Painted canvases hang on the wall. Easels line the table and palettes filled with a rainbow of paint colors wait for the guest artist to start dipping and creating art on a fresh canvas.

Finding a romantic place to go on Valentine’s Day, or even for a first, second or third date can be challenging. Dinner and a movie is always a good choice, so is creating a home-cooked meal and watching a video. Flowers and heart-shaped boxes of candy are always welcome, but they don’t last.

Today’s couples want to find something unique to do, something that will last and many are finding their creative muse by painting an original work of art that they can take home.

It doesn’t matter if they’ve ever picked up a paint brush before; anyone can be an artist and bring home their masterpiece after a couple of hours as they go “Painting with a Twist.”

“Anybody can do it,” said Shernell Mays, franchise co-owner with her husband, Jeremy, and her parents, Michael and Annette Hampton. “No experience necessary. It’s something fun, something different, something creative.”

Couples who come in to paint are given a double canvas. Each has their own side to paint. Each side is different. Once the pieces are complete, they blend into one picture.

To get started, an art instructor stands on a stage at the front of the room and walks the guests through the painting. Since BYOB is allowed, there are sodas, water bottles and filled wine glasses on the table.

“Don’t dip your brushes into the drinks and don’t drink the paint water,” Michelle Santiago calls out from the stage. “This is fun art, not fine art.”

To keep her students on target, she names each of the three brushes they will use. On this day she names the larger, fatter brush Big Poppa, the medium brush is Little Brother and smallest brush is Little Mama.

“Once they get started, the artists take the students step-by-step (through the process). They don’t use technical terms. They keep it simple,” Mays said. “They tell the students how much paint to use, what brush to use — there are no mistakes in painting. Guests have the feeling that when you paint it’s relaxing — they call it art yoga.”

Andre and Michelle Ford are dipping their paintbrushes for the second time.

“It’s fun. We enjoy ourselves,” said Andre Ford. “And it can be romantic. Couples can bring in their own drinks.”

It was Terron Flemmings and Cindy Isom’s first time at the studio. Their style was a little more competitive, but he said they would come back.

Friendly competition between couples does happen sometimes and Mays said she hears couples say, teasingly, ‘If you don’t paint your side right, it’s not going on the wall.’”

Before she became a franchise owner (she owns the Temple, Harker Heights and Tempe, Ariz., locations), Mays was a customer.

“I fell in love with it. It’s a fun atmosphere, relaxing. More of a getaway where you are not thinking about every day life,” she said.

It’s not just romance that blossoms behind the canvas, friendships form as well and Mays said often singles come in and are painting by themselves; soon a conversation starts and friendships bond. But when romance does bloom, it returns in the form of a proposal.

“We have many proposals,” Mays said. “Guys looking for something different will call ahead and tell us their plan to propose. They talk to the instructor and ask her to do a canvas that says ‘Will You Marry Me,’ on one side. It’s a nice place to propose during the month of love or any other day.”

“It’s totally romantic,” said Rue Neumann, on a date with his wife, Andie. “We’re creating a beautiful piece of art you can keep on your wall.”

“My husband and I are both very artistic. We love painting,” Andie said.

“It’s something you can do together, make something together, and take it home and have it forever,” added Rue.

Giving back

But it’s not just romantic and artistic muses that Painting with a Twist nurtures. Once a month the studio is turned into a fundraising venue as they invite guests to come and “paint with a purpose.”

Mays said Painting with a Purpose was the idea of corporate owners Cathy Deano and Renee Maloney who founded Painting with a Twist (paintingwithatwist.com) in Mandeville, La., after Hurricane Katrina hit, to try and raise the community spirit. As their company grew, they came up with the idea of Painting with a Purpose to raise money and give back to the local community.

The shop will support any local or national 501(c) 3 organization in need. Special nights are announced, and usually sell out. Mays said they donate one-half of the proceeds from that night, before expenses, to the charity. Some of the local groups helped include Texas Humane Heroes, Vera Bradley Breast Cancer, Wounded Warrior, Wreaths for Vets, the American Cancer Society, and Autism Service Dogs of Texas.

“The founders wanted their franchises to give back to community,” Mays said.

The studio is open to all ages and has a specific calendar for family night, date night, open night and private events.

This Valentine’s Day, artistically inclined couples can enjoy an adults-only night at the studio, reservations required, bring their favorite beverage and enjoy a sweet buffet while creating their blended masterpiece.

Catherine Hosman is editor of Tex Appeal Magazine. Contact her at editor@texappealmag.com or 54-501-7511.

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