CHILLICOTHE, MO—Irene Smalls, 45, an office manager at Riverside Property Management, announced Monday that she has found the "perfect clip art" for the invitation to an upcoming office Thanksgiving party.

Riverside Property Management's Irene Smalls.

Slated for officewide distribution this Friday, the invitation to the Nov. 21 celebration features clip-art images of a turkey, a pile of leaves and a rake, a "horn of plenty," and lighthearted cartoons of boy and girl pilgrims.

"I honestly think this is the best invitation I've ever done," Smalls said. "Everything's there: pilgrims, Thanksgiving food, autumn stuff. It's a perfect balance."

Riverside Property Management's unofficial party organizer, Smalls spent nearly two days deciding which copyright-free illustrations to choose from the company's collection of clip-art booklets and Office Depot-purchased CD-ROMs.

"Choosing art for an invitation is trickier than you'd think," Smalls said. "It should be tasteful but not stuffy, fun but not juvenile."

Offering insight into her artistic process, Smalls revealed that she nixed an image of a Norman Rockwell-like family seated at a dinner table for thematic reasons.

"The dinner scene was nice, but since this party will be a casual office gathering with punch and cupcakes, I didn't think it quite fit," Smalls said. "Then again, I guess you could argue that our office is like one big family, so it's appropriate. In the end, though, I decided that if I used it, the reason probably wouldn't come across. So you see, it just depends how you look at it. There are lots of shades of gray when you're talking about clip art."

Smalls also left out an image of a Native American man carrying ears of corn.

"I didn't want to make [leasing agent] Joseph [White], who's one-quarter Indian, feel uncomfortable," Smalls said. "I think a lot of that 'Heap Big Injun' stuff reminds him of the sad things that happened to his people."

Smalls said her formidable clip-art-selection skills are the result of years of trial and error. In 1987, she learned a valuable lesson when choosing images for a church pancake-breakfast flyer.

"I wanted it to be eye-catching, so I went to Bartz Party Supply and picked out some classy pictures from their clip-art book, including a couple ballroom-dancing, two hands clinking champagne glasses, and a top hat with white gloves and a cane," Smalls said. "Now, that would've worked just dandy for a wedding or New Year's Eve invitation but, as I found out the hard way, not for a pancake breakfast. Only eight people showed up, and some parishioners complained that they thought the breakfast was going to be a ritzy affair. They were too intimidated to attend."

The invitation.

Rather than give up, Smalls resolved to "stick it out and get better at clip art." She now boasts of being able to find the ideal clip art for any occasion.

"I love to rise to any clip-art challenge," Smalls said. "Birthdays, weddings, anniversaries, July 4... you name it, I've got the perfect clip art for it. I even have a Star Of David for our Jewish friends."

Smalls' appreciation of clip art is heartening to Mitch Sklar, a Buffalo, NY, freelance artist who creates illustrations for the clip-art market.

"We clip artists work in near-total anonymity: No one knows who we are, and we barely ever know who's out there enjoying our clip artistry," said Sklar, who designed the leaves and rake Smalls used for her invitation. "So when I hear that someone appreciated my work enough to use it in their PTA newsletter or blood-donation sign-up sheet, I feel really proud."

Smalls takes equal pride in her creations.

"Making invitations and flyers is the most rewarding thing about my job, I think," Smalls said. "Even though I can barely draw a stick figure, doing this stuff makes me feel like a real creative artist."