A MAS Update: Jason Ackman


The Midwest Artist Studios Project has spent the past three years traveling the Midwest interviewing 24 artists from 18 cities/towns. This project has been such a joy to create and to see how these artists have touched the lives of art students through online interactions, emails, and social media.

One of the areas we pride ourselves in is staying in touch with these artists and hearing what they are up to these days? For the next two-months the MAS Project will be spotlighting one of our 24 artists by sharing with you what they are doing in their studio as well as in their communities. 

All three of our MAS publications are now available online.

Click here to buy your copy today!


Jason Ackman

2015 MAS artist from Illinois


MAS: In what ways have you benefitted from your participation in MAS?

JA: I have personally benefited from my involvement with MAS in a variety of ways.  The project has introduced and connected me with a bunch of artists in my region of the US.  Artists that I would most likely not known about had I not been involved with the work of MAS (Thank you!).  

It has given me more opportunities to not only talk and share info about the work I do but the work of other outstanding and fascinating artists in the Midwest.  This is a welcomed change since often times it seems that “real artists” are located in the major cities in the US, specifically out west and east.  

I also believe it has given me a boost of confidence and encouragement knowing that a project like MAS is interested in telling some of my story as an artist.  Not only as an artist, but an artist from the part of our nation that is often times overlooked when it comes artists making meaningful, significant work. 


MAS: In what ways has your work and/or working environment changed since your MAS interview?

JA: My studio work has drastically changed over the past year.  Shortly after the MAS team visited my studio I held my first solo exhibit.  Once that exhibit closed my studio practice took a major shift.  My practice has now become more about the social and community interaction with the arts.  I have spent very little time making work or objects that would be seen in an exhibit.  Instead, I have been focusing my energies on developing a local arts and cultural center as well as renovating a historic brick mansion (in a rural town of 150 people) into a future artist residency program. Although I have not been making work in the traditional sense, this new “work” has evolved into a practice of sorts.  The communal aspect of creating has become more of a focus for me. 


MAS: What is one thing you wish you’d said in your original interview, or what is the one thing that you hope the MAS audience remembers about your and your work?

JA: There are so many things I would have liked to have said 🙂  I don’t even know where to begin. 

Visit Jason’s website to see more of his work. 

All images copyright of the artist and used with permission.


Get your copy today – Year 2 Midwest Artist Studios Project


The catalog contains 66 pages with studio images and full interviews with our featured Midwest artists: Mellissa Redman (MI), Kate Robertson (MI), Jenniffer Omaitz (OH), Ellie Honl (IN), Jessica Anderson (IL), Jason Ackman (IL), Krista Svalbonas (IL), and Emmy Lingscheit (IL).

The workbook contains 96 pages with color illustrations and grades 6-12 lesson plans inspired from our studio visits with our Year 2 Midwest artists. This includes access to our Backroom on our MAS site, which gives you access to artist videos, a gallery of images, and the option of contacting the artist for a Skype session with your students. 

Published by the Midwest Artist Studios™ Project, 2015

Catalog design by Erika Block of Creative Studios

Limited Qty: 100

(Stock code: MASCATWKBK15)

Click here to purchase this catalog & workbook

This project is supported by a grant from the Kohler Foundation, Inc. and the Wisconsin Art Education Association.

Orders will be shipped within 7-10 business days of your purchase. 



A Midwest Artist Studios™ Project Reflection (2015)


Written by Frank Juarez, art educator & founder

This spring semester (2015) I implemented the Midwest Artist Studios™ (MAS) Project curriculum into two of my art courses. The MAS workbook contains 9 lesson plans inspired by the artists the MAS team visited in Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri, and Wisconsin towards the end of July of 2014. Each lesson designed to address New Visual Arts Standards, literacy, differentiated instruction, technology, assessments, creative processes, and procedures. The only unknown factor was how these lessons would look like inside the art classroom. So I decided to introduce these artists and their work to my students.

To date I have implemented the following lessons: “The intricacy of the object: connecting the past to the present” featuring mixed media drawings by Josh Wilichowski (MN), “Exploring motifs: art & architecture” featuring drawings by Paula Schulze (WI), “Be One with nature: painting your surrounding” featuring paintings by Jane Ryder (IA), and “It is all narrative: the art of assemblage” featuring assemblages by Josie Osborne (WI), and “Space Invader: Exploring the body’s interaction with space” featuring sculptures by Suzanne Torres. Each lesson was accompanied with a video of the artist talking about his/her art, process, influences, and studio practice and viewable online a gallery of the artists’ work.

kimberlyOne of the benefits of this project is that each featured artist agreed to be accessible to educators via Skype to provide students the opportunity for real time interaction. This experience provided my students with the opportunity to ask the artists questions that they may have about their process, medium/a, influences, education, ways to promote and so on. This also provided a platform in which the artist can offer feedback about the student’s work via an online critique. Some of the MAS artists welcomed teachers and students into their studio while others welcomed works by students to be emailed to the artist for feedback. There are just some things you do not learn from a book and must be experienced in person.

Throughout the semester I have been checking in with my students to see how things are coming along with the projects, their thoughts on using new media, and how it has helped them see the world around them. Natalie mentioned it was neat to see Paula Schulze’s work because it allowed her to see architecture in a different way by taking a basic shape and making it into a complex pattern using contrast, balance, movement, and line. Bryan said, “This project helped me focus on one thing and one thing only, and that was my artistic point of view. I truly believe that I’ve improved in my abilities in art because of these projects. They have inspired me to actually complete something that I loved doing”.

josieosborne_videoLike many art teachers, I am always on the look out to incorporate different ways to expose, educate, and engage my students into the world of art. Except my interest is seeking artists at the local and regional level versus googling random artists. I believe by developing professional relationships with these artists results in an authentic art experience for my students. This project is a reflection of this.

As the founder of the Midwest Artist Studios™ (MAS) Project, I knew it would be a benefit to any curriculum whether it is art, math, science, or social studies to infuse art. I never realized just how much students enjoyed interacting with the artists in real time. The artists we have worked with this semester were fabulous and made this project such a meaningful art experience for my students. For this I am grateful.

With the help of our technology department I was able to record our Skype session with Iowa-based painter, Jane Ryder. 


Below is what my students expressed as their wrapped up this year’s projects at Sheboygan North High School. 


From this year, I have learned to have a little faith in the outcome of my projects. I am usually a self-doubting person, so I should take this experience and apply it to my life in general. There have been a lot of things this year that have actually increased my self-confidence. I do not feel ready for next year; however, I do feel a little more prepared, and I think I am in a slightly better mindset for what is to come. The world is complex just like these projects were. The outcome, on occasion, could turn out amazing though and I am excited to see what the world has to offer to me if I work hard enough. It is awfully strange, yet awesome, how many similarities the process of creating art is to living life.

The slightest change in a piece of art can change the entire meaning of a piece. After our interview with Jane Ryder, I began to think about what would be best for my painting, She gave specific suggestions to me through email, and I took those and created a more complex piece of art with the inclusion of another style of gouache painting. I watered down the gouache and created a fluid movement in the background, opposed to the strong colors and solid painting in the foreground. In the end, I gave my painting a softer, more balanced feeling.


I learned really only one thing  this year about myself while doing art. The  thing I learned about myself was that I can’t really plan out a project. After I plan out the design I always end up changing my mind because I find a new inspiration and add on to it.  I think that the reason I do this is because art is about creativity and you can’t plan creativity. While doing all these projects it has opened my eyes to things around me by finding inspiration in the things around me.

Savannah B

IMG_8673 I learned that not everything I make will be what I expect it to be, some will not live up to my expectations and some may be. I have come to realize that I will not always excel in every single media that I’m given, I will always have a weakness in particular mediums, but that doesn’t mean that I should stop trying to work with them. I think that it just means I should just work with it to understand how it works, that way I don’t necessarily rule that media out for a project. 

While learning about the last project it has helped me realize that not all art has to be so elaborate or perfect. Things aren’t always meant to go the way you want them to. I myself am a perfectionist and any art project I do. I won’t particularly like because it didn’t turn out the way I wanted to, but that’s just how things go. I know that I criticize my work harshly but that’s just the way I am. I always feel like I can do better, but I get lazy. I’ve got to learn to accept that my artwork has turned out this way, and if I want to improve I always have another shot at it. I don’t always have to be so hard on myself.

I would say the assemblage was my favorite project to do because I had dedicated it to my grandpa who passed away two years ago.


Through creating my art I learned many different things about myself as not only an artist but an individual. I learned that creating different styles of art helps me expand my thinking and brainstorming. What I mean by this is that when I am having a hard time trying to think of ideas for my artwork I like to make sketches to get my mind thinking and get other ideas. I also have learned that creating art helps me deal with stress and helps me relax and calm down from my busy life. Art has helped me in many different ways. Overall by taking art over the last few years I think that I have grown into a stronger and more positive individual.


IMG_3849Through art, I enjoy expressing my emotions on paper.  By creating art I can express my creativity without anyone judging. I have noticed that everyones style is unique, no one is exactly the same, when expressing one’s creativity. The arts can teach individuals to make good judgement about qualitative relationships. Unlike much of the curriculum in which correct answers and rules prevail, in the arts, it is judgment rather than rules that prevail. The arts teach students to think through and within a material. All art forms employ some means through which images become real. The arts help individuals learn to say what cannot be said. When children are invited to disclose what a work of art helps them feel, they must reach into their poetic capacities to find the words that will do the job. This course, I have learned many techniques and strategies to improve my art capabilities. Stretching, creating canvases, paint strokes, sketching skills are some of the many techniques learned. By learning these new techniques, it has opened my eyes to the world around me.

Gallery of students’ work from this semester. 

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A colleague of mine, Sylvia Cavanaugh, at Sheboygan North High School purchased the MAS Catalog to use in her curriculum and this is what she had to say about the experience working with Jane Ryder’s lesson plan. 

“I am a teacher of African and Asian Cultural studies, and chose to incorporate the lesson, Be One With Nature:  Painting Your Surrounding, into my unit on Japan.  Throughout the course, I have been teaching my students various techniques for deep relaxation based on focus.  This unit allowed me to apply meditation to nature and art.  Based on Jane Ryder’s suggestion, I gave each student a simple view finder and sent them to the school courtyard to study nature and to sketch a few images.  The next two class periods were spent in the classroom, where students created watercolor compositions based on the work of Ryder.  Ryder’s work was the ideal inspiration for this because it is very detailed, and yet is not perfectly realistic.  This allowed students who did not view themselves as artistic, to the be willing to take a chance. In fact, all of my students did engage in the project and created paintings.  They seemed to experience the deep meditative focus I was looking for, and I think many of them produced art that was beyond even their own expectations. This was the sort of valuable educational experience that provides a life lesson in the power of art, nature, and meditation”. – Ms. Cavanaugh

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MAS Reflection by Midwest Artist Studios featured artist, Todd Mrozinski.


Todd skyping with Mr. Korb’s student. Courtesy of Frank Korb from Waterford High School.

The experience with the students and seeing their unique version of a shadow portrait was wonderful and inspiring. The collaboration with their partner and the energy of that interaction was also evident in their work was great to discuss during the Skype sessions.  Frank Korb , art teacher from Waterford Union High School, was amazing to work with and I hope to continue a connection with him and his classes.

MAS presents a phenomenal new way of connecting students with artists, I am so glad to be a part of it.

Reflection on Todd Mrozinski and Silhouette Drawings

Written by Frank Korb, art teacher

2015 Drawing Class – Waterford Union High School

Korb5I introduced my students to Todd Mrozinski through the Midwestern Artist Studios Project workbook designed by Frank Juarez. In order to help my students better understand who Todd Mrozinski is, I used Frank Juarez’s writing and interview with Todd from the M.A.S. Workbook as well as looking at Todd’s website and video prepared as his application for the Pfister Artist in Residence. From there, we discussed the ideas and history behind diptychs and triptychs. The ideas behind the works were planned around the idea of working with a partner, learning about them as individuals and then working together to create works about one another through the same ideas of Todd – working with the Silhouette of one another and also working with the ideas of shadows cast from plants or trees. Originally, we were going to be creating a triptych and including the shadow of a person made object, one chosen by the partner in the pair, but because of time limitations we only had one artist get that far with the drawing.

Korb6In the very beginning, we introduced one another through learning the ideas behind the elevator pitch. Using an elevator pitch approach to introduce themselves gave them a good understanding about who they are, what they believe in, how they make art, what their ideas about life and art. From there we all went outside and looked at shadows and the partners worked together to choose which types of plant shadows to trace. The artist traced the shadow their partner liked or felt symbolized them. They then traced the sitters silhouette. From there we all worked in studio and created these wonderful images through the use of oil pastels. Over these quick 2 weeks or so, a large assortment of strong and conversation starting compositions were created. Works were focused on the positive and negative space the silhouettes created while also being built up upon the idea of color scheme. Working together gave the artwork a collaborative element that previous works did not have. Students were a bit apprehensive about the use of oil pastels, but this was a good choice as time was of a concern. Oils have a quality that really show the mark of the artist and this showed through in many of the works. A few thoughts about the next time that this lesson is taught are to allow more time to work, a mid-critique, as well as a field trip to Todd’s studio in Milwaukee.

Each class period began with a virtual trip to Todd’s gallery and discussion about a few works. Personal written reflection happened at the end of each day with students thinking about and responding to the successes and failures that they were experiencing in the work. When we had about a week left, I provided an online written critique (google forms) for them to use as their final exam. All said and done – kids came into the final exam period with their finished artwork, Skype TV turned on, and Todd, my students, and myself I met up online to talk about the ideas and works that were created.

Korb10Over the course of two days and two separate classes, 20 kids each, a 1 1/2 hour time period we had GREAT critiques, conversation, and reinforcement of many words I spoke of earlier. Todd added a lot of new ideas about intention and symbolism, compositional ideas that were new ideas for the students. The young artists were very interested in Todd’s comments, critique, and support about the work. Discussion of the works was very strong and the students took to the conversation with elements and principles in mind with interpretation becoming even more a highlight. I sincerely hope that the ideas spoken about are carried forward into the individual student work.

Korb11During the first week of summer vacation, I put out a brief survey to the kids that asked four questions. 1) What are THREE (3) highlights that you found, experienced, or achieved in the working on your shadow / color scheme drawings? 2) What are TWO (2) suggestions you suggest for the next time this artwork / experience gets taught? 3) What is the ONE (1) thing that you feel you will remember / use in the future that you learned from this work of art? 4) Do you have ANYTHING ELSE that you would like to add? Please let me hear more of your thoughts. Survey results HERE. While I am not expecting a lot of responses, summer vacation having started, I do hope to get a few comments in about the project. My students works as well as images of the kids in the process of working and critiquing can be seen through this link: https://goo.gl/UgFmbo.

TheMidwest Artist Studios™ Project is supported by a grant from the Kohler Foundation, Inc and the Wisconsin Art Education Association. 


Frank Juarez is a Wisconsin art educator, artist, gallery owner, advocate and community leader living and teaching in Sheboygan, Wisconsin. In 2005, he committed his life to expose, educate and engage others on the importance of experiencing and supporting the Visual Arts. Organizing local and regional art exhibitions, community art events, facilitating presentations, and supporting artists through professional development workshops, use of social media and networking has placed him in the forefront of advancing and promoting local artists and attracting regional and national artists to interact, collaborate, network and exhibit in the Sheboygan community.

Juarez is the art department chair at Sheboygan North High School. He is actively involved in local, regional, state, and national arts organization such as the Wisconsin Art Education Association, National Art Education Association, Milwaukee Artist Resource Network, Arts Wisconsin, Cedarburg Cultural Center, and is founder/former director of the Sheboygan Visual Artists. In 2011, he has opened his first art gallery, EFFJAY PROJEKTS Gallery (now called the Frank Juarez Gallery), in Sheboygan. He has been presenting at local universities/colleges on the Business of Art | Art of Business. He founded two projects focused on Contemporary Art and art education called The Midwest Artist Studios and the 365 Artists 365 Days Project. Recently, he has been recognized as the 2015 Wisconsin Art Education Association Teacher of the Year. 

A note from the founder, Frank Juarez

Photo by Irma Roman

Photo by Irma Roman

It has been a week since the Midwest Artist Studios (MAS) Team arrived back in its home state of Wisconsin. We met a great group of artists, Josh Wilichowski (MN), Vincenzio Donatelle (MN), Jane Ryder (IA), Jamie Bates Slone (MO), Catie Miller (MO), Todd Mrozinski (WI), Paula Schulze (WI), Josie Osborne (WI) and Suzanne Torres (WI). These artists were a pleasure to work with and you will be reading more about them as the project moves into its editing/production phase. Each brings something special to this project.

During our trip we were able to visit the Des Moines Art Center, Red Star Studios, and Belger Arts Center. We were so inspired by the people we met such as Mo Dickens from the Belger Arts Center, the art we saw and the conversations we had with people along our route. We were so inspired that we started to make work of our very own. This is the response that I hope our readers will have when they see our full-color catalog highlighting our MAS artists and read excerpts from our interviews and seeing how we took the works of these artists to develop lesson plans to compliment their studio practice. These lesson plans will be developed to inspire, communicate and challenge students to continue to pursue originality and to foster their creativity.

Visiting Suzanne Torres at  Arts Lofts n Madison, Wisconsin

Visiting Suzanne Torres at Arts Loft in Madison, Wisconsin

The MAS artists are living proof that making art and living in an art-centered life is rewarding; emotionally, mentally, professionally and financially. The next time someone asks the question, “can someone make a living in art?”, think of the people you know that are doing it and say, “yes”.

This project is aimed to create a platform that connects a contemporary art studio practice with art education. As an art educator, I often ask myself if what I am doing in the classroom is enough to broaden my students’ perspective on art, art education and living a well-rounded life. You know that the answer is no. There is so much out there that can benefit students and this project is one way of doing so. The MAS Project was created to give educators, administrators, library specialists, curriculum coordinators, school board members, access to artists who contribute their success to their art education experience. 

The MAS Team is working very hard to bring you the MAS 2014 catalog and workbook by mid-October of 2014. The best way to stay up-to-date on this project is by either subscribing to our blog, Midwest Artist Studios, or by following us on Facebook at facebook.com/midwestartiststudios.

If you like to be added to our MAS Email List all you have to do is email Frank at the address below and type in the subject box: Interested in the MAS Catalog/Workbook.

Visiting Jamie Bates Slone at her studio at Red Star Studios in Kansas City, Missouri.

Visiting Jamie Bates Slone at her studio at Red Star Studios in Kansas City, Missouri

All questions can be directed to Frank Juarez, MAS Founder, at midwestartiststudios@gmail.com.

This trip would be not be possible without the support of the Kohler Foundation, Inc, Wisconsin Art Education Association, Sheboygan North High School and Sheboygan Area School District

Jane Ryder – Iowa


Today’s trip takes us to Oskaloosa, Iowa.

Jane Ryder


janeryderBMy paintings are a right-brained approach to observing, dissecting, and recording the objective subject matter found in the lakes, rivers, prairies, and forests of south central Iowa. As my intimacy with the land surrounding me evolves, so do my approaches for depicting the complexities of varying terrains and the plants and animals that occupy them.

Each of my gouache paintings is a fictitious ecosystem that has been broken down into a series of vignettes. Each vignette describes the decay, growth, and interaction between the flora and fauna of that imagined place. Although bold colors, re- peating patterns, and flattened space make the paintings appear fantastic in nature, each scene is based off an observation.

I am constantly inspired by the complexities of the natural world. My work is an ever evolving narrative about the interconnectedness of all things and the functions of an organism in a community of plants and animals.


Jane Garrett Ryder was born and raised in the fine state of Illinois. In 2005 she received her BFA from Bradley University and went on to earn her MFA at Northern Illinois University four years later. In 2009 Ryder moved from Northern Illinois to South Central Iowa; where she can be found tromping through various muddy environments in search of fossils, arrowheads, and new artistic content. Her change from an urban environment to a rural setting has influenced her paintings in many significant ways. A deeper understanding of the interactions between man, animal, plant, dirt, water, and sun have affected the content and compositions of Ryders body of work.

Josh Wilichowski and Vincenzio Donatelle – Minnesota


Today our journey takes us into the studios of Josh Wilichowski and Vincenzio Donatelle

Josh Wilichowski


desk 14Men have come to understand through tradition, the media, our families, and our peers, that a man must maintain a rough-hewn, stoic façade to overcompensate for even the most basic feelings. Many males choose to bolster their identity by submitting to the stereotype, surrounding themselves with the trappings of masculinity. In this case, by utilizing these trappings in conjunction with coping tools like posturing, blending in, and physical redirection, they are allowed a loophole in which to express themselves and their hidden emotions.

The resulting manifestations of these actions become markers, each functioning as a personal vehicle. They carry with them such things as reminiscence, emotional exploration and identity. Like a pedigree, these attributes can be traced and recorded, and allows a view of each totemic relationship. In my work, I create allegories of these accessories and the accompanying masculine redirections through the investigation of transferal, the documentation of emotional pathways, and the use of the actual objects.

The object I am currently examining is the pickup truck. The truck is designed to pull and carry immense loads, as well as be a hard-working and dependable partner for its operator. However, it also readily accepts the added burden of transporting more delicate emotional payloads such as intimacy, pride, and self-doubt.   My current body of work is the study of trucks and my attempt to further understand not only the machine, but also the stigma of being a man.


Joshua Wilichowski (b Wausau, WI, 1975) received his Master of Fine Arts in Sculpture from the University of Wisconsin – Madison. A multi-media artist, his work investigates both the relationship we form with and the importance placed on inanimate objects. His work has been exhibited at venues nationwide, including RocksBox Contemporary Art in Portland, OR, the P3 Gallery in Las Vegas, NV, as well as numerous colleges and art centers. He currently lives and works in North St Paul, MN.

Vincenzio Donatelle


IMG_0270I use the repetitive images, textures and language of my work to produce semi-narrative compositions in the forms of paintings, collages and prints. I often employ structural elements to activate the space within the gallery thus forming an important middle ground in between the content within the frame and the viewer.

I observe the intersections of the individual, the social and their pathways producing serendipity, the rational versus the nonsensical as well as the way that the natural world collides with the artificial one to construct the human environment. I am particularly interested in the way stimulatory noise produced by this contemporary environment cohesively flows and recedes to produce concrete experience along side ambiguity.


I grew up in a family that was both supportive and demanding, which is kind of necessary when your family runs a restaurant and catering business together. When you grow up in that kind of environment you learn about working hard and constantly at pretty young age, of course you also learn the benefits of being your own boss too. None the less, everyone in my family is creatively minded, my mom was actually a sculptor, and my dad a painter. I saw my sister, fight her way into an Italian medical school which, may have taken a level of creativity that I cannot comprehend. I saw my brother grow into an incredibly intellectual artist, attending MCAD and just recently graduating from SVA in NYC. But from a young age we were always, almost repetitively were told this beautiful piece of nihilistic optimism: “You need to work hard at whatever you do, and find comfort in that, because when you do throw yourself into it, perhaps, no one will notice or care, in fact others may try to beat it out of you, the world will try and snap you out of it. But, if you don’t make the effort in the first place, without a doubt, nothing will happen.”

I recently graduated from MSU, Mankato and moved up to Minneapolis to live with my girlfriend, Julia, our Flemish giant and seven of our best friends. Since moving up I’ve had to struggle with making money in between making art and playing music in order to sustain myself and my life. Sometimes money, or lack there of, is more frustrating than anything else, because it can totally stifle or completely halt the creative process. For example, I needed to pay studio fees in May that resulted in me not being able to afford anything to print with or on. You learn to figure it out though, especially because there isn’t much of an option, except for maybe getting a service industry job. That all being said, I take pride in what I do, despite the hardships that come naturally. Though, frustrating as it can be, I think those moments force one to step back, examine, revise and tweak the theory or concept behind the work which, I believe can be just as relevant as producing work in the first place.

All images copyright of the artist and used with their permission.

The Midwest Artist Studios Project is officially launched


In less than 2 hours we will be on the road for the first part (of a 3-part project) of the Midwest Artist Studios Project.

Here is our schedule for August 3-10, 2014.

Featured studio artists are:
August 4 | Josh Wilichowski, North St Paul, MN
August 4 | Vincenzio Donatelle, Minneapolis, MN
August 5 | Jane Ryder, Oskaloosa, IA
August 7 | Jamie Bates Slone, Kansas City, MO
August 7 | Catie Miller, Kansas City, MO
August 8 | Todd Mrozinski, Milwaukee, WI
August 9 | Josie Osborne, Milwaukee, WI
August 9 | Paula Schulze, Shorewood, WI
August 10 | Suzanne Torres, Madison, WI

today is the day

We will be sharing updates and photos via facebook.com/midwestartiststudios.