Calming Creativity

Root Studio offers a space for collaboration and inspiration

Text BY Martha Thomas      PHOTOGRAPHY BY Mary C. Gardella

November/December 2017

Karen Isailovic paints large, expressive canvasses in an airy studio at Root Studio, the maker space she opened in Columbia.

Recently, she sat down at a computer in the adjacent music lab and started messing around with composition programs. “I never realized I had that kind of interest in music,” Isailovic says.

Isailovic hopes fellow artists at Root Studio will be likewise inspired. “I see our goal as cross pollination, cross encouragement,” she says.

She took over the 5,700-square-foot space in 2016 and has furnished it with a media lab, an area for painting, a photography studio with professional lights and a seam¬less backdrop (“where people can photograph their products for eBay and Etsy,” she says), and a small library stocked with art books. There’s a writer’s room furnished like a 1930s Hollywood bungalow, complete with a vintage typewriter; and a professional sound studio run by Mark Moreau, a sound engineer. Recently, Dianne Connelly, founder of Tai Sophia (now Maryland University of Integrative Health), recorded her book, “Medicine Words” in the room, draped with sound-muffling quilts.

Isailovic, who dropped out of UMBC and started a general contracting company when she was 19 years old, also hopes to draw young people into the creative process. “When I was in high school, I was lost, so I understand.” The mother of two teenagers, she has observed the challenges today’s young people face. “I’d hear through my daughters about their friends’ stress and anxiety,” she says. “I wanted to offer a place where people can express themselves without structure or judgment.”

Over the summer, Root Studio held a two-week residency with textile artist Julia Kwon. “The theme was women and independence,” Isailovic says. “We discussed making money, seeking out artists residencies and professional development.” But the retreat also provided space for participants to work on their art. Root Studio, says Isailovic, “is all about the process. It’s about bringing the creator out in each of us.”


• Glazed, non-porous white ceramic tile
• Plastic drop cloth
• Alcohol inks (range of colors)
• Isopropyl rubbing alcohol
• Felt pads (if tiles will be used as drink coasters/trivets)
• Paint brushes, small various shapes (round, flat, liner) and sizes
• Straws, various sizes (coffee stirrers, drinking straws)
• Spray sealer or resin (your choice)
Step 1 Start with clean, white tiles—preferably up-cycled from a source like Community Forklift in Hyattsville ( Clean tiles with rubbing alcohol and a lint-free cloth to remove dust.
Step 2 Pour a small amount of rubbing alcohol on the tile, and coat the surface by tilting in all directions.
Step 3 Start by dripping small amounts of alcohol ink of various colors onto the surface. The ink will blossom and spread. Play with tilting the tile, or blowing gently with a straw to direct the ink. Use a brush or a cotton swab to manipulate the ink colors into designs. Note: The alcohol dries quickly, so work fast. You can remoisten the tile by spraying it with small amounts of alcohol, but this may interfere with your original design pattern.
Step 4 If you don’t like what you see, wipe the tile clean with alcohol and start over.
Step 5 Like your design? Let it dry (24 hours recommended) and seal with a spray shellac or resin.
Step 6 Back coasters by gluing felt to the bottom.





• 2 Plastic drop cloths (Trust us, you will thank us!)
• Cotton yarn
• Glue (good old fashioned Elmer’s)
• Balloons (blown up to the size of your choice)
• Hanging light fixture socket (Home Depot, Ikea, Upcycle)
• Light bulb
• Bucket or bin
• Sharpie marker
• Clothesline for hanging wet balloons (This can be string.)
• Clothes pins or binder clips to hang lamp for drying
• Needle or push pin to puncture balloon once lampshade is dry
Prep Set up a drying line with string and push pins. Be sure that you set it up in an out-of-the-way place, as the lampshades will need to dry for a couple of days. Place a drop cloth beneath to catch drips. Spread the other drop cloth on your work surface.
Step 1 Inflate balloon to the size lamp you desire.
Step 2 Fill a plastic bin about halfway up with a 50/50 solution of glue and water and mix thoroughly.
Step 3 Place string in the glue concoction, making sure it is fully submerged.
Step 4 Use a sharpie marker to draw a circle around the bottom (knot end) of the inflated balloon. This will be the opening for the hanging lamp hardware. Draw a second circle on the top of the balloon large enough to fit your hand in so that you can screw in the light bulb. Make sure that you do not place string within these areas.
Step 5 Begin wrapping the string around the balloon. Start by making a firm base for the fixture hardware by wrapping several layers along the bottom. Continue to wrap the wet string, working your way to the top, and repeat multiple loops around the bulb opening to make a firm rim. You can make your lamp as light or as dense as you wish, crisscrossing the string in different directions. When you are satisfied, cut the string and hide the end. Brush or sponge an extra layer of glue around the top and bottom rings to strengthen.
Step 6 Hang balloon to dry for about two days.
Step 7 Once the string is thoroughly dry, pop the balloon and gently push and peel it away from the string. The hardened string may crumble around the edges; don’t worry, as long as it doesn’t break. Take your time to ensure the overall shape remains intact.
Step 8 Attach the light fixture socket and insert bulb. Plug in and enjoy! *

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