When April Lavely-Robinson makes art, she brings mythical creatures to life. She paints fairies and goblins and “centaur cuties” and headless dolls.
For years, a different kind of beast kept her from picking up the paintbrush. She calls it the “mythical creature of the starving artist.”
“I believed I couldn’t make it as an artist,” she said. “I just didn’t have the confidence to go for it.”
Growing up with learning disabilities, Lavely-Robinson found art as an outlet. She was always drawing or painting.
“Then life came into play,” she said. “And I put art on the back burner.”
In her early 20s, she gave up her passion. Those were her “hot mess” years, she says, made messier by using drugs and alcohol.
It was her husband who pulled her out. His name is Jimmy, but Lavely-Robinson often calls him her Jiminy Cricket.
“He was like the conscience on my shoulder,” she said.
Soon, she got a beauty license and eventually opened her own salon. She ran it for 11 years, while occasionally making time for art. And for 11 years, she knew she wasn’t as happy as she could be.
Her body told her. She says her back is in shambles after years of full days on her feet.
“It was my soul more than anything,” she said. “It was just saying, this isn’t it.”
When the pandemic hit, Lavely-Robinson, 36, had to close her salon. Without work and with worries about her family’s well-being, she fell into a depression.
“Fortunately, a door opened bringing hope to darkness,” she wrote on her Instagram page. “It was a small, but perfect door just big enough for me to fit through.”
It had to do with the thing that always gets her through life’s ups and downs.
She was asked to illustrate a children’s book by the Rev. Ahrianna Patten, the minister of Unity of the Rockies, where Lavely-Robinson attends.
As more doors opened, she decided she wouldn’t reopen her salon.
“I know what makes me feel good and it’s art,” she said. “I knew if I didn’t answer this calling, my soul would be hurting.”
She went all in. She taught art classes. She taught her kids, who are 3 and 7, how to paint. She got more illustrating gigs. And she’s working on murals downtown at La Burla Bee, formerly The Underground. She’s working on publishing two children’s books she wrote and illustrated.
And most days, she gets to paint. She gets to paint whatever she feels. Her art often has darker tones, even though she paints the creatures she grew up loving as a child.
“My art is not really cheery,” she says with a laugh.
But her goal is to keep making art for kids and for children’s books.
“I want to teach kids and my kids awesome lessons,” she said. “I want them to believe in magic just like I do.
She calls her studio Fox and the Toad (foxandthetoad.com), and the toad is a nod to her husband’s part in the business. He makes canvases for her paintings. And she fills them with color.
“I was stuck in my head for so many years,” she said. “I just had to let go and give into my love of art. Now I’m along for the ride.”