Meet the Winners of Our Studio Makeover Contest

The results are in for Art Calendar’s 2009 Studio Makeover Contest, which ran from May 1, 2009 to July 31, 2009 and featured more than $10,000 in prizes. Art Calendar’s editors and staff selected the winners of the grand prize, second prize and third prize from almost 1,500 entries. The winners were chosen based on their 100-word essays explaining why they should win a studio makeover, along with a “before” photo of their current studio. Keep an eye out for Art Calendar’s 2010 Studio Makeover Contest for your chance to let Art Calendar and its sponsors help your studio dreams come true.

Grand Prize Winner
Mel Keiser ( and Matt Martin (
Edinboro, PA – $8,800 in art supplies

Artists Mel Keiser and her fiancé Matt Martin are both working on their graduate degrees, but at two different schools — Mel is at Edinboro University in Pennsylvania; Matt is at The University of Wisconsin-Madison in Wisconsin. While the distance has been tough on them, both felt it was more important to study at schools that were most conducive to the type of art techniques they wanted to learn, rather than attend the same school just to be near each other. The couple plans to wed in May, just two weeks after Matt graduates, and will reside in Mel’s home in Edinboro while Mel finishes her degree. The wedding? It will be in an art museum gallery, with a gallery reception of their artwork to follow the ceremony. The flowers? Poured acrylic paint — dried, peeled, cut and twisted to form the petals. The honeymoon? Well, they were both recently accepted to the Vermont Studio Center’s residency program for next summer, so they’re thinking that might work out just perfectly.

While it’s obvious that the couple has a desire to pursue their artistic passions together, Mel wanted to make the marriage get off to an extra special start by giving her artist-husband the perfect wedding gift, something he could really use and might not be able to afford: lots of art supplies. When she read about the Studio Makeover contest in Art Calendar, she immediately sat down and wrote us her essay:

“My fiancé and I are both painters. For the past three years, we have lived eight hours apart to attend different graduate schools. Next May we are getting married, and we will finally be in the same place. When my fiancé moves in, I would like to surprise him with a studio that is already set up as a welcoming, wonderful place to work. As graduate students, we have a great passion for art but not much money. With your help, this could be my wedding gift to him as we start our lives together as artists.”

The photo she submitted of her in an empty studio with her wedding veil and a sign that said “Help!” didn’t hurt her chances either. We at Art Calendar wanted to help Mel make her wish come true. When we called her to tell her she’d won, she was, to say the least, very excited.

“I couldn’t believe it … I was ecstatic, and I think my voice was in an octave that no one could understand.

I had to call my parents because I couldn’t contain my excitement. Because I couldn’t call the person that I really wanted to.”

Why couldn’t she call Matt? True to her word, Mel wanted all of this to be a surprise. For almost two months, she and her parents worked diligently to transform the empty space into what would be Matt’s studio, tearing up carpet, laying down laminate wood flooring, painting, hanging shelves on the walls, and most of all, going on a shopping spree.

“I was primarily shopping for him, but the hardest by far was the Blick certificate. In the past, if I had to get him a Christmas gift and didn’t know his neck size, I’d call him and ask him about 10 or 12 questions, and only one would be the real question (about the real gift). So I sent him an e-mail with 20 questions about what he wanted for Christmas this year. I asked him things like, what his favorite paint colors were, or if you had an unlimited amount of money to buy art supplies, what would you get, and questions like that, and he sent me an e-mail back that said he knew that the real question couldn’t be any that said he had an unlimited amount of money. (But I) got some answers from him. One of the things he said he really wanted were flat files, and that’s always been out of our price range. So I decided that one of the big things I’d get for him. The other — we put this on our wedding registry (My mom had to talk us out of putting paint on our registry.) — the Logan 750 Mat Cutter. I decided I was going to get that for him as well, so that was another thing the Blick Certificate went toward.”

Also included in Mel’s shopping list for Matt were half-gallon containers of Blick’s pourable paint, Blickrylics, which Matt uses to make his poured paintings. Even though most of the supplies went to Matt, Mel, a representational/symbolist painter, decided she could keep the Ampersand panels for herself.

“That was one of the things that I knew I could legitimately take for myself. I just started working on them last year, and they made a huge improvement in my painting, because I’ve struggled against the texture of the canvas. Especially in graduate school, I love not having to build my own wood panels. I just started to work a little larger, and (part of) this prize is their new larger panel, but I couldn’t afford them. Now I get to try out their new product, and their size is perfect. I wouldn’t have been able to try it on my own. They’re great.”

When the studio project was ready to go near the end of October, Mel had to devise a way to get Matt to come and visit.

“I had an art show for my candidacy, which is coming up in a month or so, and I told him that was really important to come and see that, but I knew I wasn’t going to have to the studio ready by that time. He thought he was coming to see an art show, but he was really coming to see the studio.”

Mel arranged for one of her friends to be ready at the house with a video camera when Matt arrived. Pulling into the driveway, Matt noticed that someone was there and began to get a little suspicious.

“I knew something was up, but I didn’t know what to expect,” Matt recalls.

Mel led Matt up the stairs, with his eyes covered, and took him into the studio. His jaw nearly hit the floor.

Mel remembers, “His first reaction was, ‘Did you steal all of this?’ He was speechless and blown away — just like I am. The next morning he couldn’t wait to come down and look again.”

Matt still can’t believe this has happened, and that Mel did such a wonderful thing for him.

“She’s probably one of the kindest people I’ve ever met, and her parents (who helped with the renovation) are wonderful, too,” Matt says. “I’m surprised, but I’m not surprised. That’s how big their hearts are. I give them some respect for keeping it a secret, and my parents for also keeping it a secret.”

Mel laughs, “Matt kept saying that he knows now how much I love him because I gave him the $2,000 (Blick) gift certificate. That’s love.”

Second Place
David Westby (
Windsor, VT – $1,000 in art supplies

When Liz Ross and her husband, David Westby, relocated to Vermont two years ago for Liz’s new job, David made some big sacrifices. “…My husband gave up a lot to come with me: his teaching job and his studio,” Liz wrote to us. “The studio was in a beautiful light-filled loft. I have since lost the job and he, who is a very talented painter, only has a sad space in the basement to paint. His work has dropped off, as has his inspiration. The opportunity to lift his spirits and elevate his workspace would be such a wonderful gift.”

We appreciated Liz’s kind gesture to help David, and awarded him second place. Liz hadn’t told David that she’d entered the contest, so the news came as quite a surprise to him. Liz recalls: “When we found out we won, I was in a car, and I was checking my voice mail. I let out a yell, and then I had to go and try to explain this. It was just fun. It was just really nice … He’s a really dedicated wonderful painter and person, and he’s always doing other things for other people, so it was just wonderful to something nice for him. “

David, a portrait painter, was creating pieces in their dark basement and taking them outside in order to see if the paint colors were correct. So, in addition to getting some small storage units and a new palette, David used his Blick gift certificate to purchase some lights for his studio. He also received a $250 gift certificate from Daler Rowney, which he plans to use to purchase new tubes of paint, particular their light red.

“I use that a lot for skin tone. In portraits, you go through skin tones a lot. That light red has saved my life a lot of time. Being able to obtain some of those for my work is great. Trying new colors is kind of risky; I try to be very conservative with colors, but it’s always fun to try new colors too. Getting new paints is like a little Christmas for artists.”

Rejuvenated, David is aggressively pursuing his new body of work, a series of portraits of historical 19th century figures ranging from Darwin to Lincoln. To capture the personality of his subjects, David is simultaneously reading biographies about them.

“Artists must be curious people, so I’m very interested in this series. So this whole thing, I think, is kicking off the same time as the studio work. It was a little dismal for a while, and now I feel I have something to look forward to.”

Third Place
Krislyn Dillard – Springfield, OR – $500 in art supplies

Krislyn Dillard and her husband Brian bought their first home in 2009, complete with a separate 140-square-foot building at the back of the property for Krislyn to use as her studio. After the purchase, though, funds ran short. She wrote in her entry: “ … You can imagine how amazing it was for us to be able to afford our own place and of course my own studio. Sadly, that’s all we can afford. I only have the small easel pictured and an old desk on the other side. I don’t need anything fancy but even used equipment is expensive … ”

With her third-place prize, Krislyn was able to purchase a new wheeled storage cart, a stool and two additional easels. Primarily a gouache and oil painter, she also received a $100 gift certificate for paint from Daler-Rowney. The extra paint and easels come in handy for her multi-tasking painting style.

“I’ve always been ambitious, but I only had one easel, so I had to leave the painting up there while it’s drying. I’ve never been that kind of artist. I always wanted to move on to the next one. Now I have three different easels with three different canvases.”

Krislyn continues to exhibit her work in the Portland area while enjoying her new studio space.

Special Thanks

Art Calendar would like to thank all of our generous affiliate sponsors who donated products and services for the 2009 Studio Makeover Contest. A special thank you goes out to our title sponsor, Blick Art Materials. All affiliate sponsors included:

  • Art Calendar
  • Daler-Rowney
  • Artspan
  • Blick Art Materials
  • Da Vinci Paints
  • Chroma, Inc.
  • Allworth Press
  • Digital Art Studio
  • Festival Network Online
  • The Alliance of Professional Artists
  • Gamblin Artists Colors
  • Royal Talens
  • Artograph
  • Artist’s Advantage
  • WINDMILL Easel
  • Amsterdam
  • Art Boards
  • Faber-Castell
  • Rembrandt
  • Ampersand Art Supply

An artist and writer, Kim Hall is the former Editor of Professional Artist. She holds a B.A. in Art from the University of Central Florida and an M.A. in Arts Administration from Savannah College of Art and Design. Kim can be reached at [email protected].

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