Once a month, the lights at Furry Fanatics at Gulf Place burn later than the usual 5 p.m. closing time.

People begin arriving by 6 p.m. with a picture in hand. The picture is of their favorite pet, whether cat, dog, or bird, and dead or alive.

By 9 p.m., all of these non artists will have painted a completed-with-their-own-hand portrait of their beloved pet to take home.

Furry Fanatics pet store owner Julie Brown said she attended a similar class two years ago at Doggie Day Care to paint her own pet and had so much fun that she knew she wanted to host a similar class at Furry Fanatics.

She approached artist Maxine Orange Bern about teaching, and she happily agreed.

"The pet might be one that has been a part of the family for a long time, a new puppy, or one that has passed on, and doing it evokes a lot of emotions. But it is a lot of fun," said Brown.

Participants only need to come with their favorite picture of their pet, and the rest is supplied.

Bern scans the picture and draws a grid on top. A matching grid is chalked onto canvas, which makes it easier for novice painters to navigate.

Participants are also welcome to bring wine to the class, if they think it will help unleash their creative spirit.

Bern said most arrive saying they don't have a creative bone in their body and they can't even draw a stick person. So, she came up with the idea of a grid to simplify the process.

A background color is selected, along with appropriate colors for the pet, and the fun begins.

"It can be challenging to teach so many people at once instead of one-on-one, as everyone is painting something different," Bern admits, as she travels from easel to easel helping all who need help, and answering questions.

And quicker than each new artist thought possible, the project is complete and pictures are snapped of the proud owner and his or her creation.

"Once they are able to let go of their fears and begin, they are surprised at how good it turns out," said Bern.

Bern teaches Paint Your Pet classes once a month at Furry Fanatics. Cost is $40 per person, and classes fill up quickly.

The date for each class is announced on Furry Fanatics's Facebook page.

For more information email maxineorange@gmail.com or check out www.artisticspirits.com.