Young artist is walking on her art

All kids like colored pencils and markers. But not all kids can do what Sam Keck does with them.

Sam, a rising senior at Jay M. Robinson High School in Concord, has turned a love of coloring into a summer job, and she's starting at the ground level.

Sam's Shoes, her small home business whose name has spread thanks to Facebook, will take any pair of plain canvas shoes and transform them into a unique work of art.

From kittens and butterflies to school mascots and hip hop artists, Sam will pull out her pencils and markers and create a one-of-a-kind design for each client.

"I've always liked colored pencils, even though it takes longer," said the 17-year-old artist, who has doodled since preschool, but underwent an artistic metamorphosis under the guidance of her middle and high school art teachers. "My big Christmas present this year was really, really nice colored pencils."

"They were $300," said her father Michael, reliving the moment the price rang up at the art store. "I just about had a stroke at checkout."

In the beginning, Sam's feet did most of the advertising for the business. She designed the first pair for herself with a Sharpie marker to show school spirit. Studying the school's mascot online, the JMHS bulldog, she fashioned a fierce-looking animal, worthy of taking on any school rival.

"I work better from reference pictures," she said. "It doesn't necessarily have to look just like it, just having something to go off of."

From that day on, her shoes kicked up a storm of inquiries.

"They became a huge hit," said Sam. "People I didn't even know would come up to me and say, are you the girl who makes these shoes?"

She's made penguins for one friend. A caterpillar set for another. A classmate in her English class asked if she would make a musical-themed pair for him, so she painted a stream with the notes to "Row, Row, Row Your Boat" tailing behind a rowboat.

"The opportunity just kind of came up, and more and more people started asking me about it."

So much so that it's nothing for her to walk out to her mailbox in the Carolando Estates neighborhood these days and find a pair of gleaming white canvas shoes waiting for her.

And folks will ask about them anywhere, anytime.

She recently finished two pair for a mother and daughter who inquired about them while she was having her wisdom teeth extracted at the dentist's office.

The prices start at $20, and each pair takes her anywhere from 45 minutes to 2 hours to draw.

Sam's father, an engineer for Duke Energy, doesn't know where his daughter gets her eye for design. "If it's genetic, it's a long dormant gene because nobody we know has that kind of talent," he said.

Sam doesn't have anything special planned for the profits, just the typical teenage expenses, like gas for her car and enough cash to satisfy her love of dresses.

Besides the profits, the process of producing the shoes is even more rewarding, she said. "It takes a lot of focus, so it's really calming. You can only focus on one thing. You can't think of anything else. You really have to pay attention."