From childhood to current day, Paula Strawn has always been referred to as an artist.
Her talent quickly got her labeled among family and friends as the go-to person for any creative need.
“[It was like,] ‘You want it painted? I will do that thing! Whatever it is,’” said Paula.
But one request led Paula down an unanticipated life path: painting baby helmets.
When Paula wasn’t doing art herself, she was helping others find their creativity. She often volunteered doing art in her children’s classroom. Her child’s teacher, Cathy Everett, had a special request; She asked Paula to paint her baby granddaughter’s pediatric helmet.
"She was like, 'Paint this ugly thing!'" Paula recalled. "And I was like, 'Okay!'"
Like thousands of infants, Everett’s grandchild had plagiocephaly. It is a common, treatable disorder where there is a flat spot on a baby's head.
According to the Boston Children's Hospital, plagiocephaly develops when an infant's soft skull becomes flattened in one area, due to repeated pressure on one part of the head. Many babies develop plagiocephaly by sleeping regularly in one position. The helmet is used to help form abnormal head/skull shape.
With the flick of a paintbrush, Paula created a pink floral pattern around the helmet.
When the baby’s doctor saw her colorful helmet, he loved it and wanted to offer Paula’s service to other patients.
“He saw value in having the helmet painted for his clients,” said Paula. “It was just one of those snowball things… and now it’s virtually 99-percent of what I do is paint for babies! Which is the best job ever.”
As Paula’s design were modeled by more and more babies, orders began coming in from all over the world.
The demand for Paula’s helmets was so great she dedicated her business, Lazardo Art, to the craft.
“It’s like, ‘Who knew? Who knew?!’ I didn’t wake up one day and thought, ‘I’m going to get into the helmet business,’” Paula said. “It’s just a really happy thing being able to do this.”
Every helmet is custom painted. Paula works with each client to custom create a unique design. Since the helmet cannot be off the child for long, clients ship the helmet and Paula paints each one overnight, then return ships it the following day.
Some of her most beloved designs are the aviator helmet, motorcycle helmet, Captain America helmet, street art designs, Where the Wild Things Are artwork and sports-related helmets.
Despite the quick turn around and grueling schedule, Paula adores her work.
“That’s what I love about the art that I’ve been able to do in my life, it’s always been for other people,” Paula said with tears in her eyes. “It’s been able to make other people happy. That’s why I’ve got the best job!”
Paula also loves that her artwork is helping destigmatize the use of baby helmets. She said when most people see a baby wearing a helmet, they take pity or become concerned with the child's well being.
Rather than garnering stares and questions about the helmets, Paula’s artwork helps bring smiles, waves and positive affirmations to the baby and their family.
“It’s such a worthwhile thing to see babies look so cute and happy and parents be overjoyed and be able to have conversations with people where the person is looking at the helmet saying, ‘That is so cute! What is this for?’ They’re not saying, ‘Oh my gosh your poor baby,’” Paula said.
But Paula’s favorite part of her job is the fact that her helmets make people smile at babies, therefore making babies smile.
“I love that I’m bringing smiles into the world,” she said.