Costco worker’s paper plate drawings are works of heart

The ‘Break Room Artist’ shares her sketches of animals and messages of hope

I’m frequently asked where I get my story ideas. My response is always the same: “Everywhere I go!”

This story is a perfect example. A few weeks ago, my husband and I were shopping at Costco and struck up a conversation with the member service representative who was checking our cart on our way out of the store. Though we were all masked, at some point we realized we knew one another. She was Heather Booher, who also works at the Dayton Art Institute’s Museum Store.

When another employee stopped to ask Booher if the artist was in the store that day, I wanted to hear more. Reporters have got to be nosy.

The artist turned out to be Lindsey Ray, who works in the deli department and has been inspiring her co-workers during the course of the pandemic with charming sketches of animals and cheery messages. The drawings are done on paper plates provided in the store’s break room and posted on the bulletin board.

“Have a Wonderful Day!” says the elephant. “Be safe today and every day. Your true colors are beautiful!” says the cardinal.

“When you’re a new employee and nervous about starting a new job, those welcoming messages mean a lot,” Booher says. “It’s a real treat to see what Lindsey has done that day. Her drawings make me smile.”

A “Ray” of sunshine

Even with a mask, Lindsey Ray’s smile is obvious as she stands behind the Costco deli counter. She’s been working there for about two years and says she loves everything about her job.

“I work with the rotisserie chickens and the ready-to-make entrees and I like the food prep and making the display look pretty,” she says. “I look forward to seeing co-workers every day and we always have a lot of fun.” She especially appreciates her job during the pandemic, she says, because it keeps her from going stir-crazy by providing socialization with colleagues and customers.

Ray, who grew up in Northridge, has been drawing since she was old enough to hold a pencil. After attending Northridge High School and studying graphic design at Miami Valley Career Tech, she headed for the Columbus College of Art and Design.

Since she’s been doing the “mom thing,” she hasn’t had much time for her own art. Instead she colors with her 3-year-old daughter, Rose. “She shares a lot of my interests and I call her a mini-me,” says Ray.

But she missed expressing her own creativity. “I began to notice I was browsing on my phone every day at lunch breaks and I asked myself how I could make better use of my time,” she recalls. “So I thought about doodling instead and grabbed a pen. I wondered what I could draw on, and saw the stack of paper plates in the break room and drew on one for fun.”

Over the years, she had mostly drawn portraits and organic objects. She decided animals would be the perfect challenge.

Her first drawing was an owl. “To whoever sits here next, have a great day, I love you!” she wrote on the first plate. She didn’t sign the sketch and for a while, no one knew who was posting the whimsical drawings.

Since that time, however, the “Break Room Artist” has become a popular attraction. “I started hearing a lot of positive feedback so I began asking people about their favorite animals,” Ray says. “I love trying to cheer people up with my artwork. I’ve always considered art a hobby and never take money for my work.”

As for the messages, “I just come up with them, whatever I’m feeling that day that seems to go with the artwork.”

Uplifting employees

About six months ago, Costco manager Glen Greer began noticing the pictures of various animals drawn on paper plates on the break room bulletin board with positive messages like “Keep the Faith” and “Today’s going to be your best day!”

He says it was obvious the artwork was uplifting to employees — including himself. “This has been such a crazy year, and I’m so thankful for our 250 employees and what they have done,” he says. ”Lindsey is a great artist and an even better employee.”

Costco, he adds, has gained a reputation as a safe place to shop, with masks required and provided to those who arrive without them. Those who can’t wear masks are given a face shield. Greer says the pharmacy is expected to begin giving vaccines later this month or in April. Food demonstrations have been reinstated and he’s hopeful samples will be served before too much longer.

Meanwhile, behind-the-scenes, Lindsey Ray will continue to brighten the lives of her colleagues.

“The response to my artwork has been overwhelmingly positive and it has become a way bigger thing than I ever expected,” she says. “I’m thrilled and it’s cheesy to say, but even if it makes one person smile it’s worth it. People can use nice things these days.”

Indeed we can!

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