"I've painted since I was born," said Melissa Tranmer of Harris County. The mother and wife took a leap of faith recently and quit a secure job of 11 years at Aflac to operate her painting business, Butterfly Kisses, full-time.
When she was a little girl, Tranmer used to paint on her bedroom walls. When she got caught, she feared getting in trouble, but her dad said, "You're going to be an artist one day."
She remembers the art teacher at school rolling in a cart supplies on Wednesdays. "I was so excited," she said.
Tranmer has been through a lot in the ensuing years. She and her high school sweetheart, Tom, had a daughter when she was 17. Alyssa is now 15. Tranmer suffered abuse as a child and later had a serious bout of endometriosis, which was quite painful.
She had 13 surgeries for the condition, and eventually had a full hysterectomy.
Throughout her illness, she gained about 200 pounds, which she became determined to lose when she decided to train for an Iron Girl triathlon sponsored by Aflac. Despite her health problems and being born with a club foot, she completed the Iron Girl in 2010 and lost the 200 pounds, going from a size 30 down to a 14.
Art came back into her life in a serious way when a girlfriend paid for a table at her church fall festival to raise money for the American Cancer Society, and she asked Tranmer to paint something.
Tranmer painted wooden signs to put on kids' bedroom doors and have their names painted on them. "Customers were buying it up," she added.
"Along with the weight loss came feeling better about myself, feeling that I could be an artist," she said, adding, "I started painting in my garage."
She would match the door signs to bedding for babies' nurseries. She started going to shows. She went to 26 shows that year, on top of working at Aflac. Finally, wearing herself out, she decided to quit Aflac and go out on her own.
"I had constant orders. People emailed, texted and called. It was too much," Tranmer said.
"It's been a roller coaster," she said of her venture. "There's no boss, you make your own schedule and don't have the drama that goes along with corporate America."
Despite the perks, "you work 50 times to 100 times harder," and there's "no one to look at when something fails," Tranmer said.
"God puts everyone here for a reason," Tranmer said, explaining that she feels she's found her purpose, along with being a wife and mother.
She can paint on any surface, not only the wooden shapes her husband cuts for her. One of her biggest sellers has been a pencil-shaped teacher's sign. She's had to struggle financially, and grapple with the fact that others have copied her work. But Tranmer has accepted that "it's quality over quantity" that counts.
Recently, she's focused on recycling, using old chairs, shutters and windows as canvases.
She had dreams of one day opening a shop of her own, but for now she shares a booth at Front Porch of the South with Peggy Gay, who makes Peggy's Bibs. (Booth E-25.) She also plans to get a booth at Joey's Thrift Market, she said.
Last year, she painted 67 Easter baskets and she has been working on more for this year.
"I like turning trash into treasure," she said.
You can "like" Tranmer's page of Facebook and keep up with her activities. She's at Butterfly Kisses Hand Painted Creations.