The Oil of Joy

God often takes our caterpillar ideas and turns them into butterflies.

Such is the case for Birmingham artist Carrie Pittman. By day, Carrie sells policies at Pittman Financial Partners, a forty-year-old insurance firm formed by her grandfather. By night, she transfigures into an artist, fluttering around in her varnish-fogged apartment, a tiny cocoon where canvases morph from thence into beauty.

Carrie has been painting seriously for about a year, but a seedling of dreams was planted long ago when she took art lessons as a child. “Growing up, I always said I wanted to be an artist. My art teacher was Jeannie Daniels. We would do, like, Snoopy,” Carrie laughs.

But those dreams were soon withered by the harsh sun of discouragement. “Someone—a teacher—said you can’t make any money being an artist. So I just wrote it off as a hobby. I didn’t think I could make a living doing it,” she says.

So Carrie took a different path, working at a local bank after graduating from Southern Methodist University in 2001. From time to time, she would tinker with art, but never felt a full-blown tinning of passion. That vagabond spirit eventually discovered a need: to tap into the well of creativity, to be expressive, and to unearth a robust, edifying outlet for life’s challenges. “I found myself when I was upset or stressed out or worried or sometimes even happy, going to art and painting, over and over again,” she says. “A lot of my art is basically how I’m feeling at the time. The colors, strokes, textures, it’s kind of indicative of my day, my week, or a conversation I just had.”

In the midst of this, art became her refuge…no…God became her refuge through art—drawing her closer to Him via this creative medium. “My art was really a time of worship, time of expression. It really wasn’t for anybody else,” she suggests. “If you strip everything aside, it was just all about the paint, and expressing who I am through art.”

Things soon changed when Carrie took a leap of faith into the world of preference and criticism. “Kind of as a challenge to myself, I posted a painting online to see if someone might like my work, and I had 10 to 15 people who wanted to buy it within a couple of hours,” she says modestly.

Now Carrie is doing private art shows and being commissioned for businesses and private residences throughout the Southeast. She’s working with web designers to have a better online presence. And people keep buying.

Not only that, but people are getting inspired by Carrie to step out of their boxes of self-doubt. “I’m a full-time financial advisor and I can’t tell you how many people come up to me and are inspired to paint, who want to step out and try something they really didn’t think they could do,” Carrie says. “I had a friend I hadn’t heard from in two years, and she said I had really inspired her to sculpt again. If I inspire someone to tap further into themselves, that’s rewarding.”

This effort, mind you, is not shrouded in self-praise or vainglory. Instead, her work is inspired by a single verse in the Bible, Isaiah 61:3 “To bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor.”

Carrie believes that God speaks to her through her art, and is fully capable of turning a mess into a masterpiece. “God has shown me so many things when I’m painting. For example, I’ll try to paint a certain thing or emulate a picture I’ve taken, and I’ll get frustrated. But I’ll flip the canvas over or scrape the paint off and it becomes a gorgeous piece. I think the metaphor is that we try to do things our own way, create beauty the best we know how, but we mess up and fail, and he’s able to make a masterpiece in our lives. That’s where beauty from ashes comes from,” she says.

But as any aspiring artist will tell you, there is also that pesky need to put food on the table. Carrie is safely treading through each day with a full-time job, but hopes that one day she can have her own studio. For now, she is content with doing what it takes to sell her paintings while remaining true to herself.

“If I’m not careful, I can take the creative process totally out of it. Which to me is the most important part. Everybody has a need to express themselves,” she says.

With all the twisting and bumping up against the walls of the cocoon, the ceaseless straining, Carrie has emerged a much brighter creature. And if you pick up a piece, don’t forget what caused her inspiration as you decide which wall in your living room to hang it.

“I didn’t think I had any talent,” Carrie says. “It’s just God giving me the talent. It’s really all about Him.” 78

You can find Carrie’s Work at the following locations: Birmingham –Maki Fresh, West Elm; Tuscaloosa— Beverly’s; Jasper—Elizabeth Garner Interiors. You may also visit her website at www.paintcaroline.com.

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