Spotlight: Diana Smailus (Pastime)

By Sharon Brown (Sharon) on August 2, 2010

I've met so many new friends in Cubits, and one of them is a wonderful lady who creates images of flowers using the computer. I've seen computer graphics for years, but I've never seen anyone use such subtle shading and delicate line work as I've seen Diana do. She also incorporates real objects into many of her graphics. I not only admire her work, but I truly admire the person who creates it. I thought you might like to meet her.

I talked with Diana on several Cubits that we both frequented before I ever saw her art work. I was impressed with her gardening skills, I worried about her weather, I was introduced to her rescued dog, and finally one day, she asked if she could add Computer Graphics to my Art and Artists cubit. Wow! I was hooked. But the best part? I found a new friend. 

This interview is a little different, Diana wrote it herself. Changing a word of it would certainly do it no justice. So I'm going to step aside, and let Diana tell you her story, the story of a very humble, caring and talented woman. She reminds me very much of so many new folks I've met on Cubits, very caring people whom I am proud to call friends. 

Here's Diana's story, grab a cup of tea, sit back, and enjoy...

My early childhood is filled with memories of family. Grandpa, grandma, my mother’s sister and brother, Ruth and John, Mom, brother Steve and I all lived together in an old Queen Anne style house west of Chicago.  Not quite the Walton’s, but we filled the old house.  Mom’s other siblings and their children lived in the same town. There was never a dull moment at Grandma’s house. Aunts, Uncles and cousins were always visiting. The children would play while the ladies walked the gardens and the men would sit with grandpa and do what men do.2010-07-29/Sharran/ba3912


Even though it was late May, I insisted on wearing my velvet dress at my 4th birthday party at grandma's house.

My Uncle Arv was an engineer for the Chicago/Northwestern Railroad. Sometimes we would catch his train on a shopping trip to Chicago. He looked so impressive sitting in that big, steam-belching locomotive. West Chicago was a big railroad town then. The Elgin/Joliet Railroad and the Northwestern were both situated there. You could never get through town without encountering a train.  It’s still a busy train town today.

Mom remarried when I was 5. We were the first in the family to move away. It was only to the next town west, but to a 5 year old, it was th2010-07-29/Sharran/ebac9ce ends of the earth. Living in the country was new to all of us. I remember my mother decided to burn papers on a windy day. Not thinking about the combustibility of a dry cornfield, she burned down the whole field of corn behind our house. It was quite a sight.

As long as I can remember, visiting family and friends always included a tour of their gardens. My cousin and I would go for a walk down the street and visit Mrs. Rose, an elderly lady. If she were outside at the time, we would be invited into her garden and could pick one flower each. I thought her garden was the most beautiful place on earth.

We moved from the country to town during my grammar school years. My parents sent us to a parochial school, St. Patrick’s. I still keep in touch with my grade school friends. We had a reunion in the 90’s in the new school basement and were given the keys to the old building. A group of us sat and visited in our 4th grade classroom.  One of my most embarrassing moments happened in that classroom. Since we walked to school, the girls were allowed to wear long pants under their uniforms to keep warm on the winter walk.  We would then remove them once we got to class. Trying to daintily remove my slacks with the elastic waist, I pulled my underwear down with them. Oh my God, Bill Lalli saw my butt! Bill just looked at me and shook his finger. At 9 year2010-07-29/Sharran/1dd55cs old, I wanted to die. While sitting in that old classroom, I mentioned to Bill my mooning incident when we were kids. He didn’t even remember. Good times, we had lots of laughs that evening sitting in those tiny desks.

We moved back to the country when I was in high school. Just when you want to live in town with easy access to everything, we move to the boonies.  I met my husband when I was 14. We went steady all through high school, but we didn’t get married until I was 25.  I had to go to school and he had to serve in the military. The Viet Nam war separated us for several years. We ended up living in the same little country town where my mother had burned down the cornfield so many years before. We had the whole upstairs of a huge Victorian house. Our elderly landlords lived downstairs. George kept our daughter entertained with stories of the horse-drawn, olden days, while Margaret, a retired Chicago teacher, read to her from history and nature books. I would practice my accordion near the window and entertain George and Margaret sitting below on the porch.

We bought a VW camper when our daughter was 4 and left every weekend on an adventure. 


Several farmhouses, a new job, and two horses later, we bought our own country home on 5 acres, 30 miles further west. I finally had my own place to start gardening and our daughter could keep her horses without breaking the bank. I worked at Fermilab, a Department of Energy particle physics research facility west of Chicago. The 70 miles a day commute wore me out along with three cars. When I qualified for early retirement in 2005, I said goodbye to the commute.

I first became interested in computer graphics when the web was started. A particle physics scientist at CERN, Switzerland, invented the World Wide Web in order to share computer images of particle physics events with Fermilab. At that time the web was only available to a few institutions for research and education purposes only.  We used software designed at the University of Illinois named Mosaic, which later became Netscape.  Our department started a website in 1992 for K-12 science teachers and students focusing on phys2010-07-29/Sharran/beec16ics, biology, math, and chemistry education.  My boss gave me Photoshop 3 and I was on my way. Back then there were no graphic design schools or classes at junior colleges. I learned Photoshop by the seat of my pants and a book in my lap. When classes were finally available, I took 12 semester hours of Photoshop, Illustrator, Dreamweaver and Flash.  One of my first projects was correcting scans of drawings of what grade school kids thought a scientist looked like before and after they actually met one at the lab. Those pictures still hang on the wall in our department.

A big part of the Education Office’s website was the extensive prairie studies program at the Leon Lederman Science Center.  I was asked to draw little icons, less than an inch square, of the plants found on site. These icons became links to more information. I had about 60 to do at first, but I still draw them from home whenever they find a new plant for the website. I think we’re up to 146 now. I use Adobe Illustrator software that is mathematics based creating vector graphics. Unlike Photo editing software that looses pixels when enlarged, Illustrator drawings can be enlarged 600 percent without a loss. I do the opposite. I draw the plants large and scale down pieces of them to the icon size. I can enlarge the little icons back to 600 percent without losing clarity.

2010-07-29/Sharran/90486bIt’s usually just the bloom or something significant to the plant such as the huge leaf of the Prairie Dock plant. That way the plant is more identifiable when students see them on prairie tours. 

As I became more proficient in Illustrator, using gradient meshes, I started drawing plants, other than the ones assigned to me by the lab. I designed a 24” x 36” poster of prairie wildflowers, had them professionally printed and put them up for sale on the web.

Some people at the lab have them on their office wall. I still have about 70 left out of 100 printed. Marketing is not my s2010-07-29/Sharran/025732trong point.

Since I retired we  built a greenhouse and I started collecting and growing Daylilies. My dream is to have a Daylily nursery on our property. My daughter’s landscape company has bought many plants from me over the last few years. In 2007 she was given the assignment of landscaping around a new country club’s main building. Her boss gave her 4 days to come up with some design. She ended up using a mix of 183 of my Daylilies on the hill in front of the building. Last week she took a drive over there and called me on the phone to tell me all my babies are beautiful in their 4th year and have filled up the hillside. I’m so proud, even though I haven’t been there since we delivered the plants. One of these days I will get over there.

Over the years we’ve had quite a few animals. Rabbits: Buster#1, Tulip, Fred, Donut and Killer (a big guy.) Horses: Marco, Sheba, (a real bitch), Prince, a Saddlebred who smiled, Phoenix, my special boy who passed at 32, and Shady (Little Guy) who is still with us at 26. Three adopted dogs: Gonja, a big Rottweiler abandoned by drug dealers and brought to us by a policeman who named him. He thought we needed a dog and had the perfect place for him. Gonja lived for 13 years and passed in 2004.

Our hearts were broken and we wanted to get another Rottie. We searched and finally adopted Buddy from a Rottweiler rescue group.


Last summer a little, bedraggled, pit-bull walked into our lives. Someone abandoned him on our road. Being prejudiced by all the talk of these dangerous dogs, we kept the little tramp on our enclosed porch while we made arrangements with the humane society to take him.  We had to wait 6 weeks before they would have room. Meanwhile he and Buddy had great times running around the yard. Buddy taught the little Buster how to be a good dog.

A few weeks later, Buddy went off his food and had no energy. A trip to the Vet gave us the news his kidneys were failing. At only 6 years old, Buddy passed away in my husband's arms a month later. Grief stricken again and witho2010-07-29/Sharran/87cfe5ut our friend, we looked to the back porch, and let the little Buster boy into our lives for good.

Our daughter is an account manager in landscape sales and works in Chicago. She commutes 80 miles a day from her home in Oswego. On the weekends she comes out to the farm for some peace and quie t, and brings her dog, Olive.

She's our only child and we look forward to her visits. She’s a wonderful, thoughtful, hard working, young woman  who always tells us what great parents we were and how much she loves us. We did good.  




See, what did I tell you? Didn't you feel good just reading Diana's story? When I first talked with her about this interview, she said to me: "Oh, but I am so boring." 

I don't think so, my friend. You live in a country home on 5 acres, sprinkled here and there with your daylily collection. You have horses, you have your dogs and your other animals, you have an undeniable talent with computer graphics, and you and your husband have a lovely and very loving daughter. Diana, my dear, isn't this what we all strive for? Boring, definitely not. I think you have it all!2010-07-29/Sharran/52aa74

Thank you so much for sharing your story with us. And thank you for allowing me to use your own words for the article. I could not have written it nearly as well as you did.

Folks, if you'd like to chat with Diana, please do so on the comment threads that follow this article. We'd love to hear from you. Be sure to let your browser roll over the photos for an explanation of each of them. Thank you all for joining Diana and me here on Spotlight!


You can see more of her graphics and order a poster here.

Related articles:
computer art, computer graphics, flower images, prairie wildflowers

About Sharon Brown
I am a retired Art and Humanities teacher living in western Kentucky. I love writing and art with equal measure, but I also have a passion for nature and plants.

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Comments and discussion:
Subject Thread Starter Last Reply Replies
Wonderful Talent joeswife Oct 1, 2010 5:21 PM 20
I LOVE Your Images! nap Sep 20, 2010 7:16 AM 14
Wonderful to really get to know you better Diana Joy Aug 16, 2010 8:23 AM 3
Bravo!!! Ridesredmule Aug 16, 2010 7:33 AM 6
such talent! Lance Aug 13, 2010 6:40 AM 1
Impressive artwork and heart warming story gardenersdetective Aug 2, 2010 11:11 AM 2

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