One of Dara Hoffman’s favorite pieces of art to make is her “Different Not Less” piece. Using nails and strings, she creates a heart made up of different-colored puzzle pieces. These puzzle pieces are symbols of autism spectrum disorder and represent the diversity of the disorder.
Hoffman, 30, is the artist behind Dara’s Designs, where she creates a variety of different nail-and-string pieces, including the “Different Not Less” one. She also has Asperger’s and has received support from Itineris, a Baltimore-based organization that helps adults with autism and that has helped her start and grow her business. Before the pandemic, she used to go to their office to work on her art.
Recently, one of Hoffman’s art pieces was in The Arc Baltimore’s Art in the Round virtual auction, where pieces by different artists with intellectual and developmental disabilities were auctioned off to support The Arc Baltimore’s mission to support people with disabilities. Specifically, this year’s proceeds went toward the organization’s COVID-19 relief fund.
Hoffman lives in Pikesville. Growing up, she attended the Norbel School, a school for children with learning differences in Elkridge that permanently closed in 2011. In addition to her business, she also works at Abbey Burger in Mt. Washington and sometimes goes to Har Sinai-Oheb Shalom Congregation for services.
What kind of art do you do?
It’s nail and string art, so what I do is I hammer nails into the wood and string along the nail. It’s usually a [phrase], like “Here Comes the Sun,” and I hammer nails into a sun and it looks like a shape, but it’s mostly a nail and string thing. I stencil the letters for the phrases and then I trace them on with a paint pen.
Are they usually songs?
No, not all of them are songs. I have a “Don’t Be Crabby” one with the words “Don’t Be” and a crab. I have a “Light as a Feather” one. I have “Different Not Less” with a heart for autism. I have a lot of them.
What have been some of your favorite pieces you’ve created?
I like making the “Different Not Less” one. It’s a bunch of work, but it’s very therapeutic. It’s made up of puzzle pieces, and I have to paint each puzzle piece a different color, like the autism colors, so it’s very therapeutic. That one’s a pain in the butt to make because it’s a lot of work. I like making all of them really. It depends on when people order them or how much they order.
How has your business changed or grown since you started it?
Once people knew I had an art business, my family and everybody found out and a lot of people wanted them, so I had to make a lot more plaques. It helped my art business become popular because Itineris would post stuff about it too, and then I would post stuff about it, and everybody would find out about it.
Did the pandemic impact your business at all?
For the first few months, yes, but not much, because all my stuff was at Itineris. I don’t drive … so my mom had to pick it up. So for the first few months, yeah … because I couldn’t get my stuff. But now I have my stuff, and I’ve been doing it when people want orders or something. I try to fulfill their orders as fast as possible.
What do you want people to know about your artwork?
It’s really a decoration to have around the house. I work really hard on them. I tend to put all my time in them and just make sure they’re perfect.