When Sophia Martinez decided last summer to start her own business featuring her artwork, she also decided she wanted to donate a portion of her proceeds to a good cause, like St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, a children's cancer hospital she and her family had supported in the past.

She then looked a little closer to home.


Sophia's mom, Katie Martinez, was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in her late 20s. MS is defined by the National Multiple Sclerosis Society's website as a disease of the central nervous system that disrupts the flow of information within the brain and between the brain and body. Symptoms vary with each case, though movement, balance and vision problems, as Martinez has experienced, are typical.

While her dad had done some bike-a-thons for MS, the North Laurel family had been relatively low key otherwise in their fundraising efforts for the disease.

"I was throwing around ideas of what I wanted to do," Sophia, 14, said. "I was thinking of St. Jude's, but, thinking about it, cancer, there are cures.

"There is no real cure for MS. I wanted to help with that."

The then 13-year-old had four series of note cards created, each featuring an original pencil drawing of an animal — an owl, an elephant, a tiger and a giraffe.

"When I draw, I draw mostly animals, moving animals," Sophia explained. "I had started doing [family] cards for Christmas around either fifth or fourth grade. I had done fun things on Christmas cards."

She and her mom then created a phrase for each animal's box.

"The fun part was coming up with something that would resonate with the animals and MS," said Martinez. "The tiger was 'fearless'; the elephant was 'strength of will'; the owl was 'the wisdom to know yourself'; and the giraffe was 'reach great heights.' We wanted a positive message."

Sophia also decided to create some T-shirts featuring her sketch of a skeleton and posted everything on her MS Art by Sophia's website, msartbysophia.com.

In the fall, she reached out to a few stores for support, including Revive and Company in Sykesville and The Muse, in Frederick.

Maryland joined four other states and the U.S. Federal Trade Commission in announcing a $100 million settlement with Mallinckrodt ARD, Inc.,formerly known as Questcor Pharmaceruticals Inc., for allegedly monopolizing the market for a lifesaving drug called Acthar

"They are cool stores that sell a bunch of things, a lot of art things," Sophia said. "When I go to Sykesville or Frederick, I usually go to those stores."

"People are really attracted to the cards for their beauty and talent," said Whitney Dahlberg, owner of The Muse. "When they hear her story, they're sold. It is definitely more special to buy something knowing the story behind it."

The T-shirts, Dahlberg added, were perfect for Halloween.

"We were surprised at the enthusiasm and interest it generated, especially at Halloween," Martinez said.


Mary Ann Vaccarino, owner of Revive and Company in Sykesville, was impressed with Sophia's determination.

"Her cards were mostly animals and such and I suggested she do Christmas cards ... as they might sell better," Vaccarino said. "She redesigned them and came back with a whole Christmas line and they were lovely. She is very talented."

Sophia's third-grade art teacher sparked her love in art, she said, by introducing her to drawing, water colors and more. She has since taken classes at the Maryland Institute College of Art and is busy creating a variety of paintings in preparation for her first foray into festivals, the Sykesville Art and Wine Festival on May 7.

"A shop owner recommended Sophia get involved in art festivals to have another venue to showcase all of her pieces and not just a select few," Martinez said. "The Sykesville Art and Wine show, we've been to that, and it has an old-fashioned feel. There is pride in local art and artists."

While the note cards and T-shirts feature Sophia's work, they are copies of it. For the show, Sophia is planning to sell original art work, too.

"To start selling actual original pieces and not a copy to people, is ... new," Sophia said. "If I really like something, I will make copies."

Now, she is busy painting and drawing a variety of work, in a variety of sizes, to hopefully attract attention to her booth and its cause. She is also deciding how to price her work. Her note cards are $12 for eight; T-shirts are $22; and her Christmas cards were $15 for 14.

Twenty-five percent of her proceeds, she donates to MS.

Although the Artists' Gallery moved from downtown Columbia to Main Street in Ellicott City last fall, its members are hanging out on a Columbia gallery wall again. That's because there is an "Artists' Gallery Member Show" currently on display at the Bernice Kish Gallery at Slayton House.

"We did not start this venture to make money," Martinez said. "It was an opportunity for Sophia to showcase her art and for us to collaborate together and do something for a good cause."

The business has been a learning experience for both of them. Sophia was advised to sign all of her work to prevent others from reproducing it. She learned that her work could not feature any character that was trademarked, such as Batman or Yoda.

"That is why animals are good," Sophia said, smiling. "There are no implications."

The two are also hoping that with each item sold, awareness of MS grows.

"MS is a chronic illness that impacts the whole family," Martinez said. "My symptoms are still manageable. They are not catastrophic but they do require some adaptions. What Sophia is doing, with the funds gained ... will hopefully help find a cure for this disease."

"Knowledge is definitely something that I will be providing at the art festival in Sykesville," Sophia said.