By Carol G. Stratton

“Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working.”

Donna Downey has burrowed her artistic roots deep into the above quote from Pablo Picasso.  Her business, Donna Downey Studios, offers the Lake Norman community such a chance to “work” hands-on, creating unique works of art. She and her husband, Bill, run a business that’s part arts and crafts store and part multi-media art classes.

Just walking into the store gives customers a visual rush of vibrant colors and intriguing textures. This cheerful store is set up for classes for anything from Girls Night Out to children’s birthday parties. Anyone taking one of her classes will take home an object of beauty – be it a scrapbook of sayings to a painting ready to hang on the wall.

This native New Jersey woman didn’t start out as an art educator and retailer.

With a degree in elementary education, Downey taught elementary school for many years both up North and in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, until her hobby of scrapbooking evolved into writing articles for a scrapbook magazine. Her articles grew into several books.

She felt a need to do more art teaching, so she and her husband, Bill, who has a background in human resources, began creating seminars and classes out of their home for the public. A few years ago, the classes expanded into a retail shop/workshop that offers art supplies as well as Downey’s own products.

As an acclaimed international expert in mixed media, Downey and her husband travel all over the world.

They have taught in Sweden, New Zealand, Australia and Holland where local art stores sponsor an event and customers can learn subjects such as pan pastels and journal-making.

One of the comments she hears from customers is, “I’m not creative.”

“That’s silly,” she said. “I believe in empowerment. I give my students and customers permission to make mistakes.”

To prove her point, she offers free videos on her website every Wednesday. These online classes show Downey doing hands-on demonstrations as she displays her success and failures during the unedited filming. These classes have inspired many all over the world. She might receive an email from mothers and daughters who live far from each other but enjoy creating something together through cyberspace. Or she may hear from a cancer patient who has found an outlet by participating in one of her lessons.

When asked how parents can encourage their children to be creative, she offers a couple of suggestions. First, Downey says, have resources available to your children. Second, find ideas that intrigue them. She suggests the website, Pinterest.com, as a wonderful resource for parents to get a jumpstart on art projects.

Donna Downey Studios moved into the old Herald Weekly newspaper offices last year at 501 S. Old Statesville Road.

 “We were thrilled with the large windows and bright and airy rooms.” said Downey, as she points to an area on the left side of the store with long tables covered with paint and brimming with the memories of successful customers’ projects.

The right side offers an assortment of art products such as stencils, pan pastels, stamps and tags, as well as Donna’s own products. 

As the Downeys give a tour of the facility, they save the best for last.

Donna walks to the back of the store and opens the bathroom door where paint brushes used by housepainters cover the entire left wall. Each item has been decorated and signed by customers from all over the world.

It’s just another unique decorating touch by a trendsetter in the arts and crafts field.

Want to go?
Donna Downey Studios offers parties and classes at 501 S. Old Statesville Road, Huntersville. Details: Donna or Bill Downey, 704-948-4627 or www.donnadowney.com.