Tag Archives: DIY

My Thrifty Oasis

January 8, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

With a new year, we all like to start with a clean slate. It’s a chance to do things differently, with more attention to purpose. That was my intention when I started this yearlong renovation of an unused room in my home.

My goal was to create a personal oasis that was not only functional but also serene. I wanted a simple, clean, and elegant look that would stand the test of time.

As I assessed the space, I struggled to decide on the color palette. I finally chose a white-on-white scheme with gold undertones. Actually painting the room, however, would have to wait until the end of the year because my focus would be on each and every DIY piece going in the space.

These individual installments were the basis of my yearlong DIY series in Omaha Home. Starting each project, I had to consider the sequence and time of year for each installment. Photo shoots were outside, which allowed me to add a personal touch to the visuals of the story without spoiling readers’ anticipation for this grand reveal.

Let’s recap the five projects that led to this point. For any readers wondering about the black dress I wore in each photo, you can read the backstory in my opening letter to this issue. Catch a glimpse of the dress in the photos of the finished room, too.

Coffee Filter Light 

Lighting is crucial for setting the mood of any room. But who knew coffee filter light fixtures could turn into something this glamorous?

My first project in this series showcased my first-ever attempt at creating a coffee filter lamp. After 15 hours of folding and hot-gluing coffee filters, this turned out to be much more time-intensive than I had anticipated. The end result, however, offers a great bang for your buck.

Wall-mounted Vases

Having a beautiful arched window in my room was pure luck, so I didn’t want to hide it with heavy window coverings. I wanted to accentuate the window’s design elements. I love what shutters do on outside-facing windows, so I tried to duplicate that look on the inside. Using some dock wood leftover from a prior DIY project, and some paint, the reclaimed wood made the perfect backdrop for my wall-mounted vases.

Repaired Vintage Chairs

Some might see junk at thrift stores. I see winning lottery tickets just waiting for me. It’s all about perception, right? A pair of classic vintage chairs—discovered while thrifting—found a new home in my remodeled room. The happy duo are fabulously seated in front of the window. They also happen to be my favorite DIY project to date.

Repurposed Vanity

A buffet turned vanity? Yep, you can repurpose any piece of furniture, and this shining star got a head-to-toe makeover in soft metallic gold paint. The paint I splurged on (funny how far you can stretch one little jar of paint if you get creative).

Mantel Makeover

The mantel offers a decorative focal point to the room. All it needed was a good sanding (and a coat of the same white paint used throughout the room remodel) to tie everything together.

Once the DIY projects were complete, I recruited my professional friends from Marco Shutters to help me maximize the small closet space. They even designed additional shelving for shoes, jewelry, purses, and accessories. Although I wanted to add softness around the windows, I needed something for privacy while adding elegance. Shutters were the perfect finishing touch.

While all of this was underway, I got to work painting the walls, trim, baseboard, and ceiling. My steps were inverted compared to how I would normally approach a room makeover, as I typically paint a room first, adding the furniture and design components later. Nevertheless, it all came together perfectly. As the grand reveal drew closer, I felt so good about each design decision made along the way.

My favorite part of the remodeling process was placing all of the DIY projects in their designated spots and decorating the completed room. The end result was the boutique-like experience I was seeking, a seamless balance of design and function. As it turns out, you do not have to sacrifice elegance for being thrifty.

Visit readonlinenow.com to review the six previous installments in this DIY room remodeling series in Omaha Home

This article was printed in the January/February 2018 edition of Omaha Home

Omaha Home Entryway

December 28, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Happy New Year!

I finally made it to the finish line on my yearlong makeover, which began in our January 2017 edition. It’s a special treat to feature the results in this first independent issue of Omaha Home.

Previously, Omaha Home appeared as a section inside the full subscriber-edition of Omaha Magazine, with an overrun edition of Omaha Home printed as a standalone magazine available at select distribution points around town. Now, the magazines are being printed altogether separately.

Subscribers to Omaha Magazine will still receive Omaha Home, and the magazine’s digital presence is still available through omahamagazine.com. The only thing that has changed is that the two magazines will be polybagged together rather than perfect-bound as a single publication.

For those who have been following my room makeover series, you might have noticed the black dress that appeared in each photo shoot. The backstory is simple. I found this vintage dress eight years ago for a mere $10 while thrifting. It sat on my clothes rack all these years. I couldn’t bear to part with it, but I also couldn’t find the right occasion to wear it. All of my DIY photo shoots were outdoors leading up to this issue, and I thought the dress would make a nice unifying element to the series. Look for the dress again in the photos from my room’s grand reveal this issue.

I would like to thank all the wonderful people who allowed us to take photos on their property for this yearlong project. Finally, I could not end without a big thank-you to my “behind the scene guy,” my husband, Richard. He listened to all my ideas, helped me saw wood, load/unload the truck, prop up mirrors for photos, and dressed up and danced with me at an old farm for one photo shoot. (Your constant encouragement and support did not go unnoticed.)

We wish you a year of glorious change and success in 2018. Thanks for reading!

~Sandy

This letter was printed in the January/February 2018 edition of Omaha Home

Sandy Matson is the contributing editor for Omaha Home.

Makin’ Bacon

Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Perfecting a fat slab of bacon at home is a skill worth practicing. Your friends and family will thank you.

Bacon is made by dry-curing or brining pork belly and then smoking the slab(s). Most store-bought bacons use nitrites and nitrates as a preservative, come from commercial farms, and are often frozen and thawed. If you have access to pigs—or know a farmer—you can make bacon locally sourced from organic pork, and you can make fresh bacon without the synthetic preservatives.

Nitrites and nitrates save the bacon’s color, prevent the fat from going rancid, and inhibit bacteria growth. But there are competing opinions about the health impact of consuming nitrites/nitrates, and the World Health Organization has linked the compounds to cancer in humans.

As an alternative, salt can be used in larger quantities to brine and essentially cure your at-home bacon. It won’t keep as long as nitrite/nitrate-rich bacon, but you’ll find the slab disappearing quickly once you get a taste of it.

SMOKED JALAPENO BACON RECIPE 

I use the same brine for many things that end up on the smoker. The ratios are easy to remember and simple to adjust as needed. In the end, it produces consistent results. It is actually a modification from a Betty Crocker turkey brine recipe I found many years ago. A similar whole brined turkey recipe is still offered by Betty Crocker. I have been toying with the same basic ratios of that recipe and they work for many meats.

The duration of the soak and the presence of additions such as brown sugar and sliced jalapeños make this brine a bit different than that of your Thanksgiving turkey.

—3 pounds pork belly
—1 pound sliced jalapeños
(or more)
—1 gallon water
—1 cup kosher salt, or more to taste
—1 pound brown sugar (or if you’re me, you’ll use the whole bag—be warned, this bacon will then burn in the frying pan if not carefully tended to. But it’s worth it.)
—1 tablespoon peppercorns
—1 tablespoon coarse ground pepper (optional)

DIRECTIONS:

Trim the skin from your pork belly, if you prefer.

In a large bowl, crush the jalapeño slices thoroughly. This aids in extraction.

In a large boiling pot, boil one gallon of water. Remove from heat.

Stir in salt, brown sugar, peppercorns, and jalapeños. Simmer until cool.

Submerge the pork belly in the brine. Refrigerate for 7-14 days.

Remove the pork belly from the brine after 7-14 days and rinse. Pat dry.

Rub the pork with ground pepper if you like.

Smoke indirectly at around 200 F for 3-4 hours.

Your bacon is done. Slice it. Fry it.

Go ahead and try a strip, and then tell me if you don’t eat the whole slab soon after.

The same general recipe works for other smoked meats with minor modification to the instructions. For example, try this same recipe with trout, but don’t leave them in the brine for more than 24 hours. Try it on chicken breasts (depending on the cut, smoke for 2-4 hours) or pork ribs (which could smoke for 6 hours or more). Be adventurous.

Feeding your friends and family delicious homemade bacon is a great way to make them appreciate you.

Visit Betty Crocker at bettycrocker.com/recipes/brined-whole-turkey for the brined whole turkey recipe that inspired this smoked jalapeño bacon recipe.

This article was printed in the January/February 2018 edition of Omaha Home.

Mantel Makeover

December 10, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

There’s something inviting and whimsical about a fireplace—faux or real. I love the way it adds an artistic element to a wall. Even more, it’s a perfect fit for this holiday issue. Who doesn’t like to decorate a mantel this time of year?

It’s not the first time I have implemented this clever idea in a room of my house that did not have an actual working fireplace. I have previously added a mantel in place of a headboard in two prior bedrooms. After moving from these houses, each new owner wanted the mantels to stay.

So, I’m starting over with this mantel makeover project. Thanks to the internet, it’s easy to find tutorials for putting together a mantel and the accompanying surround, which would provide elegant ambiance and interest to the room.

I found my used surround on Craigslist for $25. Someone was remodeling and simply wanted to get rid of it. If you’re not so lucky, you can buy a new one from a fireplace shop (sometimes they have close-out models). Or check salvage/antique shops and auctions. Maybe you could just build one yourself? I ran across several tutorials on building faux fireplace surrounds online.

Regardless of how you find your mantel, make it your own. It will provide a real focal point in the room.

Instructions

It’s easiest to work on this type of project upright, so I leaned it up against the wall in the garage with newspaper around and under it.

Step 1: Remove any and all nails if you purchased this used.

Step 2: Sand down any rough areas or parts that may come through after painting, or if it has high gloss.

Step 3: Prime the mantel with spray primer, and use a sponge hand applicator to get into hard-to-access areas. I did several coats of spray, then went back over with the sponge roller for a smooth finish.

Step 4: Use top-coat in the color of choice. Seal if desired.

How to Mount on Wall

This part of my project required me to recruit my husband. After doing a little research, I decided the easiest way to mount the mantel without using any screws or nails was to use what is called a “French cleat.” You’ll find lots of tutorials on this procedure on the internet. The concept is simple: two pieces of wood are cut with a 45-degree angle and then interlock. One piece is mounted to the wall and the other to the back of the mantel.

Step 1: Take one piece of lumber (3/4- to 1-inch thick), then use a table saw set at a 45-degree angle to split that piece of wood in half. These two pieces of wood now match together.

Step 2: Take the lower piece and mount to the wall with chiseled face pointing up and out.

Step 3: Mount the other piece to the mantel and then interlock the two pieces.

Step 4: Hang on the wall. Keep in mind, you will want to either remove or notch out your trim boards, where the fireplace legs are, so the mantel sits flat against the wall.

As far as anything on the inside (normally where your fireplace would be), you can get creative depending on how permanent you want to make it. I had an extra mirror left over from a bathroom redo. It fit perfectly on the inside and the reflection makes it more interesting. This hard surface, where the hearth would have been, provided a flat space for arranging candles and decorative items.

Now decorate away! Think outside the box. Don’t be afraid to try different and unexpected things. And don’t forget that the grand reveal of my yearlong project will appear in the next issue.

Sandy’s yearlong DIY remodeling series began with an introduction to the room in the January/February issue. The first of five projects, a hanging coffee filter lamp, debuted in the March/April issue. Rustic wall vases followed in the May/June issue. Vintage classic chairs were in the July/August issue. A dresser redo appeared in September/October. Visit readonlinenow.com to review back issues.

This article was printed in the November/December edition of Omaha Home.

With A Beard and a Smile

October 23, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Walking into Lookout Lounge is a different experience than entering other music venues around Omaha. Admittedly, it feels a little strange driving into a business plaza just south of 72nd and Dodge streets for a punk show. But what distinguishes Lookout (formerly The Hideout) is more than just location. It is the bearded man sitting at the entryway, checking IDs and working on his laptop, that sets this venue apart.

Raised in Copperas Cove, Texas, Kyle Fertwagner knew from a young age that his destiny lay in music. At 6 years old, he was mesmerized by blues concerts in nearby Austin. “Those experiences are ingrained in my memory. There were thousands of people out there enjoying music, sharing that common bond of whatever that music meant to them.”

By the time he moved to Omaha at age 15, he and his younger brother, Keith, were playing together in punk bands. They got their start at The Cog Factory. Like many area music fans, Kyle is eager to share fond memories of that nonprofit venue, which closed in 2002. “That was our stomping grounds,” he says. “That’s where I basically grew up as a musician, as a punk rocker, as a person.” Before their first show at The Cog Factory, Fertwagner recalls that the owners greeted the band and “it just immediately felt like home.”

Recreating that welcoming DIY vibe is what drove him to quit his job as general manager of a local restaurant and take over The Hideout in 2015. Keith had already learned how to work sound systems, and Kyle had learned how to run a business from years in the restaurant industry.

With “a little TLC” and a lot of elbow grease, the brothers made the place their own. Kyle proudly showcases a sign from the original Cog Factory over the pool table. Next to it is the hand-painted mural featuring the venue’s name and the radio tower logo that has become an Omaha icon. Endless layers of screen-printed posters paper Lookout’s walls, and concert-goers have enthusiastically decorated the bathrooms with a vibrant collection of friendly graffiti.

Kyle describes himself as “owner/operator,” but upon attending a show at his venue it is immediately apparent that he does much more than the typical owner. Besides personally welcoming patrons into shows and tending bar, he works the lights and often shadows his brother on sound. But before any of that can happen, “it starts with the band.”

When asked about his work with local promoters and artists, Kyle can’t quite hold back a grin. Lookout is known around Omaha as a starting point for bands that have never played in public before. Its owner is the main reason for this reputation. His voice softens when asked about his role in helping young local artists get their music off the ground: “I think it’s important when you’re first starting out to have a venue you can call home.” This determination to give back to the music community makes Lookout special.

Kyle’s unique philosophy on booking shows is “to not try to take everything on ourselves.” This means more cooperation between venue staff, bands, and promoters. “It’s a team effort.” The additional networking and communication is more work, but well worth it.

From his days in small punk bands growing up, he knows the obstacles and struggles of getting a band onstage. This knowledge helps him guide others through the process.“We try to use our experience to help younger bands grow,” Kyle says. “That’s good for everybody.” He is always happy to reach out to local promoters and say “we’d love to work with you.”

When Kyle works to foster those relationships to put a show together, that’s when the energy of the DIY venue is created. “It’s ‘Alright, cool, we did it, we sold the place out!’ Instead of ‘I sold the place out.’ It’s more of an ‘us’ thing.” Shows that are assembled with teamwork are more rewarding for the band, everyone behind the scenes, and the audience. Those packed concerts are a staple of Lookout’s imprint on the musical community.

After taking care of the band, Kyle’s next focus is his role as head of security. At any show, he can be seen roaming around the audience, keeping out a watchful eye for any sign of trouble. He accepts personal responsibility in creating a positive energy at Lookout, and takes the security of the audience very seriously: “People shouldn’t feel unwelcome here for any reason.”

In order to ensure that everyone feels welcome, anyone exhibiting abusive behavior of any kind will be personally warned and, if need be, escorted out by Kyle himself. He is quick to explain, “Anything that happens here I take to be a personal reflection on me.”

Visit lookoutomaha.com for more information.

This article was printed in the September/October 2017 edition of Encounter Magazine.

Kyle Fertwagner

Pigeon Bros

October 19, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann
Illustration by Pigeon Bros.

It’s like watching two parts of the same brain. When Jack Blanket and Ryan Showers are together, it’s just the two of them, taking turns finishing each other’s sentences and stories. Their words flow back and forth, forming a single curse-word-laden stream of consciousness. But that’s not to say these brothers are free from a little sibling rivalry.

“Stop. Stop. STOP. Don’t draw on my drawing,” Blanket says as his pencil glides over paper, doodling out shaded shapes, while Showers makes a move to add his own creative contribution.

“I wouldn’t…” Showers begins.

“Wouldn’t be an ass? Yes, yes, you would,” Blanket continues.

Believe it or not, this exchange, like most of their conversations, is all said with deadpan, sarcastically saccharine love. To them, calling one another an ass is a compliment. While the duo play brothers, friends, and roomies in life, they’re yin and yang in the world of local Omaha art—Blanket an accomplished stop motion animator and Showers an eccentric and eclectic illustrator.

“As far as I know, we’ve always been drawing and creating,” says Blanket, the younger sibling by approximately one year. “There’s always been paper and pencil around.”

Born and raised across the river in Council Bluffs, Blanket and Showers are just two of eight siblings, each one living in different parts of the country, all of them dabbling in art either full-time or for fun. However, given their upbringing, it’s no surprise the family is now made up of everything from illustrators and animators to video game creators and programmers. They were homeschooled by their mother, who based her curriculum largely on creative expression. Their father illustrated.

Even though their childhood was awash in arts, crafts, doodles, and drawings, the two brothers didn’t graduate high school as mini Monets. It was through years of self-learning and discovery that their artistic talents began to bloom.

Blanket taught himself to animate through online tutorials. After all, who needs a fancy-shmancy liberal arts degree when you’ve got Google and YouTube as professors? Years of plugging and playing and numerous “crashed crappy computers” later, Blanket acquired the skills to land freelance animation work.

He’s made several animated games and music videos for local musicians and labels, One of his favorites was for a Chicago-based hip-hop and soul group, Sidewalk Chalk. Though simple, his flashing red, white, and black drawings in the video for their song “Dig” helps bring to life the message behind the lyrics, which details the effect media has on the public’s perception of police violence.

“To create it, you just go step-by-step, line-by-line, translating lyrics to images,” Blanket says. “Three minutes might really be three months of work.”

As for his artistic name, a high school girlfriend’s mother created it in an instant years ago. She said she knew too many Nathans, his real name, and chose to call him Jack Blanket instead. More than a decade later and the moniker has survived, further separating his work and artistic identity from his brother.

“We’re cut from the same cloth but we really are very different, both personally and with our art,” Blanket says.

One glance at their work and any viewer would agree. Showers steers clear of animation, instead creating detailed drawings, often sparse in color but big in imagination. Haunting images of monsters, animals in human clothes, and cartoonish people, he’s done it all.

“My process is much slower than my brother’s. I’ll start by making a rough skeleton and then sit on it for a really long time,” Showers says. “Music, my medicine, is always a huge catalyst to get me going.”

Beyond the musical styling of bands like King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard, Showers is inspired by anime and fashion magazines, which he spent hours copying and drawing to perfect his craft.

“Life is f***ed sometimes, so I strive to create work that takes people somewhere else,” Showers says. “The potency of expanding imagination is so valuable. Maybe my pieces help with that.”

While he avoids collaborations, including with his brother, Showers aspires to create pop-up shops around town that feature work from a variety of local creators. For now, he shows pieces for sale in Caffeine Dreams and uses his Instagram as an online portfolio to market himself and gain more work. By displaying animations on YouTube, Blanket harnesses the power of social media.

“Artists need to have an online presence now,” Blanket says. “As a low-level artist, you do a lot better putting yourself out there and responding to your audience through these mediums.”

When they’re not turning news feeds into galleries, the two brothers share an apartment but hardly see one another. Showers admittedly disappears for days, often to look high and low for inspiration, even sifting through dumpsters and exploring vacant buildings. Since art isn’t always a field filled with money, especially for up-and-coming creators, the two spend even more time apart working odd jobs to pay rent.

“We’ve grown accustomed to a humble lifestyle,” Showers says. “I’m willing to wash dishes for a living if it means I can have an imagination.”

So when they get together, it’s a nostalgic celebration. On a particularly warm June day, the siblings got the chance to share an afternoon on the back patio of Caffeine Dreams. Showers veiled his eyes from the gleaming sun with oversized sunglasses while Blanket embraced the warmth, sitting outside the shade with his painted fingernails gleaming in the light. Just as with art, the two take different paths, each enjoying the summer day in their own way.

While you may not see pom-poms at their sides as they sip coffee and share memories, these two really are one another’s biggest cheerleaders, bonded by blood and a love for all things creative.

“Our fields are so highly different,” Showers says. “In my mind, there is no competition, no rivalry, no…”

“No reason not to be supportive,” Blanket finishes. “There’s just mutual respect.”

Visit instagram.com/thee_owl or instagram.com/score6 to view more of Pigeon Brothers’ art.

This article appears in the September/October 2017 edition of Encounter Magazine.

Pigeon Brothers

Dress(er) for Success

September 24, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Some might consider it strange to use an antique buffet as a dresser, but this piece of furniture simply suited my needs: space to store all the smaller and delicate items in my bedroom—while also looking exquisite.

I’ve had this piece for a long time. Over the last several years, I felt it didn’t quite fit in any particular room; however, I couldn’t stand giving this gem away. The sad antique buffet migrated around the house before it eventually settled in a corner of a basement storage room.

In my house—if I hold onto a piece long enough—furniture will, sooner or later, take on a new purpose. And that is just what happened.

I have always wanted a dressing table and thought this would be a perfect addition to the yearlong makeover of my dressing room. It has perfect little drawers (originally used for silverware) convenient for makeup and brushes. Pretty baskets of my necessities take the place of fine china.

My dilemma was to conceptualize seating in front of this antique treasure. Where would my legs go? Luckily the two bottom cabinet doors open, so I would just have them open when in use.

As far as the color choice, I contemplated the options for almost a year before finally deciding on a soft gold. Since gold is the accent color of this otherwise white-on-white room, the color combo just screams elegance.

Every room needs that signature piece, and the dressing table is that signature for this room. Below are the items and steps that I used to complete this DIY project.

Items needed

  • 1 classic piece of furniture (or something you would like to breathe new life into)
  • Sandpaper in medium grit
  • 1 sponge roller (this is for the smooth finish)
  • 2-3 hand sponge applicators
  • 1 can of Zinsser Cover Stain Interior Latex Primer (available at Home Depot or Lowe’s)
  • 1 can of Modern Masters Metallic Paint in “pale gold” (purchased in Omaha at The Color Store Inc.)

Instructions

  1. Remove all hardware, including drawers and cabinet doors, from your furniture. Save it if you are using them later.
  2. Either sand until you remove the glossy finish, or you can use a primer/stain-blocker with a bonding agent (depending on the condition your piece is in).
  3. Once you have sanded, or put on several coats of the primer-bonding agent, use your hand sponge applicator to get in the hard-to-access areas and detailed spots. You can then use the foam roller to cover the entire piece. I painted the base of the piece before painting the drawers and doors.
  4. Now you are ready for the top coat. Use the same process as with the primer to coat the entire piece. I discovered it may have been easier to have my primer tinted closer to the gold color, but I did not do this, so I had to paint an extra coat.

Note:  If you are not quite comfortable going by these instructions, search YouTube for wooden furniture painting tutorials.


Sandy’s year long DIY remodeling series began with an introduction to the room in the January/February issue. The first of five projects, a hanging coffee filter lamp, debuted in March/April issue. Rustic wall vases followed in the May/June issue. Vintage classic chairs were in the July/August issue. Stay tuned for the next installment. Visit readonlinenow.com to review back issues.

This article appears in the September/October 2017 edition of Omaha Home.

Visual Narrator

September 21, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Kristin Zahra says she knew from a young age that she wanted to work in film. “Maybe, 12 to 13ish? I remember really loving Pixar animation film shorts,” she says. “So I had a desire to do more of the 3D animation work.”

Despite her dad’s urging to go into engineering, Zahra attended College of Saint Mary and earned her bachelor’s degree in computer graphics.

“He was a civil engineer and also tried to get all my sisters to pursue that path,” she says. “He was one in four for that battle.”

After graduation, Zahra went on to Vancouver Film School, which she says was a great option for her.

Kristin Zahra

“Their program is unique in that it’s essentially a condensed version of traditional four-year film schools. It made a lot of sense to me, being able to invest one year solely to focusing on film, and I viewed it as an opportunity to really do something challenging and completely out of my comfort zone.”

While at film school, she studied 3D animation and visual effects, and kind of fell in love with the city and Canada.

“Vancouver’s film scene was really apparent when I was there, which heightened the experience in a lot of ways,” she says. “My two roommates were extras and had boyfriends that were stuntmen, one was a screenwriter—I’m guessing a lot like L.A. in that way.”

After film school, Zahra moved around the country—Chicago, Houston, New York City, Norfolk (yes, Nebraska)—but she ended up back in Omaha in 2011. She says she knew she would be “calling this home again for quite a while.”

Like most creatives, Zahra struggled when she first started working in the industry. Since she didn’t live in Los Angeles or a place more conducive to filmmaking, she was using her animation degree more in advertising and motion graphics than anything else.

“I realized there was something missing for me,” she says. “What drew me into film was just how alive I felt when I was able to tell stories.”

Over the last few years, she’s been trying to get back into that. She started reaching out to, and trying to work with, local filmmakers.

Which is how she ended up working with Shelly Hollis on his project, The Black O, a film about black crime in Omaha.

Strangely enough, the two happened to run into each other on the street. Zahra says they met one night at a falafel truck downtown. They started talking while waiting for their food and he told her he was in town visiting his family and filming a documentary.

“It piqued my interest and we got to talking more about the work I did and wanting to be involved in film here in Omaha,” she says. “I had been searching for people to collaborate with, especially on film projects that come from a sincere and honest place.”

Hollis’ background is rooted more in the documentary format, which Zahra says brought her back to some of that storytelling she was missing.

For his documentary, Hollis says they spoke with people in the black community—victims of gang violence, ex-gang members, and city council members—and asked them what they thought the issues were.

“We wanted to give the people their voice, to identify their own problems,” he says.

His passion for the project interested Zahra from the start.

“Shelly is that person, void of ego, and his intentions for the film had inspired me from our first conversation,” she says. She adds that working with Hollis, whom she describes as an “exceptional filmmaker,” has been an honor and he has reminded her not to underestimate her skills.

The admiration is mutual. Hollis says Zahra helped him out a lot with the film. “She’s awesome,” he says. “Just incredible.”

“So yeah,” Zahra says, “it seems we were meant to meet, being that we shared an interest in both film and a good falafel pita.”

While The Black O is in its editing process, Zahra still has to make her money. “I keep moving with my projects, that’s for sure.”

She says she continues to do a lot of animation designs that are strictly for income, but adds that she is currently working on a new passion project with a production/animation studio, Edison Creative.

“For me, the passion I have for filmmaking includes that feeling I get when I’m on a set collaborating with a crew or in a studio working on animation or post-production.”

She says this current project is more of a cartoon piece. “It’s got a lot of potential. I’m really excited for it.”

Visit kristinzahra.com for more information.

This article published in the September/October 2017 edition of Encounter magazine.

Have Marcey

September 14, 2017 by
Photography by Scott Drickey

When North Omaha native Marcey Yates talks about music, his face lights up and it’s as if everything makes sense in his world. From conversations swirling around hip-hop to his wild tales of past encounters with various artists, the 31-year-old lives and breathes his passion for music—and it all started at church.

Yates grew up on 49th and Fort streets, just north of Ames Avenue, where religion played an integral role in his community. The young Yates would often spend time with grandparents, who lived on 19th and Sprague streets, not too far from the home he shared with his mother and father. His grandfather was a pastor at the Church of God and Christ, and would routinely take him to service, where Yates started singing.

“I would say religion was big in my family and the black community,” Yates says. “It was definitely passed on through generations. Church got me into music on both sides of family, and it kept me in church until I was in high school. I sang in the choir.”

After graduating from Benson High School in 2003, he went on to take a few classes at the University of Nebraska-Omaha before leaving for Arizona, where he enrolled at the Conservatory School of Recording Arts and Sciences. By this time, his older brother Jeff had already introduced him to underground hip-hop and artists like Mobb Deep, Wu-Tang Clan, Slum Village, Jay-Z, and Pete Rock & C.L. Smooth. He felt it was time to learn how to make his own signature style of music and establish himself as a credible MC/producer.

“I wanted to focus more on the tech side of music and the other side of the industry,” he explains. “I learned how to make this a business and not just be a rapper. I was able to get a lot practice working on my skill and style doing shows. I got turned down in Arizona, but I had some great experiences. I met Canibus [rapper], who told me about his beef with LL Cool J, and once I was with Method Man passing around a joint in the VIP section.”

Shortly after, the self-proclaimed hip-hop head relocated back to Omaha in 2012. Since then has put much of his energy into the hip-hop collective Raleigh Science Project, which he founded in 2009.

“I established the Raleigh Science Project after my last son [Raleigh] was born,” he explains. “It started as my imprint for my music, but I expanded into a collective after bringing artists on board who shared my vision on hard work and good music. [We had] a focus on building up the hip-hop scene in a positive light, so I wanted to strip the negative vibe associated with hip-hop in my community. That means consistency, quality, showmanship, and being professional.”

The father of three is currently working on the annual New Generation Music Festival—now in its second year—an all-inclusive concert that promotes community awareness, drives traffic and support to other local nonprofits, and provides a platform to retain local talent.

“Our mission is to provide a world-class music festival that promotes inclusion and provides economic opportunities for local businesses, organizations and artists,” he says. “We want to cultivate local talent and artistry as a means to a more secure and sustainable economy in the urban core communities. There are so many resources out here that the people don’t know about because information isn’t made readily available
to everyone.”

Aside from the festival, which is scheduled for Sept. 16 at Aksarben’s Stinson Park, the busy creative is working on a documentary about the life and times of Marcey Yates, a solo EP, a mixtape series titled Chicken Soup, and the Flamboyant Gods II project with local rapper Mars Black.

“I’m constantly working on a new project,” he says. “I want to be one of the hardest-working guys in
the industry.

“Music is the only freedom that is really free,” he continues. “There are no rules to making music. It’s total creativity and a space you can go to anytime. Music is your life soundtrack for every genre in your life—from comedy to drama to suspense. When I get depressed or really bugged out, I create music to pull myself out of the sunken place. Everyone should have a creative hobby or passion because what is important to you, you will cherish and be passionate about.”

Visit op2mus.bandcamp.com to hear Yates’ work.

Eye Vibe

August 30, 2017 by
Photography by Sarah Lemke

Twenty-six-year-old Omaha native Michael Garrett isn’t simply a photographer—he’s a visual communicator. “I’m a photographer, graphic designer, content creator, and  overall creative,” he says.

The son of a hardworking single mother, the University of Nebraska-Omaha senior grew up around 18th and Pinkney streets and the now-defunct projects near 30th and Lake streets. Eventually, he transferred to South High School, where he experienced yet another segment of Omaha’s  diverse demographic. Despite his challenging circumstances, he managed to beat the odds and will soon be the first college graduate in his family.

As the founder of MGPhotog and co-founder of The Creative Genius collective, the burgeoning entrepreneur is clearly becoming a master of his own destiny, and he understands photography is more than meets the eye.

“Photography is oversaturated. I think it’s due to social media,” Garrett says. “Everyone feels they can do it. But in doing so, they don’t really know what it takes to be a photographer. The goal should be more than taking a picture. As a visual communicator, I treat it more like an experience. And what I’m trying to capture, it depends on the client, but I go in with a strong idea of what I want to do to communicate visually. When you see it, you should feel exactly what I want you to feel from the image.”

With a firm grasp on what it takes to set him apart from other photographers and graphic designers, Garrett takes the time to truly get to know his clients, which he believes is one of his defining characteristics.

“I kind of put me as a person first,” he says. “If I need to do work with a client, I meet with them and go into who I am, just so they’re a little more comfortable with me. To me, I’m building a relationship. I feel good communication is more effective and delivering the work becomes a little easier once you have that open communication with your clients.”

It all started the day he was fired from his job at a bank. Four years after he graduated from high school, Garrett was at a crossroads in his life and not quite sure what he wanted to do next. Getting fired, he says, was the best thing to happen to him. It was from that moment, he realized what he wanted to pursue.

Michael Garrett

“It was a random thing,” he says. “I got into an argument with my manager, and she wasn’t too fond of the things I said. The same day I lost my job, I went to the camera store at Nebraska Furniture Mart and bought a camera. I figured it would give me something to do and get my mind off of losing my job.”

It didn’t take him long to put his camera to use. He was a huge sneakers aficionado and  loved taking pictures of them. As an avid collector, he jumped on the Instagram trend of posting an array of specialty shoes online. Subsequently, owning a camera made perfect sense. His love affair with the lens had begun.

“Sneakers on Instagram took off,” he says. “That started it all. As far as my work, I model some of my work after some [photographers], but I’m very versatile. I can shoot a wedding, food, children, shoes—everything.”

In 2013, he was invited to a celebrity basketball game at the Mid-America Center. At the encouragement of a few of his predecessors, he quickly realized he could make a living out of his passion.

“I met a few other photographers at the tournament, and they took me under their wings. They said I should start charging for my work. From there, it took off.”

While he predominately grew up with his mom in a single-parent household, Garrett says it was difficult not having a male role model around.

“It affected me in a way, but I had to learn to be a man about things,” he says. “I had a bunch of mentors in school because I was active. I did journalism, basketball, track. I had male figures there, but they weren’t an authoritative figure outside of the sport. I could do what I want, but on the leadership side, it was good.”

His life circumstances forced him to grow up quickly, which undoubtedly led to his fierce work ethic. In addition to school, graphic design, and his photography business, he also works part-time at the Boys and Girls Club as he continues to garner more and more attention for his work. The sky is the limit, he says.

“For me, I’m more in love with the process of communication…I’m just living. I want to leave my plate open to the possibilities.”

Visit facebook.com/thecreativegeniuscollective for more information.

This article appears in the July/August 2017 edition of Encounter.