Last July, Lindsay Sheldon gathered her art supplies and headed down to the Capitol on a particularly sweltering day. Her goal was to sketch half the iconic building, hold her art up to the real thing and photograph it—creating a hybrid of real and imagined. Instead, “I never took the photo I had intended to take and I think I threw out my sketch because it was truly awful,” recalls the Alexandria resident. “At that point, I was dripping with sweat and listening as passerby talked about wanting nothing more than a pool to jump into to escape the heat.”
With that inspiration, she changed course and whipped up a small painting of three friends sitting next to each other in swimsuits. She held it up to the Capitol’s reflecting pool and snapped a photo. She posted it to her personal Instagram account and her followers told her they loved the “paper dolls.”
Sheldon, who teaches fifth-grade special education in Falls Church City, spends her free time exploring the DC region and creating layered photographs that feature real locations inhabited by her dreamy paintings. A look through her Instagram account shows her Paper Darlings posing in NoVA locations including Old Town, Burke Lake, Winkler Botanical Preserve and Mosaic District.
As the popularity of her Instagram account grew, people started reaching out about commissions for things like pregnancy announcements, wedding escort cards and holiday cards.
“I enjoy the creativity that people bring forth … and having that opportunity to talk about things they had envisioned and working with them to make it a reality,” she says of the customized projects she’s done.
Her sister, who is a photographer, took Sheldon’s creations global—snapping the paper dolls in various locations when she traveled. That also inspired another way for Sheldon to engage with fans. Her Travel Darling series invites followers to submit requests for paintings and take them on international trips. “One person asked for Ruth Bader Ginsburg to go to Japan,” says Sheldon. Her globe-trotting cutouts have also been to Puerto Rico, England, Paris and more.
As a teacher, she uses her hobby to engage her students, as well. “We’ll have lunches where I’ll bring my art supplies and we’ll sit and paint,” she says.
And she often draws a crowd when she’s creating her dolls on location.
“I like being out and about painting,” says Sheldon. “Kids respond to seeing adults still taking the time to draw and paint, and I think that’s very valuable. I think they so often see us just working and running errands and doing things we have to do, so recognizing that even as you get older you can enjoy the arts is important … I always bring extra supplies to pass along to the kids who are watching and want to draw, too.”
Spoken like a true teacher.