“Thanks a million.” The simple expression of gratitude was one Hugh Etheredge added to each goodbye, and one that stood out to his granddaughter Lauren Daniel when she named her painting business. Through the process and the final product, she wanted to keep the kindness behind the phrase at the heart of A Million Thanks.

From pet portraits—her most requested and staple piece—to seasonal works and abstracts, Lauren’s painting portfolio appears to span years of practice in the medium. In reality, the breadth of her work comes from only a few months of truly calling herself an “artist,” a label she’s shied away from in the past.

Lauren has always been creative and has loved to paint and craft, but her first few sales in December and work displayed in the Makers DIY retail space were a surprise. It was nothing planned,” she says. “I’m just as shocked as everyone who tells me that they didn’t know I was an artist. I didn’t know either.”

By February, she had built up her @amillionthanksbylaurendaniel Instagram account to show her work and painted her first commissioned pet portrait. Based on a painting of her own dog, Lauren’s pet portraits embody warmth and familiarity that we associate with our animals. She keeps a tight focus on the face as she captures each one as any traditional portrait would. “I really like to focus on the eyes. To me, that brings the painting to life,” she says.

Up until the past few months, her work has only been displayed in her own home. When she had her first daughter, Lauren painted lady bugs and frogs to match the bedding in the nursery. Fast forward a few years after she left her marketing job to become a full-time mom, and Lauren made the wall above her stove a kind of rotating display space for different seasonal paintings.

A little encouragement, along with the right opportunities at the right time, pushed Lauren to take her practice to the next level. Her friend Chad Martin, noticing how Lauren signed each of the pieces on her own walls, recognized her talent and told her she should pursue painting. “That was the first time I could hear that ring true,” Lauren says. “It put a seed in my mind that this was something I could do.”

Chad asked her to paint a couple of pieces for his daughter’s college dorm room—her first pieces that would go in someone else’s home. From there, Lauren’s office soon became a studio as she completed commissioned work and explored more styles. “I like it all —all the pieces are so different. And it’s so cool to know that people would put one of my pieces in their own homes,” she says.

Lauren makes sure to name all of her paintings and often shares the stories behind each one on Instagram. Soft blues and neutral golds appear often, working together to create a gentleness and lightness to her pieces. There’s a magic to the process that even surprises Lauren when she layers paint, steps back, and sees the subject emerge in a completed work.

When she first played with an abstract style, Lauren began moving paint around and watching that magic happen. She painted an abstract piece for a Vestavia Hills United Methodist Church auction, and from the layers of whites, golds and blues, a sailboat and lighthouse emerged without her noticing—just happening to fit right in with the lighthouse in the church’s student ministry. A few spontaneous brushstrokes brought out something beautiful, which comes so naturally to Lauren.

The joy behind the process, which includes moments of beauty and surprise like the lighthouse, is why she started and continues to paint. “When I’m working on a piece, I lose myself in that moment,” Lauren says. “It shuts off the part of my brain that can get carried away and puts the other side in fuller focus. It settles everything down.” During rough patches here and there, painting has helped her find peace through it all.

The business side of her art is still new and growing, and Lauren is excited to take on more projects and challenges. “I had no idea I could do this until I started,” she says. “I think most people would surprise themselves. You just never know what you might be able to do.”

A Few Tips and Tricks

Lauren offers a lot of encouragement to those who think they might like painting but are scared to jump right in. Here are a few of her basic pointers if you’re ready to pick up a canvas!

Start with your darks. Lauren adds her darkest colors to her canvas as her base right after sketching her subject. This method came naturally to her, and she’s seen other painters do the same thing when beginning a portrait.

Make use of simple techniques. When working with texture or abstract styles, Lauren uses a spray bottle with water to create a runny look with the paint. She also uses her fingers to move the paint around if brushes don’t get the job done.

Remember that you can start over. Starting fresh is always an option. “Don’t listen to your internal monologue. You’re not going to fail. Just paint over it and start again,” Lauren says.