It started when Nini Shroyer's mom would take her on drives through Philadelphia. The little girl would sit in the back seat, and as they drove through the slums, and even as a 6-year-old, her primary thought was that she wished she could clean up the dirtiness.
The desire to make places more beautiful turned into a lifelong obsession and profession.
"I'm an addict," Shroyer said. "I want to make any place look better, and that extends beyond painting. I pick up trash around my ranch so that it looks better."
Shroyer has added her touch to Craig during the past decade.
Anything painted on a window or on the side of a building in Craig is likely Shroyer's work.
"I've done enough work that I'll forget what I've done it," she said. "My husband and I will be driving through town and I'll say, 'Wow, that's kind of cool, I wonder who did that?' and my husband will say, 'You did.' Once I get done with something, I tend to forget about it."
Starting by necessity
Shroyer went out on her own when she was 17, and she immediately had to assess how she was going to make a living.
"I had to figure out a way to eat," she said. "I enjoyed painting, and it was the best way I knew to make a living. My first job was a sign and a mural. It wasn't very good, but I was learning."
She traveled around the country looking for jobs and said she has painted in several states.
Shroyer met her husband-to-be, Destrie, in Florida when he was on a break from working near Rifle. They were married and moved to Rifle in the mid-1980s.
Nine years later, the Shroyers bought a ranch in Craig, and they've been here for the past decade.
"When I first got here, the town looked depressing," she said. "I really wanted to help cheer things up."
Cheering up Craig
Her first job was a window sign at the Golden Cavvy that is still there today.
"Other sign-painters give me flack because they say that I hurt my business by making things last too long," she said. "I can't bring myself to do it any different."
In 2000, APH Construction hired her to do her first mural in Craig.
The job took her nearly two months, but when she was finished, it was something people could drive by 15 times and never notice all of the details.
"I like the putting in the little details," she said. "It makes it more interesting for everybody, and you see something new every time."
APH and Loadout Liquors are two of the largest works Shroyer has painted in Craig.
"When a business does something like that, they are giving a gift to the community," she said. "I think those works jar people's thoughts and make them see things in a different light. It makes them realize that they're not closed in."
Making a living
Destrie can no longer work because of an injury he suffered on a ranch, so Nini's painting is the lone support for the family of five.
"The biggest stress for me with a job is the money," she said. "Once I have the contract signed, I don't worry about it anymore."
Her work can range from a $50 painting on a toy model to a mural that costs several-thousand dollars.
She also gives discounts to non-profit organizations and to whomever else she decides she wants to help. But cheaper work doesn't mean cheaper quality.
"You have to do the same quality work every time," she said. "It's because you're putting your name on it, and if you spent less time because it was less money, the only thing a person looking at the work is going to say is, 'That looks second rate' and that's all they know. They won't know the details behind the contract and that I got paid less."
This year has been particularly slow for Shroyer, so she's leaving this week to go to Boston to find work. Her mother and sister live in Boston, and she's going back to a site that she painted when she was first starting.
"I talked to the owner of a place where I did one of my first murals and they said, 'the work looks great still, we'd love to have you finish up some more,'" Shroyer said. "I'm not crazy about going to the city, but I have to make a living and there's money there."
Although Shroyer doesn't like the big city, there are aspects of art there that she loves. She said she loves looking at areas where art is respected, even when it's surrounded by litter.
"You can be in the worst area with spray paint tagged all over, but you'll come to a mural and nobody messes with it," she said.
When she comes back to Craig from her Boston trip, Shroyer said she expects life to go on as it has for her 47 years.
"I don't really do much except paint," she said. "I'll paint at night when my kids are asleep, because it gives me my own time. Painting is my thing. I guess I do some work on our ranch if I'm doing something else."
Reflections of her body of work take Shroyer back to the days of driving in Philadelphia.
"It's gratifying to know I've added color to people's lives, and I hope I've helped open up their horizons," she said. "If I didn't, at least I know it's helped me in my life."