Featured Artist Michelle Ciarlo-Hayes
Written by Julia Rix

A Studio of Her Own

Yes, all of the appropriate permits were obtained, a proper foundation was laid, and even soffit vents were all aptly installed. This building is a legitimate structure standing in the back yard of local artist Michelle Ciarlo-Hayes.

Where did the vision for this artist’s shangri-la begin? With a morning cup of coffee. As Michelle looked out her kitchen window to the back yard and laid her eyes upon the holly bushes that tried to block the view of the parking lot of the adjacent property, it came to her. Admittedly, her gained experience from watching HDTV’s Tiny House Builders inspired her. “Maybe there is enough room back there,” she thought to herself.  From there she ventured to expand her art business to the next level.


So, is it a “She Shed”? I think not. Michelle did not create this space for relaxation. While she is free to gab with friends and curl up with a good book in there every once in a while, her primary focus is managing and creating for her nation-wide wholesaling art business. Giving a nod to the great professional women who came before her Michelle states, “Virginia Woolfe didn’t refer to her room as a she shed.”

To Grow A Business

The beginning of Michelle’s art business grew along with her commitment to be home with her infant. She quit her full-time job as a librarian at Swathmore College in 2003 when she was pregnant with her first child, and by the time she had her second child in 2007 she was squeezing in a full-time art business while the children were otherwise occupied. In 2012 she began to establish herself in the world of wholesaling. Now her business mkc photography distributes Michelle’s handcrafted wares to about 80 galleries and boutiques nationwide.

Her studio was located in her house. Easy access was a must.

Eventually boundaries became an issue. Now that her children are 9 and 11 years old and big enough to go in to her studio, borrow stuff for their school projects (and not return it), Michelle needed to have her own dedicated space. Besides, she was required to pack up everything each time her parents or in-laws came to visit, since her studio doubled as the guest bedroom. The time to take a leap had come.

It took 6 months and several intimate late hours of drywalling and painting with her husband, Marty.  Michelle paid attention to every detail including a heating and cooling system, even resizing, painting, and installing shutters found at the Philadelphia Salvage Co.  As a final touch, a lovely stone path to her front door prevents needing to step in the mud on a rainy commute.


Since her official studio opening on May 1st, the new space has allowed for much more efficiency of effort. Everything is always in easy access.  Having a showroom also allows for visits from interior decorators and other buyers who may wonder, “What is in stock?” Take a look for yourself on this visual tour of sorts that she posted on her blog.

On Books & Oxford

Michelle embraces the whimsical in her artwork. A great inspiration for her was the time she spent studying at the University of Oxford in England. “Oxford, the city itself, is a muse,” she reminisces. Around every corner she found a magical mixture of the modern and the ancient. She describes, “It is a place where you might find a T Mobile store housed in a structure built before Henry VIII.”

MomentsAfterIHaveDreamedShe loves especially how the atmosphere provides “a visual portmanteau” where two seemingly unpaired ideas stand side by side. She’s also a big fan of Lewis Carroll, a champion of portmanteau with his “slithy toves” and other such intelligent nonsense. In fact, Lewis Carroll lived nearby and taught at the University and John Tenniel’s illustrations from Alice in Wonderland capture actual scenes in the old college town. A rich history with such characters as these infuses the place with whimsical humor.FlyMichelleCiarlo-Hayes

When each of her sons turned 7 years old, she took them on a one-on-one trip to her old stomping grounds. Luckily, they got to see some of the magic too. Like the moment when a white rabbit on a bicycle blowing bubbles appeared. Sometimes you just can’t make this stuff up!

She has always loved the unexpected. On her art blocks you will find a happenstance selection of text framing her photographs. The Oxford Dictionary provides her with raw material…a seemingly inexhaustible supply of pages. The dreamy mood of her imagery can’t be created by some quick-fix filter so common today. Her method involves shooting through the lenses of now seemingly ancient cameras, her great aunt’s twin lens reflex antique among them.

Twitter Connection

How did Michelle find us? A twitter friend. She had communicated with artist Lisa Kelley because they had similar interests in art and kids. One day Lisa posted a message about Sprinkles Ice Cream Shoppe and Michelle quickly figured out they live in the same zip code. One thing led to another and Lisa, who was already a member artist, invited Michelle to apply for membership. DaytimeFlight

Michelle recounts what drew her to the artists’ collective, “It can get lonely as an artist. You are in your head so much.”  She appreciates communing with honest people who get what it is to make artwork…a perspective that one’s own family sometimes may not share. Work share meetings challenge her to hone and sharpen her vision. She likens the energy to a creative hive even if organizing sometimes feels like herding cats. In the end, it’s all done with a love for creative expression.

Visit Michelle at her online shop: