The art of being in the right place at the right time

Justin Lyons

How chance encounters led to wide spread recognition of an artist’s talent

By Sue Baldani

Besides talent and hard work, Justin Lyons’ success as an artist can also be attributed to serendipity. His story reads like a late-night movie or a best-selling book.

Lyons was in his late 20s when a friend, Jeremy Lynch (now a film maker in California), introduced him to wheatpasting in 2005. Combining paper, paint and drawings, wheatpasting is a type of street art that is affixed to public spaces using a mixture of flour, water and sugar. Painting on discarded wood, Lyons would hang his unsigned works all over Fort Walton Beach, FL, where he was living at the time. When they began disappearing, he assumed the city was taking them down.

He persevered though and one night, about eight months later, he was preparing to hang another piece of work when he ran into a restaurant owner in town. After noticing the painting in the back of his truck, she told him she had some of his other pieces hanging in her restaurant and asked if she could have this one as well. In return, she offered him not only a generous meal at the restaurant, but also the opportunity to show his work there. Three months later, with the help of Lynch, he did just that, and sold 15 of his 20 pieces.

A few years down the road, he got married and had kids, so making art for a living got put on hold. But, by 2012, he was once again painting heavily and showing his work at art fairs and local art shows. Soon, he was able to open a small studio and gallery in Santa Rosa Beach, FL, where he lives with his wife Kayla and children, Seven, Isla and Lynox.

Not too long after that, another chance meeting took place that would expand his reach greatly into the art world. A woman, on her way to dinner, was walking by his gallery when she ducked under the awning to get out of the rain. Liking what she saw through the window, she went inside and introduced herself as an art consultant in Miami. After looking around some more, she asked if she could show some of his paintings at Art Basel Miami. He said yes, and after that show in 2014, he was picked up by multiple galleries. His art career had taken off.

Over the years, Lyons has refined his style and does not consider himself a street artist anymore. Instead, he said, he’s a self-taught contemporary and expressionism artist.

What initially drew him to art in the first place was the self-expression aspect of it. “That was always my baseline, to paint things that are personal to me,” said Lyons. “My goal is to paint what I feel drawn to or something that makes a statement. I always liked the visual of simple, childlike art, but wanted to merge that imagery with something with a deeper meaning. So the visual is childlike, but the message is more intellectual.”

Common in his artwork are words and phrases that spring into his mind when he’s creating. Lyons will also often change his thoughts and then cross out words and replace some with others. Instead of covering them up and starting fresh, he likes leaving the changes showing.

“When I’m doing up layers, I’m writing things that are spontaneously in my head,” he said. “It’s an immediate thought, but then I might change my mind.”

As far as materials go, Lyons is open minded and uses what feels right at the time, whether it’s wood, acrylic, oil stick, spray paint, house paint, epoxy resin, or pencils.

“I’m just like anything goes; it’s more about the story than the sophistication of the paintings. I’m more interested in the deeper meanings of things and how they can make people question things or feel a certain way. The message aspect of it is what originally drew me to art.”

He does find people’s interpretations of his paintings interesting. “I’ve heard the gamut, honestly,” he said. “Some people are on the same page as I am. Others say, ‘Well, I get this from it,’ and, I’m like, ‘Yeah, okay.’ I try not to say ‘Hey, this is what it is,’ or ‘I didn’t mean that,’ because I think it ruins it for people.”

When he first started out, a waitress who worked in the restaurant where his art was hanging called him in tears to let him know about the connection she had with one of his paintings and the way in which she interpreted it. Even though he didn’t see that message, he was glad it worked for her in her own personal way.

Atlanta residents will soon get to interpret Lyons’ art for themselves. He has a show at the Maune Contemporary gallery in April where he will display about 15 to 20 of his pieces. The gallery, which opened in September 2019, is owned by Ramsey and Heidi Maune.

“When they approached me to be represented by them, I was actually also being approached by a few other galleries in the area, and I was going back and forth to see where my best fit would be,” Lyons said. “When I walked into the Maune gallery and met Heidi and Ramsey, they were just the coolest people and their gallery space was beautiful.”

He went on to say that even though the other gallery owners were in the business a lot longer than the Maune’s, that wasn’t important to him. It was that he believed in their vision for their gallery and artists.

‘They’re awesome people who are just so nice and generous. They really believe in my work, and not only have shown it with words, but tangibly by being uber supportive,” he said.

Even though he has a few collectors in Atlanta, this will be his first show in the city, as well as in the state of Georgia.

“I’m excited; I love Atlanta,” he said. “It has a cool vibe to it, and I have a lot of friends in Atlanta.”

He said he will work with Heidi and Ramsey to determine the right pieces for the show.

“Location does matter, but the stuff that I make is more about storytelling, so I don’t try to box myself in with geographical locations,” he said. “I just try to make paintings that humans can relate to. Whether they’re white collar, blue collar or no collar, I just try to make art that people can make a connection with.”

When choosing paintings for a show, he also collaborates with his wife, who is also his business partner. He said that she helps run his business and knows the ins and outs of the industry. In addition to selling his pieces, Lyons also donates his artwork to local non-profit organizations and fundraisers.

“I’m constantly in my studio and I paint every day,” said Lyons. “I just like doing it and I’m so grateful and lucky that people have found my stuff.”

To learn more about Justin Lyons, his art, and the gallery, go to to” And, be sure to visit Maune Contemporary gallery this April to see his work in person.

Written for Midtown Lifestyles in Atlanta, GA.

Fluff and fun on an alpaca farm


Take a tour and learn all about these gentle and oh-so-cute animals

By Sue Baldani

Located on 15 acres in Franklin, Mistletoe Farm is home to a herd of alpacas, many of whom love visitors. Started by Leanne and Tom Butchko, the farm was named for the abundance of mistletoe on the property. Plus, while looking at all those cute faces, you might just want to kiss one.

“People are surprised how friendly, curious, quiet and docile the alpacas are and that they all have unique personalities just like humans,” said Leanne. “Some are loving and enjoy chin rubs and others are aloof and prefer watching life from the sidelines. They are also amazed that an adult alpaca weighs only about 150 pounds.”

When Leanne and Tom, who are both certified public accountants, first heard about alpacas from friends, they did some research to find out more about them. What they learned made them want some of their own, and inspired them to buy their farm.

“We began our alpaca adventures about fifteen years ago by winning one alpaca,” said Leanne. “Trick is you can’t have just one! They would die of loneliness. So we purchased a mom and cria (baby) and started our herd with three.”

Today, they keep between 20 – 25 alpacas, and breed and sell about five to 10 a year. Because of the amount of fiber alpacas produce, Leanne mastered the art of weaving, felting and spinning; she now makes products to sell in their farm store. Of course, with so much fiber, she has to have help.

“We are blessed to have several Tennessee knitters that help us make our hats, ear warmers, scarves and other natural goods using our farm yarn,” said Leanne. “Our family helps with various farm events and the designing of our non-seasonal goods such as t-shirts, mugs and printed products. We also have six grandkids who enjoy jumping in and helping out!”

Their goal each year is to make use of all the fleece by making yarn with the prime grade fiber. The seconds are used to make dryer balls and felted sheets so nothing goes to waste.

For visitors who would like to learn weaving, felting and spinning, they also offer classes on the farm. All age groups and levels of experience are welcome. There are also classes to learn the art of natural dyeing.

“Our natural dye classes consist of foraging for natural dye materials found in our surroundings such as walnuts, leaves, berries and flowers,” said Leanne. “We then teach dye methods including extraction and ‘setting’ on various types of fabric, yarn, silk or paper.”

Leanne said that alpaca fiber is hypoallergenic, water repellent, flame resistant, light weight, and breathable, and it wicks away moisture while being several times warmer than wool. It also comes in 16 natural colors and dyes easily.

Mistletoe Farm Alpacas is very focused on sustainable practices. Leanne explained that alpacas are easy on the land.  Since they have padded feet that do not pull grass up by the roots, they are low impact on pastures and soil. They also eat very little per body weigh; a herd of 10 – 15 alpacas eat about one 50 pound bale of hay a day in winter. The farm also composts their manure directly on pastures and in their dye garden. Alpaca fertilizer is considered a rich soil conditioner and improves soil quality and the ability to retain water. It’s high in nitrogen and potassium, and doesn’t need to be aged like most livestock manure. It also breaks down quickly into the soil.

To see these adorable animals, book your visit through their website at . A typical farm tour lasts 1 ½ hours, and half of that includes interacting and taking pictures with the alpacas. The other half is spent in their studio seeing what they make with all that fluffiness.

“We continue to be blessed each year with more and more visitors. Best guesstimate is between 5,000-10,000 last year,” said Leanne. “We do close during July and August due to the summer heat, and the alpacas tend to spend their days in front of the fans and in kiddie pools!”

Written for Brentwood Lifestyle magazine in Brentwood, TN.

Everything in its place


Getting organized saves both time and money

By Sue Baldani

How often have we asked ourselves, “Where’d I put that”? This is usually followed by a frustrating and sometimes fruitless search.

WIPT designs (pronounced whipped, as in whipping your space into shape, and an acronym for the question above) was started by Beth Hayden to help people get organized. With a background in interior design and space planning, combined with a lifelong obsession with tidiness, this profession suits her perfectly.

Being a single mother at 19, while going to school and working full time, meant having to be super organized in order to get everything done.

“I needed everything to be in its place and easy to find since we didn’t have a lot of time,” said Beth.

After her daughter started college, Beth moved to Nashville and began to build her dream business. At first, organizing was just something she did on the side, but eventually word-of-mouth recommendations and glowing social media testimonials generated a high demand for her skills. So, on March 4, 2019, WIPT designs was born.

“Starting a business was very scary to me as a woman and a single mom with nothing to fall back on,” said Beth. “I built it from scratch, and I basically do all business through referrals.”

Beth prides herself on not just being able to organize people’s spaces, whether a master bedroom, small pantry, or office, but doing it in a very individualized way. She likes to get to know her clients so she can construct customized plans that fit their lifestyles. This is why she offers a free one-hour consultation.

“I specialize in organizing for the space, but also for the person,” said Beth.

When she arrives at a client’s home, she takes pictures and measurements of the room or space to be organized. Then, if there’s a budget or need to buy bins and other items, she’ll go on Amazon and make a list of things to order. Once those items arrive, she’ll be ready to get started. Also, in addition to organizing, Beth can also design and decorate the space as well.

Being organized, she said, is one of the biggest natural stress relievers. Plus, being organized saves time as well as money, since people can see what they have and avoid buying duplicates.

Most people want to be organized, but they’re afraid it’s going to take too much time or they don’t know where to start. But, once a space is organized, it’s much easier to keep up.

One of Beth’s favorite quotes is by Benjamin Franklin, which states, “Every minute spent organizing is an hour earned.”

To find some great organizational ideas and see some of her projects, follow WIPT designs on Instagram. Or go to

Tip 1
Clear bins are the most efficient containers because you can see what’s inside. To make them pretty, put nice labels on them. Or, to save money, use shoeboxes spray painted in your choice of colors.

Tip 2
In the pantry, always place the most used items in the “prime real estate” sections, which are the easiest spots to access. If you’re a big breakfast family, put your cereals there. Also, group items like pasta and pasta sauce together.

Tip 3
Since most people spend so much time doing laundry, make the laundry room an inviting place. Put detergent and pods in pretty jars (out of reach of children), buy a pretty laundry basket, and add signs or pictures.

Tip 4
Piles are a guarantee of disorganization. If you have to have stacks of clothing, use pocket folding. This tucks pieces in so they don’t become unfolded. Spending time refolding is a time waster. This type of folding also allows travelers to pack and unpack easily.

Written for Brentwood Lifestyle magazine in Brentwood, TN.

Mother’s Day Blessings

Here’s an article I’ve posted in the past, and it’s still oh-so-true.

Mother's Day pic

What I have learned from my mother

By Susan Baldani

What qualities does one need to be a wonderful mother? Well, let’s see. Kindness, selflessness, a loving heart, a caring personality, an abundance of patience, acceptance and wisdom are just a few necessary qualities. Fortunately for me, my mother has all of these and more.

Even though I never had children of my own, I was lucky enough to be given the opportunity to be a stepmother and, in the last few years, a grandmother, or in my case, a MeMa. I fell into these roles rather easily, I believe, because I had such a great role model in my mother (and grandmothers). Not that the men in my life haven’t influenced me positively as well, but this article is, after all, to celebrate Mother’s Day.

I learned that my needs have to sometimes be overlooked in order to make others happy. That sacrifice is a form of love and not something to begrudge.  I learned that giving to others makes me much happier than any gift I could give myself.  I learned how to bring comfort, even when I feel like I’m the one who needs comforting, and that it’s better to get up to help when all I want is to do is lie down.  These are traits I have tried to carry over into all of my relationships.

My mom is also one of my very best friends. I can talk to her about anything and she will never judge me, criticize me, or try to make decisions for me and my future.  She will give me advice, but knows that I need to make some mistakes to find my own true path in life, and hitting a few speed bumps along the journey is the only way to really find the right destination.

My life has been filled with many successes, both personally and professionally. My mother has encouraged me to take advantage of opportunities that have arisen and has been my tireless cheerleader. I couldn’t have accomplished what I have without the belief instilled in me to trust in my own decisions.

I know I am so very fortunate to still have my mom. Some of my friends have already had to say goodbye to theirs, and my heart truly breaks for them since I know what a hole I would have in my life without my mother. No matter how old I get, I will always need my mommy.  Happy Mother’s Day!


Written for The Country Register, published across the U.S. and Canada.