COLUMBIA — A palette covered with a rainbow of acrylic paints sits next to the cash register at Get Lost Bookshop.
Owner Amy Stephenson dips a long, white paintbrush into a carton of water, causing dried paint on the inside edges of the carton to swirl around 10 paintbrushes that stick out at all angles.
She is working on a three-paneled painting of a pet — she doesn't want to say any more about it because it's a surprise for someone in Columbia.
Stephenson, 41, has been painting for 21 years. Some of her work has been shown locally. But between the bookshop she bought 2 1/2 years ago and spending time with her 7-year-old daughter, Jane, she had to squeeze art into any limited free time she had.
"Now I feel like I finally have time to devote to it again," she said.
The little bookshop on South Ninth Street is an ideal art studio for Stephenson. A small storage room behind the counter holds her supplies, and she plans to redo the shelving around the counter to provide a designated space for an easel.
"It has turned out to be the perfect place to paint," she said. "I love this shop — it's busy and high energy, and that makes it a perfect place to be creative."
For Stephenson, one of the most rewarding elements of her work is collaborating with her clients to compose portraits of their families and pets.
"It's just so much fun," she said. "I love the facial expressions, and I love seeing their pictures and working with people to create something special for their families."
People email her their photos and give her the freedom to express the subject as she wants, choosing her own methods and styles. If clients specify a color scheme or design, she will work with their preferences in mind.
"That type of creative license is one of the most fun parts of the process — mixing colors until I find just the right one and experimenting with clothing and landscape elements or other stylistic elements until I find the thing that I get really excited about," Stephenson said.
Her pastel-colored artwork hangs around the store, providing a pocket of creativity amid the rows of used books. One painting displays Stephenson's dog Rose, which she adopted from the Central Missouri Humane Society. Another is a self-portrait with Jane as they stand next to each other wearing what Stephenson called "whimsical clothes."
"Once I start working, that creative magic happens, and I just go with it," Stephenson said. "It's a really fun project that I hope to continue for a very long time."
Supervising editor is Elizabeth Brixey.