Sally Schwartz discovered the magic of special events in 1966 as a little girl at her grandparents' 40th wedding anniversary.

She was awed by the gargantuan anniversary cake, mesmerized by the beautiful singer with the blond flip and blue eyeshadow. She even scrambled up on stage and played the woodblock while her grandfather was busy dancing on the table. Her interest in special events was born.

In 1985, Schwartz quit her job at an ad agency to form her own special event company. With a ream of letterhead stationery and a financial jump-start from her parents, she created Paint Me A Party Productions, based in Chicago. "I never liked work that felt like work," she says.

The company name, Schwartz explains, stands for "visualizing a masterpiece event and then 'painting in' all the special touches-theme, invitations, music, decor, food-that enhance the experience.

"The first parties I did were great because I was hired by family and friends who let me run with avant-garde ideas," Schwartz recalls. "But more corporate requests soon followed, and the atmosphere at these events was supposed to be very stiff and formal." Since then, things have changed, she says: "Today, company identities have to be cool to attract new business and employees."

>From her business offices, located in a renovated funeral parlor, she and her dozen employees create events on a grand scale. A recent example was the decor and lighting for the Anti-Defamation League's Crystal Globe Award presentation to Italian filmmaker Roberto Benigni for his Academy Award-winning film Life Is Beautiful.

Schwartz will be painting on a broader canvas soon: She plans to open a new office this month in Santa Monica, Calif., to boost her West Coast presence.

Paint Me A Party Productions

2245 W. Huron St., Chicago, IL 60612

312/666-1200; fax: 312/666-1199

E-mail: events@paintmeaparty.com

Web site: www.paintmeaparty.com