Smiling bright

. April 7, 2015.
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  It’s Friday afternoon in downtown Toledo—cheerful music plays at a low volume while a group of artists happily work quietly at Shared Lives Studios. 

  Across the street from soon-to-be Hensville, Shared Lives is a bustling, spacious art studio filled with 22 special-needs adults, who work as full-time, paid artists. They’re able to share their special talents through a partnership with a nonprofit division of Lott Industries and the Lucas County Board of Developmental Disabilities. 

  “They want to work, and they have the right to work,” said Lori Schoen, the Studio’s art director. “[We] give them a place to grow and they flourish.”

The man behind the smile

  While Shared Lives Studio is not an art class, the group of artists often come together for special projects, such as a breathtaking installation planned for Artomatic419!, and they enjoy the collaboration. “Everybody works together here; disabilities are set aside,” said Carol Smietanski, Shared Lives’ grant writer. 

  One artist, Craig Toczynski, has begun making a name for himself in town for his vibrant style, playful sense of color and giant smiles. Toczynski started working with Lott Industries six years ago in production, but began working at Shared Lives in 2012. Since then, his style has developed and is recognized through popular portraits, flowers, dogs and trees. 

  “Craig probably gets the most commissions,” Schoen said. “People walk in and then suddenly ask, ‘can you do a portrait of my dog?’” 

  Between commissioned, large-scale flowers for Shared Lives and the Crosby Festival of the Arts, a series of smiles for a dentist’s office, and portraits commissioned by individuals, Toczynski is very busy. “I love to make people happy by giving them what they want,” said Toczynski.

In a cove of one’s own

  To facilitate his work flow and large-scale, cut-out images, Toczynski has moved away from the shared group table and to “my own little cove,” he said. With bright colors, ample work space, and both past-portraits and current projects, Toczynski surrounds himself with his work and inspiration. 

  While Toczynski has a handle on his style, the artist admits that sometimes he creates pieces that he doesn’t like, but loves the learning process that comes with it. “I’ve had awful faces when I don’t like something. But then I just start over,” he said. 

  To keep himself productive and to maintain the bright, cheery mood he needs for his work, Toczynski listens to pop music and says that Christmas music is his favorite, all year long.

  Asked Toczynski what he likes most about making art, he said, “I just like doing it because it is fun, and I like looking back at the smiles and feeling happy.” 

  With smiles that big, one cannot help but try to mirror them. 

Shared Lives Studios, 20 N. St. Clair St., downtown Toledo. 419-244-6649. facebook.com/sharedlivesstudio. 

To purchase artwork, stop in the Studio to meet the artists and view their work from 10am-3pm, Tuesday-Friday, or 11am-3pm Saturday. Shop online at shop.lottindustries.com