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Washington Voices

Artist has ‘up-cycled’ her life along with her art

Thu., Feb. 16, 2012

Barbara Hawkins paints on furniture and wood. (Dan Pelle)
Barbara Hawkins paints on furniture and wood. (Dan Pelle)

A few years ago, Barbara Hawkins stepped off the merry-go-round. Realizing that sometimes you have to forfeit the race in order to really win, she quit the manual union job she had held for 18 years.

“We used to literally run night and day, opposite shifts, dual income, two kids and chores and errands crammed into our off hours,” she said. “We were breaking down physically and mentally, running on four hours of sleep and eating drive-thru food on the way to the next thing. It was sucking the life out of us. So we decided to drop to one income, but make a richer life for ourselves.”

Hawkins took some art classes in college and loved it. With more time on her hands, her husband bought her a paint set and, while relishing her role as a wife and mother, she raised her creative flag.

Looking around, wondering what to do, she spied an old water-damaged piece of furniture that she had refused to throw away because she’d had it forever. It held memories so she gave it new life. After prepping the piece, she used each surface like a canvas; a guitar on one side, a girl with a heart-shaped face on another and a bottle of wine and a full wine glass on the top.

Hawkins thinks the term “up-cycling” describes her artistic endeavors to a T. She combs dusty shops and garage sales for interesting pieces and then turns them into works of art that remain functional. “I like to surround myself with one-of-a-kind, hand-wrought things,” she said. “It’s the nightstand I rest my book on at night, or the side table where I set my coffee cup in the morning.” Done in acrylic paint and finished with layers of Varathane, her work is meant for everyday use.

Her subject matters include ocean scenes, Asian gardens, waterfalls, Paris, angels, bamboo and abstract shapes inspired by the grain of the wood. She has sold some work and done custom pieces, including painting fairies on an old trunk intended to be used to store a child’s dress-up collection and a large round painted piece of wood to be used as a tabletop/cover for a barbecue pit.

About a year ago, Hawkins put her work on consignment at Avenue West Gallery, 122 S. Monroe St. Her intention was simply to get advice from other artists. Six months ago, she became a full-fledged member.

“It’s great to be involved with such talented artists who work in so many mediums,” she said. “You can get their input on your work in critiques, take classes and see their art constantly evolving.”

Hawkins gave her husband a table saw for Christmas. He’s been cutting wood and experimenting with an airbrush. “We may have less of a portfolio but we are invested in ‘us,’ ” she said.



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