Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Holiday Photo Session Time!

I'm so excited that it is Holiday Photo time again!

I look forward to it every year and I love getting together with families to do a fun photo shoot with a range of both silly and sentimental portraits.

Here's a glimpse at my first session of the season.

A couple of things to remember when you are planning your holiday photos:

  • Outfits: coordinating but don't have to be "matchy-matchy" (if that's a word), and let them be comfortable if possible and fitting to their personality for a more authentic experience
  • Choose a photographer you are comfortable with
  • Have fun, do silly poses to loosen increases the potential for capturing some "twinkle-in-your-eyes smiles", giggles that turn into laugh-out-loud moments, and truly memorable expressions

......loosening up with some silly poses:

Also consider this. While colors of the Fall and Christmas season are truly magical and should certainly be photographed; we would be remiss to neglect the fact that black and white portraits are timeless.

Sometimes the photos that are completely un-posed are the ones that speak most strongly to us.

And please don't shy away from close-ups. The eyes. The smile. That moment in time. Incredible.

I hope your Holiday Photo session this year is fabulous! And if you are in my area and want to book my services send me a quick message....just don't wait too long; availability fills up quickly. Thanks!

How about sharing some of your favorite tips or  maybe "what not to do in a photo session"?

Sunday, November 1, 2015

An Image Worth Talking About

Sometimes as an artist you get an opportunity to create something that carries the weight of a thousand deep and important conversations, something that conveys a moment in time, a memory, and a hope all in one compelling image.

For me, that moment occurred when I was commissioned to paint this portrait of a family member and his young son. The image of them sharing quality time together reading from the Bible speaks volumes.

I decided to share this painting now because today is International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church; and the image reminds me that the simple act of having a Bible to read, and the act of studying from it with a parent are not things to be taken for granted.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Studio Moving Forward

I want to take a moment to share an update on the Art Studio. As many of you know, our contractor took a very large sum of money from us and skipped out on completing the studio and carport that we hired and paid him to build.

Since the day we finally went to the police we have only discovered more deceptions and criminal activity in this man's past. He has operated under dozens of different company names across the country and conned people out of hundreds of thousands of dollars and is still under investigation and has been charged in numerous counties in different states for fraud and theft in addition to a long string of contracting violations.
Good grief!

I just yesterday had to inform the District Attorney's office (as they are pursuing our case against him) that he has started up yet another fraudulent company online and is using photos from our house as advertisement!!! UGH!!!!

If there is one thing I can learn and share from this I would say please ALWAYS check references, background, research online and be vigilant about knowing who you are hiring to do a job, especially when it is something big like this. And especially if they are a fast talker and make everything sound too good to be true....big red flag warning!

Ok, enough ranting.

I do actually have some good things to share today.

First, the "Before" photos:
here is the unfinished mess the contractor left.....

 So much trash and construction debris we could not park our cars under the carport.

We had a braced up ceiling inside the studio because of unsafe header beam. Piles of debris inside and out. Not to mention unfinished siding, no insulation, no sheet rock on walls, unfinished electrical, unfinished bathroom, jack hammered concrete in the bathroom, no heating and air conditioning unit, unfinished interior loft decking, no flooring, no interior bathroom door, no deck around the studio, and the list goes on......

Well. Enough of that. Here is the good part.

The part I want to sing praises about from the top of my lungs!


Yes, you......
all of you wonderful friends and family who have reached out with words of encouragement and support, offered hands on help if we need it and helped us have a forward thinking mentality!

And most recently, a BIG, HUGE, BEAR HUG OF THANKS to my husband, my father in law, my brother in law, my mother in law and my mother! You guys are super Awesome!

While I was away in China. These guys came together and started cleaning up, sorting, and hauling off all the debris and mess (after we got approval from the DA and documented everything, of course). Now we can park under the carport.
They worked an entire long weekend gathering together what resources and supplies they could to fix, cleanup, repair and make progress. They replaced the header beam and now the studio is structurally sound and safe. They worked on fascia board and siding closing things up under the eaves of the building and carport.

And the in laws even stayed after Jeremy had to go to work Monday morning and they put insulation in the ceiling before having to drive several hours back to their own homes to go to work. My heart is so full of gratitude and appreciation for the acts of selfless service and love here. 
And Jeremy has been working in the evenings and on weekends wherever he has a bit of free time to go out there and finish the insulation in the walls. Now I am antsy to have a job I can do to contribute. Maybe I can try my skills out on the drywall. :) Oh boy!

So there you have it. The Art Studio is officially moving forward and we are going to get this thing finished thanks to the help and support of YOU - our family, our friends. We appreciate you all.


Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Pop Star Mystery Dinner Party & Concert

If you ever want to throw a party that will be highly anticipated, thoroughly enjoyed, and raved about long after it is over then I totally recommend doing one of these! 
It was part mystery, part dinner party, part crazy theatrics and games, part rock concert, and all kinds of  outrageous FUN!

My husband and I have participated in Murder Mystery Dinner Parties before and thought they were pretty cool so when my sister told me that she had seen some kits online for kids themed mystery parties I knew that's what I wanted to give my oldest daughter for her 10th birthday. 

I found this Pop Star Theme Mystery Party Kit on a couple of months ahead of time and started planning. They give you the directions, characters, the story line, scripts, and games to play so the whole event flows easily. Then you can add in any extra activities, plan a special menu for dinner, get creative with decorations and plan special prizes for the kids that participate. 

We set up our dining room as the main event area, had a check in table at the front door with V.I.P passes for all the pop star entourage as they arrived, and made a stage on our back patio for the "glow in the dark" dance party/concert with strobe lights and glow stick madness!

Here is the wild and crazy cast of characters........
Pinky - the makeup artist.   Cha Cha - the costume designer.   Tiny - the tiger trainer. 
Muffy - the manager.   Destiny - the Pop Star.   Lulu - the personal assistant.
"D" - the drummer.   Margo - the hair stylist.   Iris - the backup singer.
....and the misfits: (aka: grownups) 
Darla - the former rocker turned detective.   Gumdrop - the guitarist.   Peanut - the personal chef. 

The kit is great because there are additional characters if you invite more people and you can improvise as you need to for different characters we did with some grown ups playing parts. 

Kids receive their character information and description with their party invite so they can plan a costume and "get into character" before the big night.

The script was fun and the kids enjoyed trying to solve the mystery. 

We also had impromptu dance party break out sessions, and they got to work in teams to make silly videos for one of the activities. 

****Just be ware of mixing Mountain Dew and a few too many sweets with already excited pre-teens. Whoa!!! Gives a whole new meaning to "bouncing off the walls". 
Just kidding (kinda). 
They were really a great group of kids and I'd do it all again. 
Hard to see but the dance party with the colorful strobe lights and glow sticks was pretty cool.
And there were prizes for everyone. Best costume, most dramatic, super sleuth.....and so on. 

What a fun night! 

Monday, October 12, 2015

Another Art Adventure in China

This latest adventure began when I boarded a plane in Dallas, Texas the morning of September 25th on an approximately 25 hour journey to Quanzhou, China by way of Shanghai (with a 6 hour layover). Flights went smoothly and I was extremely grateful to be picked up from the airport and taken to my very comfortable hotel room for a good night's rest before the festival kicked off.

Below are a collection of photos from our hotel. From the restaurant on the 18th floor we could see that in the distance all around were small mountain ranges obscured by the multitude of high rise buildings making up the city of QuanZhou.  To the south east just a short distance away was the East China Sea, with Taiwan and the Pacific ocean beyond. The statue of horse and rider on top of the mountain in the distance was created in remembrance of Zheng Chenggong. He is considered a national hero and was a military leader during the late Ming and early Qing Dynasties.

During the festival the People's Republic of China was celebrating Golden Week. Children were out of school from October 1st -7th and people had vacation time from work to travel, visit family or simply enjoy vacation time. Because of this holiday season we saw thousands of children and their families coming and going at the very first 798 International Children Art Festival to be held in Quanzhou. There were special events every day at our location. In addition to the art activities, there was an art exhibition of local student work from elementary age through high school. China TV broadcast dancers, singers, and performers of all ages each night. It was certainly a lively and exciting thing to experience.

Our festival location was the Wanda Plaza. It was a huge indoor /outdoor shopping mall area, with hotel high rises, restaurants, a lake and so many things to see. I'm always impressed by the "random acts of artwork" (mostly in the form of large statues) that I've seen in China.

Our hosts graciously treated us to local cuisine....a wildly adventurous culinary surprise in every dish!
From the extremely "fresh from the water" seafood that could literally look back at you while you ate it, to the boiled chicken feet guaranteed to "keep you young" and "make your skin beautiful". 
I'm afraid I may just have to grow old as gracefully as I can and rely on some store bought skin products.....but I do appreciate the offer, thank you ever so kindly. 

What a treat to walk through the plaza's second floor and view the local children's artwork on display. Some of these kids are seriously talented! And it was wonderful to get to see many of their art teachers during the art auction and get to meet some of them in person. 
FYI: They auctioned off several of the student artworks and a selection of t-shirts made during my workshops one evening during a televised event. The coolest part about it was the fact that the proceeds went to a local organization for children with autism. One more of the many reasons I'm proud to be a part of the 798 International team of artists. 

I love working with these groups of kids....but it's also great to see how some of the parents get really into making designs on the t-shirts as they are "helping" their children. :)

so precious

 A local t-shirt company called Kading sponsored my workshop by donating all of the t-shirts we used. The super hero characters you see are part of their company brand/logo.

Artists in this photo: Tony (Ghana, Africa); Momo (Cameroon, Africa); our lovely boss Grace (Beijing, China); Kyle (Minnesota, USA); Josephus (Philippines) and me.

This time doing the tie dye t-shirts I decided to also add and teach some embellishment techniques. So we did the tie dye process using the permanent markers and isopropyl alcohol but then we turned the designs into other drawings or added things to them. The kids loved it and I thought it was pretty great too. If you click on this photo maybe you can see up close all of the little details that were added. One of my favorites is the maze of color wheels with tiny little stick people, oh and also the one big flower made from all different tie dye circles. 

I had so many photos it was hard to narrow it down to a collection that could be shared on this post. Photos of all of the children coloring their little masterpieces, our fantastic helpers and translators working right alongside us with the kids, photos of all of the sights and people and artists creating. I cannot begin to convey the intrinsic things that will stick with me most. The bonds of friendship, the laughter, the sounds and smells and atmosphere of the festival and the city. I will carry those things with me and hope you get a glimpse through my words and pictures. 

One day we got up early and our driver picked us up at the hotel and we headed out to the beach for a little fun in the sand and sun. It was not a swimming beach (more a fishing beach). But we still got our feet in the surf and had a blast goofing off.....the guys certainly did anyway. ;)

I picked up a few lovely seashells (thinking I would take them home to my girls) only to discover once I got back to my hotel room that they still had little living creatures in them, oops!


Wow, Grace! Way to tell those boys to back it up.

Gotta love doing a little trick photography.
* Although I must admit the best photos are on Momo's fancy phone. Mine did ok, but his could take 16 shots in the time I snapped ONE!!! Wow! Had a little phone envy there.

Awesome back bend Tony!

and you too Momo

You guys have fun with your hand stands, races and push up contests.....

I'll just stand over here and take a selfie, ha ha.

Another day our driver took us all to explore the "old town". A section of somewhat preserved historic homes with walls entirely constructed with oyster shells and curved tile roofs covered in little flourishing succulent plants. The area was a maze of tiny roads and alleyways. As we navigated through we encountered wedding celebrations taking place, children playing in the streets, men chopping up raw meat on their mobile carts, women cleaning oysters, and people simply going about their daily routines. Notice the flowers the women have adorned their hair with for the Golden Week holiday. 


A seriously fun group of artists to hang out with for two weeks.
(Josephus, me, Momo, Grace, Quinton, and Tony)

With Quinton and Josephus heading up a visual playground of cardboard boxes turned into all sorts of little houses, jungle animals, trees, mazes and more......and Momo and Tony teaching traditional African dances, painting tribal patterns on kids faces and arms and letting them make grass skirts and colorful head and arm bands while playing, it was a virtual wonderland of creative expression!

By the way, did I mention yet how fantastic and wonderful my helpers were? 
Because they totally rocked! 
Love these girls and wish them all the best in their studies at university!

Did you notice the dog sitting at the cafe with his owner? Pretty cool. 
And how about all the motor scooters along the street. Yes, it was this crowded everywhere.
The shoes...they were a gift from my girls! Kinda like Converse, but the Chinese brand Warriors. LOVE!!!

One of the moms and her little girl took me and my translator, Lisa out to a special dinner one night. It was fantastic. We had so much fun. Then the last night she and her daughter brought us a bag of gifts and gave me a lovely bouquet of flowers. Aww, melt my heart. Such kindness. I'm hoping to keep in touch with these new friends. What a blessing. 
And I hope to work with this great group of artists again someday too. 

P.S. Momo, and Quinton....thanks for the gift that shocked my socks off and got me locked out of my hotel room.....ha, ha! You guys are the best. 

Now, for the return flight home. 798 ICAF and Quanzhou, it has been incredible. Thank you!

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Why Have I Not Posted in So Long?.....

The answer to that question is a difficult thing to share.
Hard to put the tough times out there on display for others to see and form opinions about. 
But I'm going to share with you in spite of my fear of vulnerability....

School starts back up on Monday and I should be posting about upcoming art class time slots, lessons and workshops and sharing pictures of all the paintings I've been working on, but I can't do those things.
I can't because our contractor ripped my dream studio to shreds and created a nightmare in its place. 

The incomplete structure currently sits with construction debris all around. It is an unsafe shell of what was meant to be. Propped up on the inside with long planks of wood because the header beam is not structurally sound. I feel a knot in my stomach just looking at it. Sitting there. Payments on the loan I took out loom over my head. What do I do? 
We trusted him. 
We were excited about all the construction plans. It all sounded like things were going to be great.
We paid him in full because he pleaded with us to do so, saying he desperately needed the cash flow to get things back on track for his company. He sat in our home at our dining room table as we handed him the last payment check and told us and our family that our job was his number one priority. We believed it. He made grand gestures but left us only broken promises, lies, heartache, and a huge financial burden. 

We've been through the whole gamut of emotions: anger, frustration, pity, compassion, sadness, despair, hope, disappointment and and uneasy numbness.

All summer long we tried to believe the excuses and hope for the best. 
We waited.
We were patient.
But things have only gotten worse.

Is everything ruined beyond repair? 
To this I am going to say, "No".
No, I believe there will be a light at the end of this stressful, dimly lit, poorly constructed tunnel.

We are going to press on.
I don't want to feel depressed and stressed out over it any more. 
And I won't hide it as if it was a failure of my own making, my own stupidity. 
I can't think that way; so I fight against those thoughts. 
Bad things happen.
Sometimes we trust in the wrong people.
I will not let the weight of it hold me down.

When I told my husband that I had started job hunting on the internet, do you know what he did. He told me to stop. He said this Art Studio was my dream and we are not going to let it go down like this! Gosh I love that guy. How he lifts my heart and pushes me forward! I am so thankful. 
His parents and my mom and sister have also been a steady and constant source of support in the long drawn out day to day of it. And the way they have come alongside us and lifted the burden by being sounding boards and prayer support has meant so much. They've helped us reach out to obtain good legal council and advice on our options.

Then recently I opened up and shared with some close friends at church. Oh my heart for these ladies. I loved the fact that they did not get on a "contractor bashing binge" or lead me down the path of negativity which would be so easy to do. Instead, they gave me encouragement and hope, and they lifted the situation in prayer. They reminded me that in life, when we are pursuing a passion that has been laid on our heart, and we encounter obstacles and great difficulties, it does not mean that we should give up. It instead is an opportunity to pray forward and see how our God moves. Not that the "bad guy" will always do a complete turn around and do what's right, or we will get back all that was lost. My God is not a genie in a bottle. He is bigger than that and His ways are always better than what we would try to tell Him to do. Sometimes the answer is wrapped up in a change in our own perspective. Seeing the bigger picture and knowing that somehow, it's all going to be alright. We have just this one finite life, with so little we really control so why not loosen the grip a little and watch what happens when we let our Savior take over.

Please, dear friends I ask you that if you are a like minded believer would you lift this in prayer. Pray for wisdom and direction in our words and actions. Pray for our contractor and others he has worked with that are also facing difficulties right now. And then give praise to the Lord for He is good. He is good when our life is going great and He is good when we feel like all is falling apart. He is unchanging and ever worthy of praise.

I will open this Art Studio. I believe it will happen.

And the celebration will be BIG!

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Studio slowly progressing....

That's what we've been doing a lot of lately.

Progress on the studio is coming along... s l o w l y....

But I am happy to report that we have gorgeous windows and doors installed.
 There are lots of beams and wood supports going on in the carport area....
 The loft boards are in place for my canvas storage area.
I will have an exterior door to the bathroom so that we will have an easy access outdoor bathroom for gatherings. The great thing is I can lock the interior bathroom door and not even worry about curious children going from the bathroom into the studio and messing with things they aren't suppose to. Perfect.
You can see it here in this photo. The walkway goes from the back patio to the driveway/garage.
 Here you can see where the bathroom is framed out on one side under the loft.
 Looking at the opposite side I will also have a smaller loft area for storage (great idea our contractor had to use a couple of feet into the roof space of the carport).
 Here is a closer picture of where the roof lines connect and where the small loft is located.

 Love my doors and windows.

So ready to continue this process and see it completed....hopefully soon, very soon.
Please, please, pretty please.