GTPulse: Suttons Bay Local Earns Money for College With Digital Art

Among all the changes that 2020 brought, schooling was a major one. While virtual classes were optional in the years leading up to 2020, it became the only option for students to attend their classes this past year. When campuses everywhere closed down, students left without knowing when they would return. All the time spent away from peers has caused many of these home dwellers to get in touch with their creative sides while indoors. Maddie Bladek, a fashion merchandising student at Western Michigan University was able to get creative all in the name of making a little extra money for school.

The Traverse City native has spent the past several months in Suttons Bay with her family. Though it’s been a change to be a virtual student, Maddie’s love for her studies has kept her diligently working even while away from school.

“I’ve always loved fashion, and my dad’s always been my supporter to push me and encourage me to go to the program at Western. I’ve always been really into color, style, design elements, and all of that so it was perfect. Choosing this route was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.”

A big part of fashion merchandising is understanding trends in clothing. Maddie will closely study upcoming trends so she can provide insight into what a retailer should carry and promote in their store. Helping determine how much of something to carry, and for how many seasons will be an aspect of her job. Analyzing the strength of a new trend will be something she’ll have to do too. A current trend with family portraits is getting them turned into digital art prints. When she started seeing them, she enjoyed how they looked.

“With quarantine, I just had a lot of time on my hands so I started messing around with an art application I have on my computer. Now it’s just kind of taken off into a bigger hobby from there.”

The portraits she makes can be done from any kind of photo that you have and love. On colored background, she lays out each person’s outline and coloring. The facial details are left out. Like hands, cartoon face details can be hard to get right.

“The first one I made was for my sister and she really liked it and so did all of her friends so I made more for them, just learning how to do it. They said I should sell these, when I posted them on the Overheard in Leelanau County [Facebook] page I was shocked at how much support I got.”

Who doesn’t want to support a local, hardworking college student make some extra money? Requests are still pouring into Maddie’s inbox for all kinds of family photos. From couples to singles, to folks with their pets, she’s been able to recreate favorite pictures for anyone looking. She charges not by the picture itself, but by how many people are in it. $5 per person or pet.

Typically, she doesn’t recreate details from the background of the photo. But lately, she’s been adding it in for an extra charge.

“Recently I added in a background option, usually I do it just plain and simple, but I recently added in an option to add in the background so it’s more like a proper portrait illustration.”

She’s been excited to see what happy customers have done with their digital portraits. While some have gotten them printed and framed, others have had them put onto keepsake gifts. Maddie’s mom had their digital family portrait put on an ornament.

“One client of mine is a musician so he used my art as his album cover which is really really cool.”

Not only has this been a new learning experience for Maddie is art and business, it became an outlet for stress and boredom too. On days where everything was closed and the weather didn’t encourage a trek outdoors, she honed her digital art skills at home or worked on requests. 

“I would get my stylus, go in my room and just work for hours on it. It’s been a good stress reliever. And 100% of it goes towards my college tuition so that’s been really helpful.”

For a print of your own, head to They’re a fun way to get creative for a gift, or just to get creative with showing some love to your favorite photo.

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Categories: GTPulse