When DaJaniere Rice was growing up, her father would challenge her to a playful contest. They would watch a cartoon and then try to draw one of the characters from it.
While her artistic father, Oscar, won nearly all of those early competitions, DaJaniere Rice would advise to not bet against her if they rekindled the game.
“He would definitely get a run for his money between me, my siblings and nieces, who also draw exceptionally well,” said Rice, who since late November has served as a multimedia graphic designer for LSA Advancement after three years in a similar role with the Center for Academic Innovation.
Rice has parlayed her artistic upbringing and talents into a blossoming career at U-M, and also shares her passion for the mental and spiritual therapeutic potential of art through paint parties and murals.
Rice’s earliest memories of art are those drawing contests with her dad, an artist and woodworker who with her mother, Jewelle Baggett, at one time owned a bakery. Yet despite that, Rice, who grew up in Inkster, Michigan, said she was not enrolled in art classes until she took them in high school in Westland.
“I always tease my parents now because when we were younger, they put us in everything except for art classes,” said Rice, the second youngest of five siblings. “Ice skating, karate, gymnastics, piano lessons, which I hated. They put us in everything except for art classes, which is what I ended up going into anyway.
“It kind of just worked out that way. They were encouraging for anything.”
Rice earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in graphic design from Bowling Green State University and dove into the world of freelance work about five years ago, when she decided to see if she could spread her love of art and make a little money while doing so.
“I was thinking about all the skills I have: I know how to design, I know how to paint,” she said. “And I was thinking this is something I could do where I’m providing this service to other people and I’m also doing something I like to do.”
From there, her idea to host paint parties was born. She designed a landscape scene with the sun setting over water and a tree with small flowers around it, collected the materials needed and invited some friends to paint with her.
She said three friends showed up, and they shared a wonderful experience.
“I didn’t have any expectations for the first one, just that someone showed up,” she said. “They showed up, I went step by step how to create the painting, and it actually came out looking like how it should have looked, so I was very proud and it made me a little bit more confident.”
Since that first one, she estimates she has hosted more than 300 people for paint parties over the past five years, including her biggest — a 100-person event for a Bowling Green sorority.
For that one, Rice enlisted her parents, younger sister and two friends to help set up and assist. While she said the event had its issues — a large screen at the front of the room malfunctioned as did audio equipment — the attendees walked away pleased and enriched.
“It’s always interesting. Each party is starting and they say, ‘This isn’t looking good,’ and in the end, they get this beautiful painting,” she said. “It’s kind of like life. When we take our time to do things one step at a time and just think about those intervals instead of just being overwhelmed by that future picture in our mind, we eventually get to the point anyway.”
That’s much of the allure of the parties for Rice, who announces to her guests the first rule is to focus only on their canvas and not that of their neighbors. It’s especially poignant when doubters become believers once the vision on the canvas comes to life.
“Painting and art for me — especially when I’m creating art that’s reflective of things I’ve grown from and a variety of experiences — are very healing for me,” she said. “It just brings me this joy and peace to know that I can have a positive impact on others through doing something that I like to do and that’s a place of solace for me.”
The COVID-19 pandemic naturally threw a wrench in her plans to host parties, and she declined to try to re-create the experience virtually. She hosted a paint party in the summer of 2021 for the first time since the pandemic started, and only did a few last year as well.
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To fill the void, she took on two mural projects that proved challenging and worthwhile. She created one for Hot Room Ann Arbor Yoga that depicts people of various ethnicities and ages taking part on yoga surrounding the phrase, “Yoga happens beyond the mat.”
The other, at a venue space in Southfield, depicts an alien-like purple woman with three eyes and pink hair — an homage to the color hair she sported for a while — emerging from multicolored water with speckles of stars in a dark background.
“I just started doing those and they’re great, but I was very nervous, thinking, ‘You think I’m worthy of doing something this huge?’” she said. “Both places really appreciated my style, so I was able to come in and do my thing as an artist and they were not super picky. They were open about me doing what I do.”