Words on wood…an artist’s journey

Greetings from Santa Fe, NM! This is Danielle, the in-house artist for CourageInStone.com.  I’ve been with the Before & After Team since 2004.  Much has changed over the years, but the transformation has been very rewarding.  I started working for Brenda during the brick and mortar days on Maryland Ave.  During those days Brenda sold refinished furniture and when she invited me to paint an old dresser I was thrilled to take on the project.  I was super thrilled when it sold in the store!  We found many great pieces of furniture at auctions and second-hand stores and gave them each a unique, renewed makeover.  During that time the website was just being launched, so it was extra special when a piece sold out-of-state.  We built many one-of-a-kind boxes and I’m sure the delivery guys rolled their eyes at us when we scheduled pick-ups.  Our fine boxes assured the furniture always arrived in one piece.  I no longer paint furniture, but I have many fond memories of those days.

In addition to selling the furniture, Brenda’s shop offered many signs.  We were surrounded by positive and fun phrases all day long.  I found many of the phrases to be uplifting, inspiring, and pleasing to read over and over again. One day a woman came into the shop to inquire about having a custom sign made for her. She loved the signs hanging on the walls, but needed something specific.  She was very enthusiastic about the idea and I didn’t want to disappoint her, so I said ‘Of course this can be done!’  I immediately drew up sketches, made a trip to the good ‘ol Home Depot to buy a plank of wood and went to the craft store to buy paints and brushes.  I then sent the wood home with Brenda to have her husband cut it for the required measurement, and within a few days I painted my first custom sign – “Just did it running like a girl!” (it was to be used for an upcoming race).  This sign was the foundation for my sign-painting career. More customers started requesting custom signs!  There were requests for custom phrases, colors, font styles, sizes of the wood, and artwork. I gladly accommodated to their needs and created many gifts for weddings, birthdays, anniversaries, daily inspiration, to give direction, and just to fill in that empty space on the wall.

When Brenda decided to close the shop in 2006 to focus on the online store I came along too.  I helped pack orders, restocked merchandise, and painted more custom signs.  The website now included a custom signs info/ordering page and the orders were coming in.  It was so exciting to receive orders from all over the country. There were a few international orders too and the post office staff was usually baffled that I had the forms filed out before coming to the counter.  At this point, packing for Brenda had become second nature; the website was becoming a quick success and most office-time was spent preparing the orders for shipment. Let me tell you – packing and shipping signs is much easier then furniture, although there have been a few mishaps.  I guess sometimes the long 40″x7″ package looks like a good baseball bat. Also, not sure how something so large ends up lost, but I’d like to think the few that were declared missing found good walls somewhere! 🙂

Speaking of walls – I had a customer once who ordered about 10 signs over the course of 6 months.  She had a room in which was filled with dozens of inspirational quotes collected over 30+ years. She was so nice to work with – I think being in that room for many hours each day had a positive effect on her well-being.  When you need to work in a space for an extended period of time it should be comforting.

My studio space has been in many locations over the years.  With the aid of old wooden boxes, baskets, trinkets and some natural light I have been able to turn my work spaces into little havens. The first was located in the stockroom of Brenda’s shop.  The workbench was perfect and on nice days I could daydream with the back door open. When the shop closed I used a corner of my kitchen. The room was large and the lighting was nice; my space, however, was a table and a cabinet. No matter how hard I tried I could not keep paint off the kitchen table, the walls, or the floor!  During the same time, I also used a small space in a warehouse beside a bay door.  I found an old tea cart at an auction to use to store my supplies and tarps covered the floor.  Once the business relocated from the warehouse I set up a small work space in my backyard.  At the time, I lived in on old house in Annapolis, MD, that had been converted into apartments.  The yard was communal, but no one ever went back there. The yard was never maintained and was a jungle in the summer, but I made due with a picnic table, a few tarps, and some HUGE rubbermaid totes that barely fit through the alleyway that lead to the yard. 

I enjoyed the nature back there in my jungle – one day a crane flew by me and landed in a nearby tree and we watched each other for a while.  I also set up shop in a living room and two garages before landing my current studio. I now have lots of work space, a cabinet to store the wood, and a shed for distressing and applying the clear coat to the signs. Having the shed is a nice treat because over the years I’ve had to endure all the elements to meet deadlines – hurricane winds, lightning, rain, snow, sleet, being too hot, being too cold, and random flying debris.  I never miss a deadline!

A few years have passed and I no longer work with Brenda in the office.  I have since moved to Santa Fe, and we maintain contact via emails. I owe much of my success to Brenda and her flexibility.  Over the years she has been open-minded and filled with suggestions.  In addition to the custom signs, I now paint signs that have replaced a few of Brenda’s factory-made signs.

I am so excited to be painting these signs!!   And if you have a special saying in mind, or want to get a unique gift for a special friend…I’m your gal!

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