“It’s been long process. I’ve gotten home after a long journey.”
Debbie Adams Keene, the woman behind Giggles and Me, runs a studio in the Depot downtown where she teaches classes to kids and adults alike as well as hosting private parties. Keene has over 2,000 Facebook likes on her Giggles and Me page. Keene specializes in acrylic paintings on wood and canvas as well as other projects. After over 20 years in the automotive industry, Keene says she is now in a place in her life where she can focus on her art.
Keene’s journey began over 20 years ago when, as a single mother, she needed a second income source to support her two children.
“I needed a second job and didn’t want to work outside the house so that I could be with my children,” Keene said, “So I turned my painting into second job. I could paint at home into the wee hours of the night. I would sit up painting while the kids were sleeping. I loved it so much it wasn’t work.”
She started her business by selling handmade country decor items made out of wood with her father’s tools.
Keene has become successful selling her works, including at the Jackson Hand Mart and Mistletoe Marketplace during the holidays selling personalized Christmas ornaments.
Keene said she got her start in art when she was 5 years old, when her mother bought rolls of paper for her to draw on.
“I would draw until I would literally get artist’s block and couldn’t draw anymore,” Keene said. “My mom gave me so much confidence—I never thought that I couldn’t do something. That’s what I try to instill in these kids.”
In Keene’s studio, art is a vehicle for learning life lessons and encouragement. The slogan the kids are taught in her classes is, “Don’t Be a Mean Girl.” If a student is having a bad day, they are free to share their story with the group, and kids are taught to recognize bullying and speak up.
These life lessons are weaved into fun activities like painting on wood, canvas, making headbands with braided yarn, fabric roses, tissue paper flowers and “free days”- days when the kids are free to create anything they want.
“I’m not going to teach your kid to draw or paint—it’s either in them or not,” Keene said. “But I will give them the confidence to try. Art has to be an expression of who you are that day. “
Keene said one of the most gratifying experiences teaching the children’s art classes was when one particular student blossomed. The child was on the autism spectrum and would not participate in activities with other children such as skating and sports. But when he sat down in Keene’s studio with pencil and paper, his talent for art was apparent.
“I believe art touches your soul as much as music does, I really do,” Keene said.
Keene also offers adult classes and private parties through the recreation department. Keene said the classes focus on acrylic painting on wood and canvas and individual projects.
“If they see something on Pinterest they want to construct, we will figure it out,” Keene said.
Painting parties for birthdays and other occasions are very popular with adults as well as kids.
“So many people that come to painting parties talk about how it is ‘paint therapy,” Keene said. For three hours, the world is blocked out and people love that.”
To learn more about children’s classes, adults classes and private parties, contact the Brookhaven Recreation Department at (601)- 833-3791 or Keene directly at (601)-669-4342. Keene will host a summer art camp that begins in June.