We could all use a little peace and serenity these days, and that’s exactly what artist Hannah Winters brings to the table (and our walls). Hannah Winters is an Alabama-based artist whose brush strokes take us outdoors and brings us together with nature. Yes, her work is beautiful and there’s no denying that, but she, as a human being, is as lovely and inspired as they come. In our conversation with Hannah, she tells us about the trials and challenges she’s overcome since she was 12 years old. Her consistent determination and drive are inspiring and we felt the need to share her story with you all.
Now, as a mother of two toddler twin boys and an entrepreneur, she has proven that anything is possible. You just need need to set out and do it. Without further ado, meet the talented Hannah Winters.
Tell us about your journey. How did you arrive at becoming an artist, among other things?
I was always a really creative and artistic kid. Painting was the first thing I ever expressed interest in and I spent most Saturdays taking private art lessons learning about famous artists and trying my hand at painting. I learned so much about the foundations of art in those years – the ins and outs of oil painting, how to paint with only primary colors, and what it means to paint instinctually – and this really sparked in me a lifelong passion for creating and appreciating art in all forms.
At age 12, I was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease – a chronic autoimmune disease that causes inflammation in the digestive tract. The toll that Crohn’s took on my health put my future into question and my paints were packed away while I prioritized getting well. I think I lost a lot of confidence and some of the innocence of painting that came with my childhood while I stepped away from art to get healthy.
Throughout my teens and early 20s, I learned how to live with Crohn’s and manage my disease, and I’ve been in remission for three years! Throughout these trials, my family and husband would always gently nudge me to dust off my canvases and get back to creating, but I never felt ready. I was always looking at artists and creators and would think to myself “I missed my chance – I can never do it now!” I was so afraid to be vulnerable enough to just go for it. My experience with chronic illness led me into a career as a nurse, which felt important, and I worked so hard for it. Yet it also made me feel even farther from my creative childhood; I didn’t know how to pursue something that felt like it was from a different lifetime.
A few years ago, my health issues got even more challenging. In 2017, I had bilateral hip surgery to resolve inflammation in my hips caused by medication I’d needed to keep me in remission from Crohn’s. As I recovered, my husband and I explored our options for having children, and they weren’t very optimistic. Fast forward to 2018 – a miracle of modern medicine and something much more powerful made it possible for me to give birth to my twin boys, Campbell and Wells, and also stay in remission from Crohn’s.
Motherhood unlocked something in me that had been put aside and ignored for years. The joy of having the boys in my life, mixed with a pretty strong dose of postpartum anxiety, made me realize that I owed it to myself to explore this part of me that I missed so much.
You were diagnosed with Crohn’s disease at the age of 12. How on earth did you overcome this battle and how do you deal with it today?
There’s a number of things that contribute to how I deal with Crohn’s on a day-to-day basis: a lot of prayer, modern medicine, the infusions I receive every 6 weeks, my angel of a husband, our miracle boys, and sitting down to paint every single day. I know all of these things have helped me heal both physically and spiritually.
I’m entering my last year in my twenties, and the past decade has been the hardest of my life. I’ve crammed a lot of suffering and joy into the last 10 years from this disease – I endured 4 surgeries, many hours of physical therapy, costly medical bills, a few new diagnoses, IVF, many needle sticks and lab draws, and 14 new incisions and scars on my body. And while Crohn’s has brought a lot of hard stuff, a few beautiful things have been born because of it – my relationship with my husband, and our twin boys, Camp and Wells.
My scars tell a beautiful story and it is one I’m learning shouldn’t be kept quiet. This crazy body of mine has given me more drive and purpose than I ever thought possible — and may be the best thing that has ever happened to me.
What fuels your inspiration?
I am most inspired by nature. I don’t think a day goes by where I don’t pull my phone out and take a picture of the scene in front of me. I live in a town with beautiful old trees whose canopies drape over the streets of our neighborhood and so many of my paintings are inspired by them. Most pieces I produce are influenced by a combination of different things – the sky could come from the photo of the sunset I snapped outside of the grocery store and the shades of green came from the trees I photographed while on a walk with my boys. Friends and family sometimes send photos of nature from their surroundings or different travels, and I piece all of that together on paper.
The Freedom Fields series showcases soft pinks and pastels that were inspired from springtime. Quarantine began right as spring was showing its face in Alabama; small pink buds were peeking out everywhere you looked. I’ve spent so much time outside with my boys that I instinctively pulled for a pink palette when I sat down to paint. It’s so special to me that something hopeful and joyful was born out of such uncertain times. This series feels like home in Alabama right now, but it also transports me somewhere else. I feel a true sense of relief having painted this series and every time I look at it.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
I think the best advice I’ve ever received comes from my childhood art teacher, Anitra. I’ve struggled with perfectionism in all facets of my life for as long as I can remember. I think that’s what attracted me to painting from such a young age – it allowed me to escape the way things were expected to look like and paint them the way that I saw them. Any time I’d accidentally smudge paint over my nearly finished piece, I’d promptly try to fix my mistake without hesitation. Anitra would immediately intercept and say, “stop! It’s a gift!” And it always was. Somehow the smudge became a shadow right where I needed it or it allowed me to rework that area to add more depth to it. It always ended up richer than it was before.
I remind myself of this and try to view each stroke as intentional and a gift when perfectionism tries to creep in. I think Anitra’s advice applies to so many things in life, doesn’t it? I’d like to think most things that feel disastrous at first end up providing something beautiful or at least an important lesson.
What advice do you have for someone looking into starting a creative journey?
Just start. You don’t have to arrive somewhere in order to be eligible to be creative. You don’t have to have the art studio, you don’t have to have the nicest paints, you don’t have to have all of the supplies. Your creative journey can simply look like grabbing grocery store paint brushes and the cheapest paints you can find online. Paint at your kitchen table. Create on your back porch. Create with what you have around you. I felt for the longest time that I couldn’t begin painting until I had everything in order – but it’s so untrue! If you wait for everything to be perfect in order to start then you never will.
Now more than ever, do you have any advice on how to find balance between work and family?
It’s been an adjustment finding balance between work and motherhood. As a creative person, when I feel inspired to sit down and paint, that doesn’t always align with the needs of my boys. There are many times I try to get work done while they’re playing happily, but it doesn’t always go according to plan. It truly is a day-to-day thing that I feel out each hour.
One of my closest friends is a mother I admire more than anything and she gave me my most treasured advice when it comes to mothering: to always follow what feels peaceful. Are there some days when I feel like my boys needed me and I was distracted with getting work done? Absolutely! I think every mother struggles with those feelings. The next morning I regroup and follow what feels right for the day. And there are definitely days when I feel the urgency of needing to paint and produce, but I made the decision to follow what feels peaceful to myself and my family when I began this journey. I don’t produce good work when there isn’t peace in my heart and in my home.
What’s a typical day like for you during quarantine?
When my boys wake up in the morning, we eat then head outside – whether that looks like going on a walk or exploring in the backyard. As with many people in quarantine, getting outside is so important for us. Most days look like a water table and blow-up pool, collecting things in nature, going on long walks, and sneaking in a painting while I have them curled up on the couch with a snack and a movie on. There is usually always someone who makes their way to my lap as I paint or sit at my feet under the table.
Once the boys are down for their nap, I paint. Naptime is my most productive time and it’s my only sense of normalcy during isolation.
My husband’s job is still considered essential so he’s been going into work every day of the quarantine. When he gets home and is able to watch the boys, I start my second job – fulfilling orders! We live in a tiny 80-year-old home and my “office” is out of our laundry room – this is where I store, pack and ship every order!
Do you have a daily ritual you can’t live without?
I’m a morning person. I feel most energized and inspired first thing in the morning and I take advantage of that each day. The first thing I do after making coffee is set up my work station. Quiet mornings are important to me and they set the tone for my entire day – it’s important that they feel slow and calm rather than rushed and overwhelming. This is worship time for me and I find that I do my best work when the windows are open, the music is playing, my boys are asleep, and I have a moment to put my thoughts to my paintbrush. The mornings (especially in the south) give the most beautiful light and I always try to get a few strokes in before my boys wake up :)
What are five things you can’t live without right now?
I have SEVEN!
1. My hydroflask (and the only way I remember to drink water during the day)
2. NOTO Botanics Resurface Scrub (I use on my face – it’s SO GOOD!)
3. Weighted blanket – an absolute must
4. Young Living’s CBD Calm Essential Oil Roller
5. The 501 Levi Shorts from Free People
6. Gucci Westman’s Super Loaded Bronzer (Westman Atelier)
7. Mickey Mouse Clubhouse – because he provides entertainment for the boys for a whole 10 minutes :)
What’s next for Hannah Winters?
I hope to continue to grow in art, both personally and professionally. When I started this journey over a year ago I would have never believed you if you said this is where I’d be right now. I’m so grateful for all of it – the people who have purchased work from me, continue to support me, want to share my art, and want to see me succeed. I’m humbled and overjoyed and speechless and I can’t believe I get to wake up everyday and be a mom and paint. It’s truly a dream come true.
Video by Joanna Ballentine