CORTEZ -- A local artist and a former Manatee County School District teacher never thought drawing on her sleeping boyfriend would lead to opening a gallery for other artists and launching a coloring book club for adults.
Stephanie Holtey, 42, opened the Purple Pixie in Cortez this summer after she had a breakthrough when watching TV with her boyfriend. The epiphany came three years into an episode of depression when Holtey didn't want to "talk to anyone or do anything."
"All of a sudden, I see a Sharpie out of the corner of my eye and I thought 'He's covered in tattoos; he won't mind' so I took the Sharpie and I started drawing on his body," Holtey said. "I drew from his neck to his belt line and on both arms. I covered him with circles, and it was like I was taking years of pent-up creativity and throwing it out onto his body."
Ever since, Holtey can barely keep her pencil off of the page.
Holtey blames the depression on losing her job with the Manatee County School District in 2011 during a probationary contract period. She still believes she was dismissed because she had a seizure during a teacher planning day. She was placed on administrative leave the same day she had the seizure, Oct. 14.
"I received word from the superintendent that I was put on leave and that I couldn't come back to the school," Holtey said. "It was the most horrific event of my entire life. I lost my house, my car and my husband."
She knew she had to "pick up the pieces where they fell and start again," but she didn't know how. Art was always her passion, but insecurities and self-doubt led her to pursue teaching. Holtey has a bachelor's degree in fine arts from the University of Florida and a master's in education from Jacksonville University.
"I was in Ringling's illustration program and I didn't think I was good enough," she said. "What I realize now that I'm over 40 is I was comparing myself to them when I should have only been comparing myself to myself. Everybody's art is different; art is creativity and imagination coming from within your own soul."
She wants to showcase the creativity and imagination of local artists by displaying their art at the Purple Pixie. Artists don't have to pay to display their art at the gallery, and only have to pay Holtey if the art sells. At that point, Holtey collects a 35 percent commission of the sale price.
"I believe there are lots of little artists everywhere who are afraid or don't have the money to display their work," Holtey said.
She also sells framed art of her own at Purple Pixie: the pixies the gallery is named after. After the boyfriend-as-canvas episode, Holtey said she was inspired to draw fairies and went with it. Before she knew it, she had an idea for another business venture, a coloring book targeted at adults.
"I have decided over time and after this horrible experience that my role in life is to be a muse; a muse being someone who inspires other people to do amazing things," Holtey said. "And I was doing that for all the years of teaching without realizing it."
First she draws the mystical characters in pencil and then traces over them in black marker. Next she scans the image and keeps a copy of the un-colored page for the coloring book she hopes to publish, "The Purple Pixie Presents: Fairies." Then she colors another copy of the image and makes it her own piece of artwork to display for sale in the Purple Pixie.
Holtey scans her images to use as material for the club she launched last week, as well. The Cortez Coloring Club is for adults from 8-10 p.m. every Friday and 2-4 p.m. every Sunday. Participants can pay $10 to socialize, drink wine and release any stress built up from the workweek. Holtey offers her pages for an additional $1 each or attendees can bring their own coloring books.
Holtey's beliefs about coloring fall in line with 19th-century psychologist Carl Jung, who used coloring to tap into his patients' psyches and incite healing. She hopes to help people relax and work out issues in their subconscious while also making a living for herself. Recently Scottish illustrator Johanna Basford has had success selling coloring books aimed at adults.
On Monday, Holtey launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise money for the publishing costs of her first coloring book. She's networked with other coloring enthusiasts on Facebook and said though she wanted to publish the book a while ago, she's glad she didn't because she's since learned what characteristics make a coloring book successful in stores, such as spiral binding and perforated pages.
Holtey's landlord thinks the unique idea will find success in Manatee County.
"Everybody has been pretty successful in anything they've done out there," said property owner Diana Manning. Manning has owned the property for about 20 years and lived in Manatee County since 1957.
"There's a place down the street that is also an art gallery," Manning said. "The Sea Hagg is also right there as well." Manning said she thinks Holtey's venture is a good fit.
Holtey hopes to help other adults discover the benefits she's found in coloring.
"It is non-stressful. It requires the two hemispheres of your brain to communicate, which improves fine motor skills and vision," Holtey said. "It can be meditative for some people, like yoga for your brain."
Janelle O'Dea, business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7095 or follow her on Twitter@jayohday.