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Houston County Living

Art from the Heart

Jul 28, 2021 09:10PM ● By Alexa Tebben
     Artistic talents often manifest in the early years of youth. And though we sometimes put our childhood
  aspirations on hold, they remain a part of us throughout our lives.
     Like many successful painters, Erin Kitchens was a child when she first discovered her love of art. “I started drawing when I was little,” she recalls. “I won an award when I was in 8th grade for best designing bulletin board. I always had that gift I suppose, a desire to draw and paint.”
     Erin’s unique childhood experiences influenced the course of the rest of her life. “My father died when I was eight, so my brother was the one that pushed me to continue the drawing process,” she says. Seeing talent seep through every piece of her artwork, her brother encouraged her to fervently pursue that avenue of expression.
      “My parents were deaf, so I had sign language as my first language,” Erin tells me. She studied fine art at Middle Georgia and Georgia Southern followed by five years of working for a graphic designer in Macon. However, Erin made a career change when she decided to become an interpreter for the deaf. “God led me in that direction,” she says confidently. Erin devoted the next 30 years of her career to interpreting in school systems. Growing up with deaf parents gave Erin the patience and sensitivity to be an attentive and compassionate interpreter.
     Through all those years of interpreting, Erin never forgot her true passion. “I’ve always painted,” she says. “Even while I was working in the school systems I volunteered and painted murals on several of the school walls.” About halfway through her career, Erin painted the walls of her church’s children’s hall. “One hall was done completely in bugs and insects,” she says. “There were butterflies, caterpillars and dragon flies. On the other wall, I did the ABC’s and every letter had an animal next to it that started with that letter.”
     Years had gone by when the church called Erin and told her they were remodeling and would paint over
  her handiwork. Erin decided to take some photos of the walls before they were painted over. She arranged the photos into note cards and beautifully packaged them for church members that wished to remember her artwork. “I had several people that bought them,” she tells me. “So I started putting all my paintings into note cards.” With this unique method of expression, Erin transformed her paintings into prints and began falling in love with art all over again.
     When Erin retired after 30 years of interpreting, she decided to give painting another go. “I picked up a graphic pencil and did a portrait of my daughter and hated it,” she says laughing. However, Erin was not discouraged. “You ask any artist and they’ll tell you, you either love what you’ve done or you hate it.” Knowing this, Erin pulled out some canvasses and began painting using different mediums. She found acrylic paint to be her favorite because of how quickly it dries. Still, she experimented with oil painting, watercolors, permanent markers – anything she could get her paint-stained hands on.
     Back in her element of artistic expression, Erin finally feels she can do what brings her the most joy. “I have always been a person who has creative ideas,” Erin says. “[Painting] is an outlet for me to be creative and to make something.” Returning to her art after all these years has been a revitalizing experience full of energy and renewed ambition.
     “Up until recently I was painting on my kitchen table,” Erin admits shyly. “Just recently I have set up a studio.” Emptying out one of her bedrooms, she refurnished and decorated to give herself a creative space in which to paint. “I would advise people that want to do this, they need to have a quiet place.” Speaking from experience, Erin knows the effects of your surroundings during your most pivotal creative moments. 
      Erin’s daughter, Courtney Kitchens, is a talented photographer in her own right. “I think she encourages me more than I encourage her,” Erin says of her daughter. “She’s my biggest supporter.” While Courtney was growing up, Erin provided the same encouragement to her daughter that Erin’s brother offered her when she was young. “We would always do crafts,” Erin recalls. “Any kind of art she was very interested in.” This passion for art developed into a natural talent with the camera. Now an adult and professional photographer, Courtney partners with her mom at weddings where she photographs and Erin paints live scenes of the ceremony, first dance or the couple’s departure. The pair loves the opportunity to collaborate and use their artistic talents to bring joy to others.
     Erin has also begun taking her artwork to markets around town. While at first out of her element, she
  has grown to enjoy showing her paintings to the community and meeting new friends and art lovers. The connections Erin makes through networking continue to brighten her retirement and give her a new sense of fulfillment.
     Erin encourages people to pursue their passions without fear or reservations. “People put pressure on themselves because they want to learn and paint exactly as the person teaching them,” she says. “Everyone needs to know that God gave them a special talent and no one is going to draw or paint the same.” Erin believes that because art consists of many learned concepts such as contouring, shadowing and light, anyone can refine their artistic abilities and improve their skill. “It can be taught,” she says candidly. “Otherwise, all the art schools would be out of business.”
     Erin’s journey has been a unique experience that has carried her places she always dreamed of going. Her story is a testament to all that it is never too late to follow your dreams and do what brings you joy. Erin’s enthusiasm for art continues to inspire her daughter, friends and all that see her artwork. Her days are made brighter and fuller with each painting her hands touch. And every time she picks up a brush she can smile knowing that the dreams of her childhood have turned into the reality of today.

Photography by: Tinika Bennett Photography