A purple Batman, a blue alien and an orange dinosaur walk into a bar of soap.
The start of a bad joke is just part of the process at Yankee Doodle Art Studio in Cockeysville, a new art store offering a variety of crafts and sweet-smelling services.
Yankee Doodle is owned by Judith Salzman Tortora, who spends weekends at the studio and weekdays at Baltimore law firm Weinstock, Friedman & Friedman, where she was the first woman partner and heads the personal finance department.
“We like to think of ourselves almost like an arts and crafts restaurant,” she said. “You come here, you see the menu of all the things you can create and then you pick what you want and we provide you with all the materials to create that.”
The most popular items from that menu are the soaps and candles, which come in all shapes and colors — thus the meeting of Batman, an alien and a dinosaur — and whose scents include kid-friendly offerings such as birthday cake and strawberry as well as more mature smells like lilac and lavender.
“When you come home from here, it’s a lot of smells on your body,” Tortora said.
That’s a lot of smells she’s bringing in to her law office, too. Tortora’s legal career is a more recent development — she initially didn’t plan on becoming a lawyer and has been practicing since 2002 — but she has always been creative and dabbled in crafting.
That’s unlike most adults, who she says “are sometimes afraid to be creative.” With her kids, though, Tortora has always collaborated on artistic projects.
“We would do a lot of drawing, a lot of pasting things together, creating things, the wooden sticks that you can build things with, Play-Doh, clay, moon sand, regular sand — you name it, we’ve used it in my house,” she said. “I always made sure that on rainy days or snowy days we had tons of different project to do.”
The Yankee Doodle dream started when her kids made a book on vacation and Tortora tried adding that craft to her family’s repertoire. She struggled at first, experimenting with dozens of combinations of paper quality, materials and binding processes in futile attempts to replicate the end result.
Eventually, after about 100 tries, she found a formula that worked, and when Yankee Doodle launched in November 2014, bookbinding was among the first services offered at the new art studio.
“You decorate and you illustrate and you write,” Tortora described. “And then when you’re done with your book, you give it to us and we bind it for you, so you go home that day with a hardbound book.”
It’s a process she uses in her personal life on a regular basis, too.
“I love to draw. I’m not a particularly fantastic artist, but it’s really therapeutic and I pretty much write a story about anything that happens to me,” Tortora said.
At the front of the store, she displays a story detailing her family history, from meeting her husband to having her two kids, now age 7 and 9. Most recently, she presented a legal colleague with a book chronicling their adventures at June’s Maryland State Bar Association conference.
Although it would seem like art and the law reside in separate spheres, Tortora thinks that juggling the two pursuits has been mutually beneficial for her.
“Being a lawyer, you have to be creative,” she said with a laugh. “You have to sometimes think outside the box. But I think what my legal career has given me is … understanding what lenders are looking for, understanding what commercial businesses go through to get loans — I knew what I needed to do in order to get the business open.”
And going through the process of setting up her own store helped her see deals from her clients’ perspective.
“I feel like it actually was really, really beneficial to my law practice because I kind of know what people go through now,” Tortora said. “Being a lawyer and actually going through it are two very different things.”
Although the studio has only been open for seven months, Tortora said she is excited about the opportunity so far and the potential to expand the store’s reach in the coming months.
“We want to really build a community of people who come here to be here with their family, with their friends, just to kind of relax and be creative,” she said. “A family can come here and have a nice couple hours.”