The artist sits before her blank canvas, contemplating the first brush stroke of a portrait of DuPage County in 2011.
Her brow is furrowed. Where to start? How to capture the true nature of our communities? How to share our courage and our sadness, our drive and our absurdity?
It comes to her like the first ray of morning sun falling across her easel.
There is only one way to define who we were in 2011, only one way to capture the array of colors and images that comprise any year.
She smiles as she puts brush to canvas because she knows now how to frame the full pallet of who we are.
The portrait of this year, of any year really, is in our faces -- the Faces of 2011.
The 22-year-old Medinah resident graced the cover of People magazine and traversed the talk show circuit in early January after losing 122 pounds -- roughly half her body weight -- through old-fashioned diet and exercise.
The blind Bloomingdale man and his guide dog, Iggie, moved into a condo complex in late 2010 along with Spencer's wife and child. A short time later, neighbors started complaining about Iggie's barking and the condo association tried to assess $300 in fines against the family. Their story sparked an outpouring of support with offers to help the family and within weeks the condo board rescinded the fines and everyone agreed to get along.
The Wheaton fifth-grader won the NFL's Super Kid essay contest sponsored by Cartoon Network and got the chance to have Bears kicker Robbie Gould come to her school. Better still, Ava got to hand out the game ball at the Super Bowl.
The 31-year veteran was named chief of Lisle's Police Department in January to replace the recently retired Michael Damico. Kosatka had served as deputy chief since 2002.
After more than six years at the helm of the Glen Ellyn Historical Society, her contract was allowed to expire. Society officials said financial concerns forced the separation, but Langford had taken a pay cut in 2010 and said she was willing to take another in 2011.
He spent 44 years with Bensenville Park District before retiring in January as the agency's executive director. He started working for the district when he was just 15.
The longtime West Chicago treasurer came up with a unique idea in January: doing away with his own office. Earley, 79, has held the office and says it's no longer needed. Residents were asked whether to do away with it during an April referendum -- just in time for Earley to step down in 2013.
A veteran of Desert Storm, the 39-year-old Lombard man found himself a backup forward on the College of DuPage basketball team. His teammates call him "Old Man" or "Old School," but he says it only inspired him to play harder.
The actor and director came to Naperville's North Central College in January to talk about the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. "I think he's been trivialized," he said. "I think most Americans have a very superficial idea of who he is."
After drawing the Dick Tracy comic strip for more than 30 years, the 81-year-old Naperville man announced in January that he was retiring. His last installment appeared in March 13 newspapers. "It's time," Locher said. "The hands are not responding to the brain quite as fast as they used to."
The Wheaton native made it to the Top 5 of "America's Next Top Model" before Tyra Banks sent her packing. A St. Francis High School grad, the plus-size model joined 13 others hoping to capture the $100,000 first prize and other perks.
The Addison Trail High School principal was selected in January to replace retiring Superintendent Steve Humphrey, who is stepping down in June 2012. Helton immediately went into training.
He was working as director of curriculum in Fenton High School District 100 when he was tabbed in January to be the new superintendent of Keeneyville Elementary District 20. He took the reins July 1 to replace the retiring Carol Auer.
The Elmhurst-born cinematographer won an Oscar for his work on Christopher Nolan's "Inception." He also worked on "The Dark Knight," "Batman Begins" and "Memento."
The 20-year-old Aurora native and Waubonsie Valley High School grad was one of 24 finalists on "American Idol" but was eliminated during the first round of competition. She failed four times before making the cut on this year's show.
The Chicago mayor came to Wheaton College in early March for a 45-minute speech in which he spoke fondly of the city, its ability to adapt and the importance of working together as a region to address issues and problems. Daley left office in May.
Cathy Ficker Terrill
The interim director of the DuPage Housing Authority came aboard in early March after the former executive director, John Day, stepped down under fire with the authority facing the possibility of owing the federal government millions of dollars. The Elmhurst woman has spent roughly 34 years working in the human services field.
The Wheaton builder unveiled a plan in March to purchase the former Hubble Middle School site for $1 and then convert it into small houses for homeless people. His plan never got off the ground.
With 24 years of institutional knowledge under her belt, the Wheaton city clerk retired at the end of February. Residents and co-workers alike praised her for her upbeat attitude and willingness to help people work through problems.
The former city administrator of East Moline was named Villa Park's new village manager in March. Officials said they liked the 49-year-old's background in economic development as well as his managerial experience in both public and private sectors.
The Lombard native and graduate of Glenbard East High School was chosen from nearly 3,000 who applied via YouTube to succeed Paul Friedman as the Cubs public address announcer. A lifelong Cubs fans, he was just a month away from earning his MBA when he took over in early April.
After 10 years in amateur golf and another 10 as a pro, the Winfield native realized his "ultimate dream come true" in early April when he played with the game's finest in the Masters.
Only 16.4 percent of them came out for municipal elections in April, the lowest percentage in the 30-year history of the county's consolidated elections. Those who did show up to vote for village, school, park and library boards, though, reflected some real anger, defeating numerous incumbents and shooting down any possible tax increases.
Annunziato Pulice and Gopal Lalmalani
They both became mayors in April by defeating incumbents. Pulice took the reins in Wood Dale after edging longtime mayor Ken Johnson and Lalmalani did the same in Oak Brook after defeating the controversial John Craig.
The 42-year-old Naperville native became head basketball coach of the Loyola Ramblers in April. A 1986 graduate of Lisle's Benet Academy, he previously had coached at Illinois State University.
The autistic senior at Naperville's Neuqua Valley High School is an advocate for the disabled and has been speaking to groups as part of the Special Olympics campaign to end the use of the word "retarded."
The Olympic figure skater returned to the Edge Ice Arena in Bensenville in April for his "Ice Dreams" skating show and to unveil a line of dresses he created.
The 65-year-old Roselle man lost his job as an electrician three years ago and soon found himself and his family struggling. His picture brightened this spring, though, when he found work with a design and construction company. The catch? Rowe will be working in Afghanistan.
As if his 4.8 GPA, perfect ACT score and status as a National Merit Finalist weren't enough, the Naperville Central High School senior learned in May he was one of the nation's 20 U.S. Presidential Scholars in the Arts.
The Wheaton Warrenville South High School show choir won the national championship in the FAME Show Choir Championship Series.
The 71-year-old Wheaton College grad returned to school for his 50-year class reunion. Not a big deal, except he rode his bicycle 1,120 miles from Colorado Springs to get there.
The longtime Addison firefighter-paramedic was fishing along the Fox River when he saw a screaming mother pluck her blue baby from the water. He and a fishing buddy raced their boat to shore behind the woman's house and Arnier immediately went to work and saved the little girl's life.
Aurelio and Victor Robles
Aurelio accepted his son's associate degree in psychology from College of DuPage in May. Victor, an honor student from Villa Park, was shot to death in December 2010 by his stepfather, who also killed Victor's mother, authorities said.
After nine years leading about 100,000 Roman Catholics in Ohio, the 62-year-old was named in May to become the fifth bishop to head the 655,000-member Joliet Diocese. He was installed July 14.
The assistant principal at Villa Park's Jefferson Middle School lost 180 pounds in just a year as part of the Chicagoland Weight Loss Challenge that he took through the Villa Park Parks and Recreation Department. His waist went from 60 inches to 36.
The 72-year-old Lombard woman won the women's 70-to-74 age division in the Boston Marathon for the second year in a row.
Minda Grabiec and Nikki Ruehl
The co-owners of Naperville Jewelry & Loan got more than their 15 minutes of fame on the reality TV show "Pawn Queens." They came to the attention of producer Jason Morgan when he came back to Naperville North High School for a class reunion.
The Benet Academy grad found himself with some pretty big shoes to fill: Oprah's. He was tabbed to serve as a roving reporter on the new "Windy City Live," which premiered in late May in the time slot formally held by the fabulous Ms. O.
The longtime faculty adviser of College of DuPage's student newspaper was stripped of her title in June. College administrators said it was because she needed to focus on revitalizing the school's journalism program. Her student editors said it was because the paper had been too critical of the administration.
For nine years he patrolled the banks and bridges of Naperville's Riverwalk as the path's official mascot: the Riverwalk Troll. In early June, the 78-year-old announced plans to step down from the volunteer post, saying it was becoming increasingly difficult to be at major events from his new home in Montgomery.
Roseann Szalkowski and Barb McMillan
The two Roselle women were the first of 18 couples to receive their licenses for civil unions on June 1, the first day they became available in DuPage County. "It's almost overwhelming," Szalkowski said. "It's not marriage, but we get some rights and some recognition as a valid couple."
She celebrated her 104th birthday on June 23 at Belmont Village in Carol Stream. Ruth, who said she didn't drink or smoke, received more than 100 cards from as far away as Abu Dhabi, France and Switzerland after her relatives went on Facebook in quest of 104 greetings.
The Naperville woman served as foreman of the jury that found former Gov. Rod Blagojevich guilty of 17 of the 20 charges against him in his federal corruption retrial. "Everyone was at peace (with the verdict)," she said. "Everyone worked together and tried so hard to make sure they were just."
Lance Cpl. Andrew Pickerill
The Villa Park Marine, who had spent seven months stationed in Afghanistan, served as grand marshal of his hometown's July 4 parade. "It was nice to do that and see everybody who is supporting us," he said.
The Bloomingdale man became the first United Airlines passenger ever to log 10 million air miles with the company. Stuker, who said he was afraid to fly when he started 25 years ago, set the record while en route from Los Angeles back home. He has traveled more than 700,000 miles for each of the past four years. United officials said its other top fliers have logged closer to 3 million miles.
The adult film actress was sued for allegedly breaching her contract with theaters in Naperville and Woodridge by ditching special screenings to promote her 2008 film "Zombie Strippers." The theaters claimed Jameson instead opted to hang out at a celebrity blogger's birthday party.
The movie and TV actor returned to Cantigny Park in Wheaton with his Lt. Dan Band for the sixth straight year to raise money for Operation Support Our Troops.
The Bolingbrook mom won a long-running battle to have a roadside sign unveiled near Springbrook Prairie Forest Preserve in Naperville in memory of her 5-year-old son, Adam, who was killed in a car accident involving a distracted driver. Miller pushed state legislators to amend the Roadside Memorial Act to allow for signs remembering those killed by distracted drivers as well as those who died in DUI accidents.
After a seven-month search, Glen Ellyn Park District needed to look no further than its own backyard for its new executive director. Harris, a 19-year resident of Glen Ellyn with more than 20 years in park management, had been working in the nearby Butterfield Park District.
He was born with brittle bone disease, is 3 feet tall, weighs 56 pounds and uses a child's car seat. But the Oak Brook man is also a successful motivational speaker who makes up to $30,000 per appearance, has a private therapy practice and has written a book.
You probably know him as the evil Draco Malfoy from the "Harry Potter" movies, and he was in Naperville and Woodridge in July to promote the final chapter of the story.
After serving 10 years as Bloomingdale Village Clerk, she stepped down from her post in July due to demands from her full-time job.
As 35-year veteran of the Wood Dale Police Department, the chief of six years retired Aug. 30, saying it was time to let others shine.
He has served more than 20 years as a DuPage County Forest Preserve commissioner in District 6, but Roger Kotecki said in July he would not run again after his term expires.
Itasca's environmental services coordinator retired in August, 32 years after he joined the staff of Springbrook Nature Center fresh out of college. He helped make the nature center one of the village's top attractions.
The DuPage County Republican chairman and state representative pleaded guilty in September to driving under the influence. He was fined $1,750 and ordered to perform 100 hours of community service.
He retired in late September after 41 years as executive director of the HOPE Fair Housing Center in Wheaton but pledged to continue his personal quest to raise awareness of housing discrimination issues in DuPage County.
The 28-year-old Carol Stream woman survived a brain aneurysm and pulmonary embolism all while getting ready for her wedding. Afterward, she started a brain aneurysm support group at Central DuPage Hospital in Winfield.
The Wheaton community rallied around the 3-year-old boy, who was diagnosed with a brain tumor the day after his baby sister was born. The Ames family raised more than $30,000 for treatments and hospital stays during a fundraiser at Wheaton Bowl in October.
The Naperville Central High School gymnast won the gold medal in the all-around competition at the Pan American Games in October. She was the seventh straight American to win the marquee event.
The DuPage County coroner since 2004 announced plans to retire in November 2012. The 58-year-old West Chicago man said he wants to spend more time with his wife.
The TV icon came to Naperville to pitch his new book and speak to a near-capacity crowd at North Central College.
Naperville's Americans with Disabilities coordinator became the first person in Illinois and one of only seven in the nation to be officially certified as an ADA coordinator.
The longtime Naperville squatter was convicted of misdemeanor charges for chasing and taunting a Naperville psychologist. He was sentenced to two years probation and ordered to find a job.
One of the pioneers in recreation for people with disabilities retired in June after leading the Northeast DuPage Special Recreation Association for 30 years. When the Wheaton resident took the helm of WDSRA in 1981, the agency was only 5 years old and served about 250 people a year. It now serves 4,500 to 5,000 children and adults with mental and physical disabilities.
Itasca fire chief James MacArthur retired in March after 38 years in firefighting. MacArthur said he came from Elk Grove Village after 30 years, and planned to stay in Itasca for "just a couple of years."
The Fraley family
Lane and Beth Fraley of Wood Dale, both 30, welcomed home four newborns in May from Adventist Hinsdale Hospital. The quads, Olivia, Clare, James and Maya, were the hospital's first since 2008.
Tyra Banks taught a packed auditorium of fans how to "smile" -- or smile with their eyes -- during a promotion event for her book "Modelland" at North Central in Naperville.
Kim Perkins and John Bartelt
After officials in Bloomingdale Elementary District 13 learned Superintendent Kim Perkins planned to retire after nearly a decade, they got parents, staff and the community involved to search for his successor. In November they chose John Bartelt, who previously led the River Grove Elementary District for more than seven years.
The Roselle police officer became the Midwest Super Comp drag racing champion in November, despite starting the season with a destroyed engine. Phillips said the inspiration to "never give up" comes from his siblings, who both died about a year apart at age 40 to debilitating diseases.
The chairman of the DuPage County Board kept busy during his first year. The Elmhurst Republican, who took office in January after serving as a state senator, was dealing with residual fallout from the DuPage Water Commission losing track of millions of dollars when another financial scandal involving the DuPage Housing Authority broke. Cronin has since replaced the entire housing authority board, appointing six new members and a new chairman to the water commission, and spearheaded a new state law that's given him more oversight over all the boards and commissions he appoints.