said the new business is geared toward about 5,000 artists from as far away as Sarasota and Lakeland who are comfortable paying hundreds of dollars for a specialized session.

The latest calendar includes pop art, textile printing and fabric dyeing workshops. Prices range from $400 for a five-day workshop to $10 for a manufacturer's demonstration.

The hands-on school plans to lead by example. Later this month, Jennings said that a group of professional graffiti artists will swath the building in their handiwork.

Luis Perez can be reached at lperez@sptimes.com or (727) 892-2271.

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IF YOU GO

Painting with a Twist

2527 Central Ave.

paintingwithatwist.com

(727) 327-4488

The Artista Project

2401 Central Ave.

theartistaproject.com

(727) 898-8300

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