Michelle Raabe is all about the creative spirit. A freelance artist who has painted on myriad surfaces from murals to wine glasses – and human canvas – she is hitting her stride on the Grand Strand and following her muse – or Muses, in her case.
Originally from Maryland – just outside the Washington D.C. area, Raabe ostensibly took the lead from her brother and moved to Grand Strand eight years ago. “We would come and visit on vacations and we liked the area,” she says. “It was a good opportunity to change – to leave the traffic and the stress behind and get into a beachy, laid back resort town.”
Raabe went to the University of Maryland and received degrees in Fine Arts and Graphic Design. For a time, she taught Technology at Lakewood Elementary School. “My daughter [Alyssa, now 14] went there, and I was already involved in the PTA. I felt like I was constantly there anyway, so why not make a little money while I was there.” She began substitute teaching and segued into a part-time Technology teaching position for a couple of years – but she decided that this was not her calling. “I really needed to be doing the art stuff more, and now that Alyssa is older, I feel like I have more time to focus on that.”
Mural work became her focus – primarily because Raabe painted murals in her home in Maryland and here in Myrtle Beach, a de-facto showcase. “Different people would see them and talk about them, so when an opportunity came up to paint a mural at Lakewood Elementary, I was able to show them some of my past work.” She recently completed another mural at Surfside United Methodist Church.
“I have always painted on wine glasses and canvases on commission, like for the Washington Wizards Cheerleaders or the Washington Redskins Cheerleaders,” she says. In the cheerleading community – word of mouth about Raabe has been key. “A lot of these cheerleaders will leave one organization and switch to different ones and move around. They will bring my information with them – so I stay busy.” She also maintains a Web site showcasing her work – www.michellelyndesigns.com.
In October, Raabe joined an outfit in Murrells Inlet called Paint & Unwined [ www.paintandunwined.com], which was featured in Surge’s Oct. 18 cover story about paint-and-pour businesses. “I teach art classes there, and the adult classes are anywhere from 2-3 hours,” she says. “People sign up for a particular night, depending on the painting being offered. I teach them from start to finish how to paint that particular piece, and while they are here, they can bring appetizers. They serve beer and wine. It’s a lot of fun.”
Did we mention cheerleaders? Did we mention human canvas?
Raabe just got back from a trip to Costa Rica with the Washington Redskins Cheerleaders. This is not a new development. She has been body painting select Redskins Cheerleaders for 11 years.
“I knew the previous director of the Redskins Cheerleaders since we were teenagers,” she says. “He knew I was an artist, and they had just started traveling and doing swimsuit calendars. They called me to ask if I could paint on them like they do in Sports Illustrated. I said, ‘Sure!’”
“I usually paint four or five girls, and they ask for volunteers. Not every girl is willing to do it.” At first, some of them are nervous, but Raabe says they are always happy at the end of the process. “Sometimes I think they are actually more covered once they are painted than some of the swimsuits cover them. We always get a great reaction.”
We asked Raabe if she has experienced serendipitous moments in relation to her art since leaving her technology job.
“Yes, absolutely. I am a true believer in that – manifesting your goals and things that make you happy.” And Raabe admits that every minute of her work is now play.
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