Giving Back to the Community

When Nicholas was in high school, volunteer work was just a natural part of his life. His high school teacher, Brenda, did a wonderful job getting him out several times a week. One of his favorites was a local church that he vacuumed by Cuyahoga Falls High School.

When we moved, the first thing I discovered was the Deaf Outreach Church. It was like kismet! What a perfect place for him to do volunteer work. I sent them an email and received a immediate response for Nicholas & I to meet both of the Pastor’s of the church.


It will be 2 years soon since that wonderful day when we met the Pastor’s and the Deacons of the church. As you can see from the pictures, Nicholas is absolutely euphoric vacuuming their entire church! It has become our Monday morning gig. I am so proud of him for never once complaining and digging in as soon as we arrive! He never needs to be rewarded, he simply enjoys it for what it is.

-Kathie

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My Personal Commission to Nick Max Studio

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I was really excited about this one. Ever since Nicholas painted the Emerald and Copper pot, I have been obsessed with the color combo and commissioned my little brother to make me a switch plate. I’m so pleased with how it turned out. If you don’t have any space on your walls for canvases, these switch plates are a great alternative.

Just a reminder, we do accept custom orders based on the colors in your home so feel free to contact us with your ideas!

Or you can view the variety of switch plates available on our etsy site!

– Natasha

Come See Nicholas’ Intriguing Art Collection

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First and foremost, this is one of Nicholas’ earliest work from the days he painted at his former day program. We display this piece because it signifies his humble beginnings. When you compare his oldest work with his newest paintings, there is a stark contrast between them not just in technique but also in color usage and self expression. To this day he continues to expand his knowledge of various paint techniques and how to get more out of his work on an emotional level in order to ease the occasional issue with anxiety.

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One of Nicholas’ first art projects when he moved to his new home was an idea thought of by our mother after finding similar ideas online. The question arose while shopping for new furniture for his room, why buy a headboard from a cookie cutter store when he can create one using his own artistic abilities? What I find so amazing about using canvas panels is that they can be taken down and more painting can be done to them over time. There is really no end to how he can customize his headboard to match his changing preferences.

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This piece was drawn by the artist Troy Cottrill. Troy Cottrill is a South Carolina artist specializing in pencil drawings of historical sites and other vintage objects (old airplanes, tractors, etc…). All drawings are produced “free-hand” and are created in intricate detail. Troy dedicates over one hundred hours in the production of each work to obtain the “photo-like” quality, which has distinguished his work within the art industry.

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The artists signature, J. Tan, is on this drawing but we unsure of his full name. There was, however, an interesting story printed on the back which gives premise to this piece. Our mother found this drawing at Don Drumm art gallery in Akron, Ohio.

The Story of Apollo and Daphne

Apollo, the god of the sun and music, came upon Cupid playing with his bow and arrows. Apollo mocked Cupid, saying a boy’s hands such as his were unworth of tools of war made for men. The angry Cupid then drew two arrows from his quiver, one golden and sharp meant to incite love and another leaden and dull meant to invoke hatred. He shot Apollo through the heart with the gold arrow and the beautiful nymph Daphne with the lead one.

Apollo fell deeply in love with Daphne, who in turn hated him. Apollo pursued her relentlessly, and she fled his advances until it became apparent to her that she would be overcome. In terror, she cried out to her father, the river god Peneus, to help her escape. As she spoke, bark began to enclose her skin and her hair became leaves. She was transformed into a laurel tree.

Heartbroken, Apollo swore that since he could not have her as his wife, he would make her tree sacred and give it eternal life. He would make the leaves of the laurel tree into crowns for leaders and victors of contests.

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Leonid Afremov is a Russian–Israeli modern impressionistic artist who works mainly with a palette knife and oils. He developed his own unique technique and style which is unmistakable and cannot be confused with other artists. Afremov is mainly known as being a self-representing artist who promotes and sells his work exclusively over the internet with very little exhibitions and involvement of dealers and galleries. He paints mainly landscape, city scenes, seascapes, flowers and portraits.

This was a gift to Nicholas from myself. I thought he would appreciate the bold use of color and Leonid’s technique of using a palette knife to create a memorable scene.

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Nicholas has always enjoys watching me as I edit my nature shots in Photoshop. He will lounge around, intrigued, as I manipulate colors and change the dynamic of the photo to my liking.  As a gift from all of us, we had these collages printed out as a way for him to always enjoy these images of nature from his own room.

Don Drumm Metal Work

This is Nicholas’ newest piece of art given to him by the wonderful director of marketing and communications at Akron Metro Transit for displaying his artwork in their main hub throughout the months of June and July. It was a fruitful experience not just for Nicholas but for those who passed through the hub and were able to enjoy artwork on the way to their destination. Originally this piece was made by Don Drumm who is well known for his intricate metal work.

It makes me wonder what Nicholas thinks about when he clasps his hands together and stares at any number of art pieces that are around the house. What is behind that thoughtful look on his face? What draws him to a certain display? All I know for sure is the effect it has on him to be surrounded by diversity, to create his own, and to see the end result of those who love his work. That is worth more than words can express.

– Natasha

The importance of props when selling artwork

I have been an on again off again hobbyist photographer for 13 years now. Through out this journey my interests have shifted excitedly between nature landscapes, macros, human and animal portraits, surreal photo manipulation, and even the macabre. I’ve explored outside my comfort zone and done the occasional wedding, senior photos, family portraits and product photography. No matter what my main passion has always centered around nature photography.

When I began shooting for NickMaxStudio, it was as if I were stretching muscles that had started to atrophy. Before I took this step, I was going through periods of time where my inspiration had completely vanished. The ideas that once sparked within me like fireworks had extinguished. One of largest contributing factors to my near total disinterest in photography was attempting to turn my favorite pastime into a career. As someone who is strongly introverted, this only served to induce a lot of anxiety. Consequently, what had once been a long loved hobby of self expression was then reduced to a source of apprehension and discomfort.

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One of the reasons I love Nicholas’ artwork so much is that it inspires me in ways that I haven’t been in a long time. Everyone has their own unique story on what they see in his work. When I look at his paintings, my mind instantly clicks to nature scenes such as seascapes, landscapes, vast fields, and cyclones. As I see these images, I’m at ease. I begin to imagine what would complement these paintings. How about a vine of ivy? The pink blush of a stunning aloe? Or even the unusual tube like leaves from a golum jade plant? My love for nature and the scenes his paintings depict have created a harmony that I didn’t anticipate but am very grateful for.

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Product photography is still somewhat new to me but I have found that props are about creating a mood. They can inspire someone to look at a painting as more than just a painting. What I try to do is set up a scene, that way it’s easier to imagine a piece of artwork in a persons home. It might even motivate someone to create a similar artistic set up of their own. There is really no end to what you can create and accomplish. The sky’s the limit.

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When I decided to use props, I didn’t go out one day and buy a bunch of doodads. As it turns out, we already had plenty of props lying all over the house. You might come to realize that you do as well. I’m a great lover of collecting various stones and minerals. I keep them on my bookcases, by my houseplants, and even on my dresser. When I’m ever in a new place, I browse around vintage shops and buy items that grab my interest. Coincidentally, most of them go quite well with Nicholas’ paintings. My mom collects beautiful ceramics, glassware, and gorgeous fabrics that work brilliantly when setting up a scene. Not to mention that between my mom and I, we easily have 50+ succulents and houseplants all together.

Since the beginning of 2017, we have been discovering unknown territory within ourselves. Through brain storming and bouncing ideas off one another, we have been extending our imaginations in new and exciting ways. Watching Nicholas laugh and enjoy himself as he tries new things has been a huge motivator. When he’s happy, everybody’s happy. I only hope that I will continue to find ways to complement his work and give his paintings the kind of embellishments they deserve.

As Nicholas’ sister, I tend to gush about his work but I believe in him, in what we accomplish as a family, and in our ability to create beauty where there wasn’t before.

– Natasha

Read About the Benefits of Art Therapy

Creativity isn’t something that can be forced. It can motivate us when we least expect it. We find inspiration in all that is around us. In nature, in our community, in those we care about. In the events which move us and shake us to our foundation. Sometimes creativity is fueled by the darkness within ourselves. In the parts of us that make us vulnerable. It can reveal what we are unable to express with words alone.

My family and I have found that what fuels Nicholas’ drive to produce art is enthusiasm, curiosity, and watching others enjoy his finished creations. What more, he is continuously expanding his knowledge with fun and creative ideas so that he never loses interest in his work. There are several techniques that we practice with him while he paints that are more about creating an enjoyable experience than the painting itself.

Mixing acrylic paint – While mixing different color paints together, Nicholas appears to have an ASMR response. Autonomous sensory meridian response (ASMR) is an experience characterized by a static-like or tingling sensation on the skin that typically begins on the scalp and moves down the back of the neck and upper spine. It has been compared with auditory-tactile synesthesia.

 

Mixing paints is just one of the methods that can invoke this stimulating response. There are many video compilations available online that display mixing paints together while paired along with soothing music. In Nicholas’ case, when he watches someone mix paint in front of him, he becomes very focused and relaxed. This activity has been an excellent way of distracting him from what was bothering him at that moment.

Listening to music – While in Nicholas’ studio, we will often have music playing in the family room for some background noise. Some of his favorite music includes bands such as Rush, Fleetwood Mac, Prince, Alicia Keys, Ja Rule, and the many pop bands from his childhood. Listening to music that is more upbeat always helps get the inspirations flowing.

 

Throwing paint – This is mostly just for fun but can also serve as a viable technique to improve upon an abstract painting. Allowing the brush to flick and throw paint at random can give a work of art new and surprising dimension. Nicholas finds throwing paint to be enjoyable as it always puts a smile on his face.

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Using visual aids – Sometimes the best way for us to learn is through example. It’s not always easy to explain a new painting technique to someone with autism who cannot readily grasp the notion or they have auditory delays. In order to overcome this hurdle, we give Nicholas visual references in the interest of helping him experiment with different techniques. That way it is easier for him to mimic that specific style of artwork while improving upon it using his own methods.

Positive reinforcement and humor – What you should know about Nicholas is that he has a well-developed sense of humor. He loves to laugh, make comedic noises, and play pranks. What makes painting so much fun for him is the experience of interacting with us in his joking manner. He may not always fathom what we are saying but he can understand the positive tones in our voices. By reminding him of what a great job he’s doing and keeping up the pleasant vibes, he is getting a consistent stream of positive reinforcement.

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-Natasha

“I am seeking, I am striving, I am in it with all my heart.” – Vincent van Gogh

The Positive Effects of Animal Assisted Therapy for those with ASD

When Nicholas was a child, our dad would take him hiking every weekend for his joint compression therapy. During these hikes, there had been numerous incidents where dog owners had refused to leash their pets. Doing what dogs do, they would run away to greet random strangers. So every once in awhile, my brother would run into a dog that was violent to the point of causing him injury. Can you imagine an animal running towards you, jumping at you, and being unable to comprehend the dogs intentions? Consequently, those sequences of events are what instilled a fear of dogs into Nicholas that lasted for eight years.

From articles that I’ve read, exposure to animals has shown to be beneficial to the social and emotional development of children with autism. Spending time with pets can even help in building self-esteem. Unfortunately, our family never owned pets while growing up besides the occasional hamster or fish. They were concerned that having a dog around after those traumatic events would disrupt the peace in the household that our parents wanted to maintain as much as possible.

Throughout the years at his former day program, Nicholas interacted with handpicked, docile pups in a secure environment. He was able to feel safe without having to anticipate being jumped on or charged at. Steadily his nervousness towards dogs began to ease the more he spent time with them. While we were very pleased that he was able to overcome a childhood fear, we found that dogs are too rambunctious and agitate his sensory sensitivity towards certain noises. Dogs, as unconditionally loving and energetic as they are, are not for everyone.

Buddha and Slade

Nicholas likes having cats even though he is pretty nonchalant with them. Our cats Buddha and Slade have behaviors that are, for the most part, predictable to him and they don’t cause him any undue stress. Nor are they emotionally overwhelming or as loud as some dogs can be. Everyone is different but in Nicholas’ case, cats are the best kind of pets to have around.

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Storm (left) and Brooks (right)

At least once a week or as often as daily, our mom and Nicholas will go out to the park to feed apples and carrots to the local horses. When he started visiting them, he was a little intimidated by their large stature. Over time, he began to appreciate their calm and peaceful nature. He always anticipates his visits to the park.

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Storm and Brooks know Nicholas on sight and will always come running to him when they know he has food.

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Nicholas is always mindful to take turns and give each horse an equal amount of food.

We are fortunate to have local therapeutic equestrian farms meant specifically for those with intellectual, developmental, and physical disabilities. The most influential one in our area is Pegasus Farms out in Hartville, OH. Their mission is, “to maximize the potential of persons with disabilities to become independent, well-rounded, self-confident individuals by providing equine activities along with recreational, social, and vocational support”. They have a wide selection of horses with various distinct personalities and sizes meant to match specifically to the right person.

Exposing animals to those with disabilities in a safe environment can be very beneficial to their development, especially early on in childhood. We are eternally grateful that these programs are available to provide an atmosphere where people like Nicholas don’t have to be apprehensive and can enjoy the experience to its fullest.

-Natasha

PAINTING HIS WAY TO RECOVERY – THE ODYSSEY OF AN AUTISTIC ARTIST

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Nicholas was born in 1991 to a family consisting of his father and mother, Nick and Kathie, and myself in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio where he was raised and spent most of his life. In 2015, they moved to a more semi-rural location in North Canton where they currently reside.

When he was approximately 18 months old, the symptoms of his lifelong disability began to appear. He was speaking less and less, made little to no eye contact, and his learning capabilities had severely diminished.  In elementary school, Nicholas was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder.

There are many who have been drawn in by Nicholas’ warm and affectionate nature. He enjoys singing to himself and playing tricks on people. He has a smile so infectious, you can’t help but smile back. What’s more, people quickly come to realize that his personality is so pure that he isn’t capable of emotions like prejudice, jealousy, or malice.

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After Nicholas graduated from high school at the age of 22, he was introduced to a new environment at a prominent day program for those with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Change doesn’t come easy for a lot of us. For someone with autism, it can be a great challenge to overcome. At first, Nicholas seemed to take the next step of his life in stride.

In the beginning, he prospered as other individuals in his group benefited from his unyielding energy and enthusiastic influence. Almost every day he would come home with a huge grin on his face. While Nicholas found some common ground with his fellow peers, he was still the only one amongst his group who had autism. This fact would greatly hinder him in his coming years at his program.

After a span of three years, our family and I began to notice changes in Nicholas’ behavior that were so subtle over time, we didn’t realize what was happening until substantial damage was done. The most profound change in his personality was that he didn’t express joy as often as he used to. He surprisingly smiled less, joked with us rarely, and what was worse, he had all but ceased to sing to himself.

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In the summer of 2015, they moved to a larger house with more land to build a garden and space for Nicholas to roam. For his benefit, their home is more secluded which provided a much quieter environment than they were used to. Nicholas’ apprehension for this dramatic change steadily gave way to excitement as they made the new house their own.

Despite the challenge of uprooting from the town where we spent our childhood, my family and I didn’t believe that our home life could have been the cause of Nicholas’ struggles as we have always remained relatively consistent in our habits. It has always been our goal, as a family, to provide him with a warm and stable environment.

For anyone who has spent time with a person who has severe autism, it is well understood that for many, the best environment to provide for them is one with as little sensory input as possible.  This would mean providing them with a setting that limits the amount of peers and staff working together in any given room. What we came to realize too late was that over a short span of three years, the conditions of Nicholas’ day program had dramatically changed.

Upon further investigation, it became known that Nicholas was going into a room, day after day, with a sum of 30 or more people while receiving very little one-on-one care. In the midst of this chaos, he was rarely alone except when he went into an office or cleaned the pet room. With so much sensory overload and lack of privacy, he simply had no way to decompress until he came home.

After consecutive incidents at his program, we realized there was something going very wrong for him. Despite several of our inquiries, we were not immediately informed of the increase in adults and the rapid turnover in staff. These events are what lead him to being transferred to a new location with fewer staff and peers.

Once he switched to the new program, his anxiety and distress only grew. We found out after the fact that this location was just as overcrowded as the previous one. The symptomatic behaviors he was showing with his peers and staff were now revealing themselves during his home life. After a month it became clear that he would have to remain at home under our mother’s full time supervision in order to regain the self control and peace of mind that was lost to him.

Back to his own family environment, after months of guided rehabilitation, Nicholas appeared to comprehend that he would never have to go back to his former day program and along with that realization came some relief. So the questions began to arise. What could Nicholas do with his time that would be fulfilling and stress relieving? How could we get him into the community without making him feel anxious? What could be done to repair the damage imposed upon him that was three years in the making?

It was around that time that when we were given a painting Nicholas made from his former day program. It was one of his works of art that was being shown off in their location while another was being sold for charity. When my family and I saw it, we were amazed at what he could do. It displayed incredible mountains of paint that rose off the canvas and crept off the edges. He had been working on it diligently for over 18 weeks.

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Our mother eagerly set up Nicholas’ art studio to provide everything he would need. Canvases, brushes, and acrylic paints. Initially, it seemed that his earliest work was his way of expelling negative energy and apprehension. This was evident to us when he would press his brushes deeply into the canvases making stark, straight lines. While he learned each new technique, his tension transitioned into joy as his straight lines softened into swirls and waves. 

The most profound behavioral changes we discovered was what he did while he painted. Whenever he applied brush to canvas, he would start talking, singing, and making jokes. He was expressing himself in ways that we had not observed in years. All the best traits in him that we had missed and loved began presenting themselves while he created works of art. The progress he made didn’t stop there. To this day he continues to develop better coping skills to combat his anxieties.

As the tagline for my brother’s blog I have written the phrase, “Expression through Abstract Artwork,” because his paintings are truly evidence of another form of communication that is beyond words. It can only been seen and experienced. With each person we meet who has viewed Nicholas’ work, everyone tells a different story of what they perceive. One person has even said that they could see an angel in the painting that was sold to them.

We have found that what helps fuel Nicholas’ drive to produce art is enthusiasm and watching others enjoy his creations as well as expanding his knowledge with fun and creative ideas so that he never loses interest in his work. There are several techniques that we practice with him while he paints which I will mention in a later blog.

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It is our wish that others will be able to enhance the lives of their children, loved ones, or students through a desire to create art. My family and I have discovered firsthand the therapeutic benefits painting and other artistic endeavors can have on a person with developmental disabilities. We can’t always communicate with the people we care about in the way we are most comfortable with. Sometimes inventive methods are needed in order for us to relate to one another.

-Natasha

 

“Normality is a paved road: It’s comfortable to walk, but no flowers grow on it.”

― Vincent van Gogh