A Painter’s Perseverance

Story and photography by Karen Ott Mayer​

Everyone is an artist at Paint with Me in Hernando, thanks to the tenacity of its owner who didn’t let a pandemic slow her down.

Lifelong artist Rochelle Carpenter reflects a tenacity born from true need. When she decided to open a retail paint and pottery studio in her hometown of Hernando, Miss., fulfilling a lifelong dream, the word pandemic figured nowhere in her business plan. She opened Paint with Me in January 2020 and hasn’t looked back.

“I have always loved art and painting. I have always liked to make my own things, like homemade decorations or repurposed pieces,” she says. “I felt like this idea was really placed on my heart.”

Carpenter studied art all through school, taking advanced art in high school, so expanding into an art career felt like a natural move. Plus, with an autistic son, she sought ways to care for him while pursuing her own passion for art as a stay-at-home mom.

But after years of selling painted wooden art like door hangers, and taking custom orders from her home, she wondered if it wasn’t time to consider her own space.

“I also sold through Commerce Street Market but just reached a point when I thought it would be more practical to open my own shop,” she says.

She began looking for a space and found a new building located just south of the historic Hernando Square on Highway 51.

“It was a brand new building and I wasn’t sure about taking it on,” she relates, adding that in the end, she chose the space and began making it her own. “I literally worked on it day and night through January 2020. It took forever to paint because I did colorful vertical stripes on one wall and a mural of Hernando on the other one. I poured my heart into it.”

Like any busy entrepreneur, Carpenter enlisted the help of family. Her husband, Charlie, supports her work by helping with all the wooden cutouts.

“He works one week on, then another off,” she says. “When he’s home, he’s busy cutting wood for me.”

Today, Paint with Me draws a steady and loyal crowd that shows up to either paint on canvas or pottery. The cheerful space is usually a beehive of activity as kids and parents gather around tables to create their own art. Carpenter hosts events and celebrations from birthday parties to girls-night-out parties.

Carpenter incorporated pottery in the store recently, selling pieces and allowing customers to make their own. She contacted Olympic, which produces pottery kilns, and they trained her on the use of her kiln and the aspects of selling pottery.

“I took an online class from the company located in Massachusetts and they were great,” she says. “They gave me a business plan and helped me get started. I’m still learning.”

Customers can choose from dozens of pottery pieces to make their own creations, from whimsical characters to kitchenware and serving pieces. Carpenter says even a two-year old can paint pottery. Once the pieces are painted, Carpenter fires them in her kiln every Saturday. The weekly turnaround makes it convenient for customers to quickly pick up their creations.

“I have some people who come every week to paint a piece (of pottery),” says Carpenter. “Even if they’re mixing crazy colors, each piece is unique and they all turn out beautiful.”

Carpenter has also discovered the beauty of imprinting a baby’s handprint in clay as a keepsake.

At her 2020 grand opening, business was brisk as she sold hundreds of T-shirts and dozens of door hangers. Everything seemed to be falling into place. And then, the pandemic arrived.

Like so many other owners, Carpenter shut her doors but moved quickly to custom orders and working with vendors like the DeSoto County School District where she had strong support among friends and teachers. She offered online classes until June 2020, when she reopened the shop.

“I don’t consider myself a teacher but I started online classes,” she says. “I put together online kits and showed customers how to mix colors and paints, teaching them step by step how to paint a canvas. For instance, we painted Peter Rabbit for Easter.”

In February, Paint with Me celebrated its one-year anniversary, holding an open house amidst the continued COVID-19 restrictions. Carpenter is now booking parties again, respecting required space and masks.

Despite general uncertainty about opening a business during a pandemic, Carpenter knows she made the right decision. “Something was telling me to open the store and the time was right despite everything.”

Looking ahead, the calendar gets even busier for Paint with Me. Carpenter’s planning a summer camp for all age groups and additional themed parties.

Having created sellable art for more than five years, including thousands of painted Christmas ornaments, Carpenter believes quietly in her own talent and new business. More importantly, her infectious and dedicated attitude inspires others to get involved and make a little art.

Her biggest problem these days? “Keeping track of requests because they come through Facebook, Instagram, my personal Facebook, and texts!”

​To learn more about Paint with Me, contact the store at (662) 469-1293 or visit them on Facebook.

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