In one corner of her new Glen Ellyn art studio, Lucy Dallman sews below family pictures and a painting.
The painting is a gift her 8-year-old niece gave her when the studio opened and reads: "She believed she could, so she did."
The lighting is warm, the seating cozy, the air perfumed. So you may hesitate crossing the threshold and wonder, "Am I intruding?"
But then you meet Dallman, the down-to-earth third-grade math and science teacher who believes everyone has a creative side and needs to express it.
"I always tell people there are no mistakes," she said.
HeARTfelt create, a studio, professional gallery and "inspiration nook" rolled into one space in the Banyan Tree mall downtown, is Dallman's place of Zen, where she unwinds after work by making art and invites others to do the same.
"Hopefully, you come away with a product that you like, but really getting lost in the process is the whole idea of being tranquil and being reflective," Dallman said. "And our crazy world doesn't really allow you to do that."
Dallman doesn't stick to a formula with art lessons, but offers supplies and a welcoming vibe in the studio. The one rule? Don't worry about the outcome.
"In that freedom, you really come up with some really interesting, wacky things," she said.
The studio is at the rear of the mall, through doors covered in paper hearts. It's a project that grew out of a "wackadoodle idea," Dallman jokes. But it's meant to get visitors thinking about a question: "If time and money were not an issue, what would you create?"
"A group home for wayward teens," someone wrote on one yellow heart.
Turn to the left, and there's the "inspiration nook," where you can read a book or needle point in a comfy chair with a pillow stitched with some words of encouragement: "Darling, you are a work of art."
"Any creative outlet allows you to let go of your mundane or big worries, any stress that you have," Dallman said. "You can sometimes even solve the issues that you are dealing with or at least let go enough to relax."
It's hard to picture Dallman stressed-out. She does yoga and journals daily. And the fiber artist spreads a message of "Create peace" on her "peace birds," made from dyed fabric and shipped around the world with instructions to leave them behind in a public place.
But Dallman says the studio has given her a "new lease" on her 17-year career in teaching.
"It just has allowed me to decompress," she said. "I let go of what has to happen during the day, and I'm able to express myself."
In the center of heARTfelt is an exhibit by a local artist that will rotate every two months. Through Nov. 6, the white walls feature Kathryn Trumbull Fimreite, who's selling drawings and paintings. The centerpiece is a sketch of a Chicago skyscraper formed out of random words she wrote on chalkboard paint.
Nearby, three women recently shared a table and stamped the covers of small books. Christina Kellam, a co-worker with Dallman in Glen Ellyn Elementary District 41 and a mixed-media artist, will use hers as a journal.
Inspiration comes easily at the studio, Kellam said.
"You get partway through a project and think, 'I don't like this at all,'" she said. "And to have someone sitting next to you, saying, 'No, no, it's going to be great. Keep going, keep going,' and then you work through that, and all of a sudden you end up with something that you're really happy with."
Dallman had the idea for the concept for "ions." With her three children grown, Dallman finally "took the plunge" and leased the space in the mall for two years. She spent the summer vacation from school painting the walls turquoise and orange and setting up the displays.
"When inspiration strikes, you need to jump in and go with it," she said.
Studio hours are 4:30 to 9 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays and 1 to 5 p.m. Sundays. Fees range from $10 to $30, depending on the supplies and sample projects. To book private classes or parties, call (630) 666-0251.