"Every Good and Perfect gift comes from above." I began with this verse because I feel that doing this work has been a wonderful surprise in my life, because for me "Illustrator" is a new job title; Something I envisioned as a child, put aside when I went to college, and can finally embrace as I entered my 30's. I've had a few other jobs, though I should say Mama is certainly my favorite! My husband Derek and I have been blessed with beautiful girls ages 3 and 11 months. They are the light in our lives, and so much of the reason this business is in existence.
I’ll close my eyes and try to go back before motherhood:
I grew up the middle child in a family with three kids in central Indiana. My parents were former Presbyterian missionaries, and converted to Orthodoxy when I was 5 or so. I grew up with a lot of freedom to be creative and imagine things. (My brother likes to tell the story of me lighting sticks in the bonfire pit and then pretending to put out the “fire” with the kitchen broom.) Church was always a constant in my life, though living about 45 minutes from the nearest Orthodox Church made it hard to fully participate in the church life. As a kid, I loved to draw, paint, and make things. My mom was very encouraging and let me do almost anything within reason. As a parent now, I really give her credit for this!
By high school, we had moved to Kentucky, but I'll fast forward through those years (because that’s too long of a story to tell here) and by college I was a student at the University of Louisville. While I had dreams of going away for school, I ended up close to home. The biggest blessing in this was that I was able to continue attending my home parish and become more grounded in the faith I had grown up with. St. Michael's church has been a center of stability throughout my life, a hub in the wheel of change and movement. I've met so many people there who quietly, steadily, do their work for God and all of this wasn't lost on me as I asked myself the big questions about where I wanted my life to go. One summer evening after my sophomore year, I would meet my future husband in the chapel. We were both at Vespers that night, and I was 100% distracted by this young hipster guy who I’d never seen before. (I should mention I knew who all of the available Orthodox men were off the top of my head!) Anyhow, through the help of some mutual friends Derek and I became friends and decided to be more than that after he converted to Orthodoxy. The thing About Derek that got me was his honesty, I admired it and knew having a partner who would be forthright was important. We were married soon after graduation, and both started our teaching careers that fall. He spent his free time reading and wood working, while I spent my time drawing and knitting.
The first four years of our marriage I worked as an Elementary ESL teacher in the south end of Louisville. Much of my time was spent teaching early literacy skills to struggling and emergent readers whose first language was not English. There was nothing in the world like teaching someone to read, and I was very attached to my students. I wanted to provide the best lessons I could, which meant finding the best written books. I loved cataloging books for thematic units, or finding more of a particular author my students liked. Many of my students were refugees and struggled to connect with the cultural content in what they were reading, often leading me into mini cultural lessons before or after a reading lesson. Books are powerful tools, and I witnessed their influence first hand. I often thought about the beauty of icons and the themes of the Orthodox Church... wondering how they could be made more accessible to children? How could the cultural barriers of Orthodoxy be revisited? What are age appropriate ways to share the truth of our faith?
As the years passed, and my students came and went, the word "baby" was forever on my mind. Derek and I traveled often in those early years, but we were forever thinking of making a home and filling it with children. By God's grace, we found out we were pregnant on Holy Wednesday (also my birthday) in the spring of 2014. A new journey was about to begin, and I suddenly realized that my time was limited. I had spent so long wanting to be a mother and now it was finally coming. It was coming, and the time I had for new endeavors was narrowing! As soon as I finished the year teaching I enrolled in an iconography course through Haexameron, having wanted to study iconography for years I thought "Now is the time!" The course was incredible, overwhelming, and very humbling. I shared the table with iconographers and mosaic artists well practiced in the trade and learned so much about the history and practice of iconography. I came away very aware of my need to grow as an artist, but also reinvigorated with a love for iconography and wanting to share that beauty with others.
Fast forward to 2016, I was a year and a half into full time motherhood. One Sunday of Orthodoxy, while our daughter was napping, Derek and I wrote a little poem about how to treat icons. We wrote it over a few days, and then tucked it away in a drawer. Every so often we would talk about me illustrating the story and making it a book. Finally, Derek told me straight: "Stop talking about doing this, and just DO it." The first step I took was to start an Art Instagram account and begin to try to keep myself accountable! It was strange because people I interacted with regularly started noticing my art and it sparked conversations I'd never had before. Questions like "What is GOOD art?" "Why do children's illustrations often get the least amount of thought when perhaps they deserve the most?" Other people had been wondering about these things too, and it felt refreshing to make these connections!
In March of 2017, my friend Marian came to visit us and our new baby girl. She brought a basket of goodies, and refreshing conversation: Mentioning this dream that she'd had about us making an Orthodox Children's Calendar, and then with all seriousness said "What if we actually made one?"
Over the coming months we added Caroline to our team, and started working on a calendar that would foster Orthodox teachings in children's everyday lives. It started out as something we wanted to do for ourselves, and as interest grew the project eventually grew into a business! God has given me so many blessings throughout my life, and I certainly count Marian and Caroline up at the top. Everyday I feel humbled, grateful, and very unworthy to be doing this work. But "Its never too late to be what you might have been." As George Elliot famously said, and I'm ever grateful for the chance!