Creating the perfect picture on South Coast Highway

It's not every day that people get the chance to do something creative that they're not only passionate about, but also pays their bills.

Toes on the Nose window dresser Sydney Hensler says she got lucky.

"It's something I never expected to do, but it totally fits me in a weird way," the Newport Beach resident said. "I really enjoy doing it, and I really enjoy doing it in Laguna Beach because I feel like it's a community that appreciates it."

Hensler, 28, was working at Toes on the Nose in downtown Laguna about two years ago when she was asked to try her hand at the storefront windows that face South Coast Highway. She put her background in art and graphic design to work and came up with such an eye-catching display that the store ditched its normal mannequins for Hensler's monthly artistic creations.

"It's a lot of work, a lot of troubleshooting," Hensler said last month at the shop. "It can be frustrating, but I love doing it, and I love the end product."

Growing up in Mission Viejo, Hensler would always ask for paints or clay for the holidays. She remembers going all out for any art-related school project and spent hours building elaborate dioramas inside shoe boxes.

"I was just always making things," she said. "I feel like my mind is always going and it always has been."

She went on to study art and graphic design at San Diego State University and graduated in 2006 with a bachelor's in the subject.

At Toes on the Nose, Hensler joined the company to teach surf lessons — she left Christmas Day to give lessons in Costa Rica — and soon after that she started working in the Laguna shop.

Hensler uses her artistic eyes to display merchandise, like clothes, hats, shoes, surfboards and any manner of accessories a grom would need. With her manager, the two recently found a small tree sans leaves to display the store's many hats, and Christmas tree branches are draped around clothes' displays interspersed with small pots of poinsettias.

When Hensler was first asked to try her hand at a trial window display, she built a beer can surfboard and a wave out of Solo cups for the 4th of July.

"I try to do things to put some emphasis on the ocean or some kind of surf theme, but not always," she said.

Since then, Hensler has changed the windows on a monthly basis.

Hensler said she tried to make each display fun, even a little crazy. She tries to create different patterns and pulls inspiration from her own life. When she went to Alaska, she created a moose head out of chicken wire and lunch bags.

Her displays have featured a wave out of aluminum dryer vents; jelly fish made from clear umbrellas and bubble wrap; and an ocean graveyard littered with pieces of broken surf boards supplied by her colleagues at Toes on the Nose.

Each display takes an average of 15 to 20 hours spread out over a few days, including the buying of items — although Hensler likes to reuse old items — constructing, designing and assembling.

She always has a vision in her mind, but it doesn't always go according to plan.

Problem solving and making a space aesthetically pleasing, though, are in her genes. Her father works in construction and her mother was an interior decorator.

"I look at it as a combination of my mom and dad," she said.

Twitter: @britneyjbarnes

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