Dirty Handed

Dirty HandedTeaching arts studios offer hands-on creative learning, fun By Jennifer L. Howard

When the creative urge hits, a range of area galleries offer facilities, equipment, instruction and even an added bit of artistic inspiration to budding artists and paintbrush pros alike, eager to get their hands on art projects.

These galleries and studios make it easy to embrace your inner artist, try a discipline or technique that’s new to you or just have a good time. Those whose artistic experience is limited to preschool coloring pages and lopsided school art projects need not be unnerved by recollections of less-than-masterful artwork. Local gallery classes and instructors focus more on an enjoyable creative experience than on earning a gold star or a blue ribbon. 

Full Circle Gallery is “where creativity and community meet,” says owner and artist Mercedes Rogers. Open for three years, the Fort Walton Beach gallery is divided into an exhibition area, typically featuring local artists, and studio/classroom space.

 Owner/artist Mercedes Rogers throws clay at Full Circle Gallery, where classes in pottery, painting and jewelry making are designed especially for families, girlfriends and kids. Photo by Scott Holstein

Children’s classes, jewelry-making and open studio hours are regular items on Full Circle’s calendar. The gallery has one of the area’s best-equipped pottery studios, with potters’ wheels for a class of seven, as well as available kilns. Students stroll in, claim their work and proceed with the next steps under Rogers’ watchful eye but relaxed instruction. She has a deft way of making a suggestion just before it might be necessary.

“We love our time here,” says Becky Word of Destin. “I had no experience on the wheel when I started.” She is in her second class of a six-week session and plans to take at least one more to get her technique down pat. “But every morning, I get up and drink my coffee out of a mug I made, and that’s pretty cool!”

Studio b. is a creative venue, a playground for the imagination, according to studio owner and photographer Colleen Duffley. The Alys Beach studio and gallery features seminars, classes and inspirational lectures by talented professional artists who come to the area near Scenic Highway 30-A from around the globe. Don’t let the prominent personalities and renowned reputations intimidate you. “We’re inclusive, not exclusive. All the people on the b. List, the artists who come here to teach, are all hand-selected,” says Duffley. “It’s one thing to be good. It’s another to be good at sharing. The best part of the classes is the interaction with artists or chefs.”

Yes, she said, “chefs.” Art is many things, and Studio b.’s focus goes far beyond photography, Duffley’s passion and profession. Classes and seminars include design, fashion, literature, food and wine, along with more traditional painting technique classes. “Think mind, body, spirit,” she explains. “Studio b. has experiences, not so much classes or events. It’s really a lifestyle.”

People who have never painted or cooked or photographed attend the classes, discovering inspiration in what the professional artist is sharing. The intermingling of all creative mediums yields a calendar replete with offerings like a daylong oil painting class or an Encaustic Workshop, an introductory class to one of the world’s oldest painting techniques using wax. Duffley is proud that Studio b. is on the National Register of Figure Drawing, and those regular sessions are an important part of the studio’s outreach. “Creativity starts young, so we tend to offer a kids’ version of each of our classes,” Duffley says.

Since 1956, the Arts and Design Society (ADSO) of Fort Walton Beach has been a resource for those interested in getting a little paint or clay on their hands. The not-for-profit organization offers a full calendar of classes to artists of all ages and all levels of experience who seek to expand their knowledge and expertise. Generations of Emerald Coast youngsters and visiting grandchildren have attended ADSO’s summer art classes, learning about various pottery and painting techniques. “I tend to teach the children because they are more accepting and energetic,” says Marcy Eady, an ADSO instructor. “It’s also our 10th year of children’s art camp. The focus is on a different medium every day. It kind of ignites their creativity and imagination.”

ADSO’s building, which once housed the first Fort Walton Beach fire and water departments, is now furnished with paint-spattered worktables, gallery and an artist’s studio. Among the most popular classes is oil painting in the Old Masters style, taught by Dale Gavin, and the Life Drawing class for adults. Basic glass fusing, paper cloth making, resin casting for jewelry design, metal etching, watercolor and acrylic painting are among classes regularly on offer.

Participation in ADSO’s annual Art Week in late fall is recommended for beginning artists or those interested in trying a new technique. The weeklong fund-raising event features short, two-hour classes with all materials provided. “You don’t have to be an artist,” says Eady. “Come and learn. Come and have fun with us.”

The Art Lair in Fountain Square in downtown Fort Walton Beach is the location of a variety of hands-on art classes and workshops offered by the Northwest Florida Arts Association. A significant part of the non-profit organization’s mission is to provide a fresh venue for artists to collaborate and teach, and the public is encouraged to join its classes, demonstrations and workshops offered in a variety of mediums.
The Northwest Florida Art Association’s schedule of classes lists painting and photography; digital art and Photoshop techniques; even a workshop class where attendees learn about mosaic art through creating their own mosaic birdbath.

“The purpose of this organization is to get everyone involved in the arts, in some way or another,” says board member Holly Bain. “I talked a few of my friends into starting this venture with me. We want the art group to be interactive … we want to inspire creative thinking.”

With the wide variety of art classes, workshops, how-to seminars and such available across the Emerald Coast, one thing remains consistent: The emphasis is on the individual artist and their creativity, not a finished piece that looks like everyone else’s. No one expects those interested in some hands-on artistic experience to necessarily color inside the lines.

Arts & Design Society of Fort Walton Beach
17 First St. S.E., Fort Walton Beach
(850) 244-1271 • artsdesignsociety.org
Be sure to ask about Open Studio, Art Luncheons and membership.

Full Circle Gallery
29B Eglin Pkwy., Fort Walton Beach
(850) 362-8041 • fullcirclefwb.com
Be sure to ask about Painting Parties and Sip & Spin Pottery Class.

Donna Burgess Gallery
215 Grand Blvd., Miramar Beach
(850) 837-1887 • artzbydonnaburgess.com
Be sure to ask about Watercolor Wednesdays, Acrylic Thursdays,
Mom & Tot Class.

Northwest Florida Art Association
196 Miracle Strip Pkwy., Fort Walton Beach
(850) 598-9972 • nwflaa.com
Be sure to ask about BYOB Painting
and Cartoon Club.

Studio b.
30 N. Charles St., Alys Beach
(214) 415-0476 • studiobthebeach.com
Be sure to ask about private parties,
the b. List, Book-Binding and Box-Making classes.