Paola Dias’ pregnancy resulted not only in the beginning of a beautiful new life but also the birth of a successful new business. She and her husband, Mike, moved from Northern California to bucolic New Hampshire recently.

"We live on a farm in a rural area," Dias said. "There aren’t a lot of jobs here, you kind of have to create your own. It’s a place where you just get really imaginative."

When Paola found out she was expecting, opportunity came knocking, organically. With the original goal of tracking the growth and shape of his wife’s belly month-to-month, Mike started tracing her bump against the wall, like parents do with their children to track their height. Both Paola and Mike grew up in creative families; Paola paints and Mike’s mother is an artist. For these two parents-to-be, pencil wasn’t enough.

"Tons" of art supplies made the trek with them across country and so they began to utilize what they had around the house and kept the creative juices flowing. "First of all, we started to make a mess," Paola laughed. But with some Japanese "shumi" ink that they had, what was created was "…so beautiful, it was this graceful outline." They then experimented with ground earth ochres mixed with water, which produced vibrant colors. Calligraphy brushes painted polished lines.

Paola wasn’t particularly fond of the idea of her nude body decorating their home, so baby belly photographs weren’t an option.

"I wanted something I could frame and put in my baby nursery or around the house, something more subtle,” she said. “So we decided to pursue it." The couple realized that the quality of their supplies was directly linked to the beauty in the product, so they ordered paper from Thailand, all-natural ochres, and calligraphy brushes.

Paola and Mike were so thrilled by their results that they decided to design some "kits" for some friends who were also expecting.

"We put them together because we thought we had come up with a great idea." Eventually, people they didn’t even know were asking for kits and the Dias’ realized they had stumbled upon something beautiful, with just a bit of creativity and some household supplies.

Not exactly the next Picasso? Doesn’t make a difference, according to Paola. "It’s really easy," she said. People who have never done it before paint amazingly and each woman expresses her creativity differently. "It was so great to see it with other people; they all have the same reaction, like ‘Oh my gosh, that is my body.’"

Not only does "Art Bellies," the official name of Paola and Mike Dias’ business, give you a tangible and visible memory of your pregnant belly, the physical act of creating the art enables the expectant mother to be more open and at peace with her body.

"When parents find out they are having a baby, everyone rushes out to buy stuff, not many people create,” Dias said. “It’s nice to slow down, be more mindful and love your body. It gets you grounded with your body. That’s something that is really joyful for us to see."

Art Bellies kits have been a success as a baby shower gift and/or game. Dias said women love to help each other create a beautiful outline of their bellies. A lot of parents, after the baby is born, stamp the baby’s footprint on the belly sketch, which makes for a special keepsake. Paola has seen women display the prints in offices, nurseries, and living rooms. They even had some silhouettes on display in the maternity ward of a New Hampshire hospital. One of the OB/GYN doctors loved them so much he took one home for his office.

Paola and Mike Dias are very optimistic about the future. Having started the business during one of the toughest economic times this country has seen in years, they feel fortunate to have created a business from simply doing something they love. They hope to expand Art Bellies as any small business might grow, focusing on the here and now.

They’re currently working on the packaging, making it more retail specific. Each Art Bellies kit comes with one white handmade paper, a color paper of choice that goes with the elements (air, earth, fire, water), all made of recyclable material, as well as the calligraphy brushes and ochres.

Only one year old, this budding business is destined for success. After all, women will always be having babies, right? Paola Dias teaches Spanish part-time and cares for their nine-month-old daughter. Her husband, Mike, is a technical writer. The couple is inspired by the natural art all around them in their small New Hampshire town, and hopes to continue to share their inspiration with parents-to-be around the world.

Art Bellies kits are sold online at their website and also at retailers in the New Hampshire area. They were recently featured in Pregnancy and Newborn magazines.

About The Author

Sarah Coughlin is the Denver bureau chief for Blast Southwest

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