Handpainted ornaments express the power of art during the holidays

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By JENNIFER AMATO
Staff Writer

NORTH BRUNSWICK — Christmastime is an extra special time for Faith Alyson Maltese.

About 26 years ago, Maltese’s sister Merrill would serve as the host to Christmas for family and friends, so Maltese would handpaint ornaments to give as “unique tokens of cheer” on Christmas Day.

“My sister would give me a count of women and girls, and based on that I would create enough ornaments for them to choose one from the basketful I would bring,” Maltese recalled. “I would always have extras for anyone who showed up unexpectedly. It became a tradition and continued until recently when she moved to Seattle. So, I began just doing them for the great-niece and nephews since her children are grown with families of their own. There are seven great-nieces and nephews and they look forward to advising me every year of exactly want they would like to see on their ornament. It’s a big deal for them, and they anxiously look forward to it every year.

“This year I added the three little ones who live next door to my list of special peeps. Because my busy months are November and December, I prepare their ornaments early in November and give them at Thanksgiving.”

Maltese designs about four or five of the 3 1/4-inch glass spheres or 3.5-inch flat disc ornaments at a time, with each taking about an hour and a half to paint.

She paints a lot of Disney and cartoon characters, replicating images from books, TV, movies, etc. She designs her own floralscapes, too.

“However, the requests are a bit more complicated this year as many customers are requesting baby and pet portraits, which include a lot of detailing and mixing of paint for skin tones to create depth and shadows,” she said.

She is inspired by the sea, so she added a collection of shell ornaments from the Philippines, India and Florida.

Last year, she introduced gift tags handpainted on Capiz oyster shells. They are attached to gifts and then hung on the Christmas tree so they serve a dual purpose.

“My favorite ornament is the Capiz oyster shell with a Christmas wreath. It’s a perfect size, wafer-thin, slightly transparent and lightweight. It’s amazing on the tree and a great item for the stocking. As a tree ornament or token they are a handy item to have when thanking the paperboy, mail carrier, visiting neighbors or attending holiday hosted events. A sweet gesture for a merry Christmas,” she said.

This year, she created the 3-inch organic Sea Scallop: a handpainted green wreath with sparkle embellishments and a red bow complemented with a gemstone representing the recipient’s birth month.

This year, Maltese also introduced ink ornaments. Using various shapes of glass ornaments, such as egg, square, round or anything odd, she worked with a variety of metallic and brilliant alcohol inks that blended together to make each ornament unique.

“[My] favorite and most prized piece is a painting of a client’s home from Spring Lake onto a large gazing ball. It’s an amazing piece and the best piece I’ve ever done,” she said.

New this year is also the addition of nonbreakable children’s ornaments.

Maltese’s work used to be done in a studio her father built for her next to her previous home in Brick, but since moving to North Brunswick she converted her mother’s dining room into her new workspace.

“[I]t is enjoyed by the many children who visit and create art with me,” she said.

That enjoyment is par for the course, as Maltese said “surprise, excitement, happiness, thoughtfulness and appreciation” are the usual reactions to her gifts.

“It’s a great way to be remembered during the holidays as both a painter as well as a giver,” she said.

The holidays are also a perfect time to use art as a form of expression.

“[Art] expresses the inner spirit of the artist who uses various mediums to remind everyone about the holidays. It’s displayed by the brushstrokes, colors and embellishments that the artist uses and communicates joy as well as a simple reminder of the celebrated season.

“There are many reasons my clients order. Some are trying to preserve a bit of family history and others [are] just looking for a handcrafted keepsake to capture a memory or experienced event. Some are just looking for pieces that haven’t been mass produced. I have one client who orders throughout the year for her granddaughter, marking birthdates and milestones and has done so since she was born. Eventually her granddaughter will have her own collection of customized handpainted keepsake ornaments created by one individual artist,” she said.

The ornaments include personalization, a gift box and a decorative ribbon.

Maltese also creates items of mixed media, slate signs/paintings, wall murals, canvas or wood.

For more information, visit www.faithmaltese.com.

Contact Jennifer Amato at jamato@gmnews.com.