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BLANK FACES: Families find beauty, have stories told with watercolor portraits

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MARION, Ind. (WPTA21) - When it comes to Courtney Harvey's artwork, the beauty is in the lack of details.

Clients commission Harvey through her business, Joyful by Design, to have their stories told, in ways other mediums wouldn't allow.

What started as a hobby, turned into a lucrative side hustle.

"I'm one of those crazy people where I need to be doing something all the time," Harvey said, "so I started this while I was pregnant, and launched it on maternity leave. Juggling a small kid, husband, and a day job... It's therapeutic."

Customers don't just like her work because of aesthetic, but also because her family portraits don't show faces - which appeals to a niche group of people.

"Foster families are some of my favorite to work with because they're so unique," Harvey told us, "and they appreciate it so much because it's unique. For them it works so well."

The Indiana Department of Child Services discourage resource parents from posting pictures of their foster children online.

Any information of the children including details of their case, is expected to be kept confidential.

Foster parents who look to share photos of their families online, often resort to censoring their faces, using techniques like blur, or even emojis.

Janalee VeenKant is proud of her diverse family, and finally felt she could share their personalities with loved ones online, without violating DCS's privacy policies.

"I love them all so much. I'm glad that I can share us all together in a photo," VeenKant told us, "We're going to embrace each other today, but also recognize that we're still a part of another family as well. That's the case for my boys, and for my girls, we're in the process of adopting them, so they will be here permanently."

VeenKant went to college with Harvey, and reconnected with her, after seeing some of her paintings shared online.

When guests walk into VeenKant's Marion home, her family's painted portrait is the focal point.

Despite not depicting faces, the art piece is still expressive.

"I absolutely loved painting them," Harvey said, "You could just see the little girl's joy without her facial expressions. The little boy was getting ready to run. They are a lively bunch. To get to capture that is a lot of fun."

"It might not reflect their reality of what's happening right now, but it reflects where their heart stands," VeenKant explained, "What this photo does for foster families, I mean the watercolor is amazing, but the potential is a lot larger."

Harvey has done watercolor portraits for several foster families.

"I have one client who comes back and brings me her painting and I add to it as she has more people come into her home," Harvey told us, "She said, 'my doors are always opening and closing and I always have different people in our family'. And I love that I can capture that together."

But foster families aren't the only customers that have a powerful story.

In fact, most clients that visit Harvey's Etsy shop do.

One family asked that she add two infants who died shortly after birth, so they could have a complete portrait.

"I was able to put together and create something special they could look at and say, 'this is our family'," Harvey said, "one may not be here, one may be in another place. Cherish it. That's something I feel very passionate about."

A painting she just started shows two friends, one who recently died, in front of a family property that will soon be sold.

Another depicts a bride and all her family, including her late grandparents.

"I feel emotionally invested in each of the people and families that I work with and in the artwork I create for them," Harvey told us.

Business doesn't always come with a story, but it does come from across the country.

"Sometimes there are families I don't get the full story. You just never know, each family is different and unique," she said, "I send orders to all 50 states, constantly getting random orders. Then I get to see the faces of their families. It's neat. Texas, Alaska, Indiana - it's across the board."

"You see the life of their family, I think, without having to cover up a lot of expressions," Harvey continues, "Body language speaks a lot and just the way that you can paint them with colors that evokes emotions and shows them holistically, without having to show their specific facial features is really pretty special."

Daniel Beals

Daniel Beals is an award-winning journalist and photographer who started his career at ABC21. He is a Michigan native and graduate of Grand Valley State University. Daniel welcomes any story idea. Feel free to reach out:

Krista Miller

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