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Tie-dye artist envisions colorful way to reach young minds

Erin Cassell and her 7 year old daughter, Zoey. Ms. Cassell is the founder of "Colorful Abandon," a new nonprofit that seeks to use art to help children overcome self-judgement.
Erin Cassell and her 7 year old daughter, Zoey. Ms. Cassell is the founder of "Colorful Abandon," a new nonprofit that seeks to use art to help children overcome self-judgement. (Barbara Haddock Taylor / Baltimore Sun)

Tie-dye, the technique of creating distinctive spirals of neon color often seen on T-shirts, doesn't discriminate.

Anyone can produce an appealing tie-dye design — that's the beauty of the art, according to Erin Cassell, owner of Roll Up N Dye, a Columbia studio that sells hand-dyed items and specializes in group parties.

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It's also why Cassell, an Elkridge resident, is launching a nonprofit called Colorful Abandon, using tie-dye as a vehicle for building self-esteem and compassion in kids and teens.

Cassell is hosting a spring festival Sunday at her Columbia studio to raise funds to jump-start the organization, which is still in the early stages of formation.

"Tie-dyeing is about creating without the fear of messing up," said Cassell, who opened her business in 2012 after working out of her home garage for a year.

"You learn when you're tie-dyeing to let go of self-judgment and judging others," said the artist, who is known for her elaborate tie-dye creations. "I am passionate about helping kids learn to love themselves and accept that they have value."

Cassell sprinkles her conversation with "awesome" and "groovy," and signs her emails "Live… Dye Happy!" She said she knows from experience how important cultivating a positive self-image is, especially during kids' formative years.

"I struggled my whole life — as a lot of people do — with perfectionism and trying to do what other people wanted me to do," said Cassell, 36, who grew up in Gambrills. "Putting that on yourself can stress you out and make you unhappy."

Her plan for Colorful Abandon is to hold month-long workshops for school-age children that combine lessons in tie-dye art and life in weekly, 90-minute sessions. Participants will make tie-dye tote bags and napkins, to be environmentally conscious, and create T-shirts with positive messages, among other projects.

While they're learning tie-dye techniques, kids will simultaneously be taught qualities such as gratitude and mindfulness.

"Sitting them down and lecturing them just doesn't work," she said.

Workshops will incorporate concepts from two books by Carol McCloud, "Growing Up with a Bucket Full of Happiness: Three Rules for a Happier Life" and "My Bucket-Filling Journal: 30 Days to a Happier Life."

The artist is drawing further inspiration from books by Peter H. Reynolds: "The Dot," about a girl who thinks she can't draw; "Ish," about a boy who learns the value of a creative spirit, and "Sky Color," about learning to see the world from a new perspective.

Cassell said she's motivated by a desire to ensure that her 7-year-old daughter, Zoey, has skills to accept herself and others for who they are.

Zoey, a second-grader at Ducketts Lane Elementary School, is already demonstrating community awareness — she started Zoey's Closet a year ago to sell lightly worn tie-dye apparel, with proceeds going to Let's Help Kids, a nonprofit that focuses on acts of kindness.

Let's Help Kids was started in 2010 by Rachel Harris, the daughter of family friend Jen Sterling of Arnold.

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Sterling serves on the board of directors of her daughter's nonprofit — Rachel started Let's Help Kids when she was 6 — and said she admires Cassell for pinpointing a problem and finding a creative solution to it.

"Erin is a very compassionate person and sees herself in the kids she wants to help," she said. "She is using all of her energy, enthusiasm and emotion to turn art into something that solves a problem for kids."

Jen Lara, an education professor at Anne Arundel Community College, met Cassell when she enrolled in one of her classes five years ago.

"One of Erin's motivations for forming Colorful Abandon is that we often wait until people are adults to teach these life lessons. Why not teach them to kids so they'll have them under their belts as they get older?" said Lara, a North Laurel resident.

"Ultimately, the secret in the sauce will be Erin's ability to make the lessons nearly invisible, so these skills and values just become a part of who kids are," she said.

Cassell said she can't wait to get her nonprofit off the ground and help kids blossom.

"I'm here to reach out to kids and teens and get them to learn self-love," she said.

If you go

A spring festival with free activities for kids and parents will be held noon to 6 p.m. Sunday at Roll Up N Dye, 9190 Red Branch Road, Suite 2DY4, Columbia. Kids can make a T-shirt for Mother's Day for a $10 donation and a tie-dye clearance sale will also benefit Colorful Abandon. Free food and drinks will be available while supplies last. Information: rollupndye.com/event/spring-festival.

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