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Unexpected beauty

Hartselle native embraces challenge of watercolor portraiture

Photos by Rachel Howard and contributed

Lisa Howell-Baxter hails from a family of painters. A native of Hartselle, she was formally trained at the School of Art and Architecture at Auburn University.

She channels her creativity to create watercolor portraits of children, florals, houses, birds and more, along with using her floral design skills to create beautiful weddings for brides-to-be. Three years ago, she expanded her business to include live event painting – and since that time, she has painted weddings and receptions at ornate Catholic churches, on mountaintops at sunrise and everywhere in between.

The event painting was an idea brought to her by her friend Adam Barnes, who is a Virgina-based wedding photographer and artist. “I had known about live event painting, but it had never occurred to me that I could expand my business in that way,” Howell-Baxter said. “Adam told me ‘I think you would really enjoy that.’”

He was right. Three years in, and Howell-Baxter said she has lost count of how many weddings she has attended and painted, although among her favorites were her daughter’s garden weddings, both held at the Baxter family home.

Howell-Baxter works exclusively with watercolor. While it can be the most challenging medium, she said it is her favorite because of the unexpected beauty that results.

“The outcome of a painting isn’t completely plannable … once the paint hits the page, it’s there,” she said. “So, it’s sort of a different mindset than working with oil or acrylic, where you can paint over. It’s that challenge that makes it appealing and beautiful in its process.”

Her live paintings take four to five hours on site and then four to six weeks in the studio for the finishing touches. She applies layers of washes to a painting, desiring the end result to look fresh and effortless. “I love to include as many details as I can – that just makes it more personal,” she added.

Another of her favorite events was a sunrise mountaintop wedding. “The bride wanted to walk down the aisle while the sun was coming up,” she said. “It was a beautiful setting, so that was fun to put on paper.”

Coming home to Hartselle

Lisa and her husband Howard met at a PTA meeting at Hartselle Junior High School. They celebrated 40 years of marriage in March.

Life took them up the east coast, first to North Carolina then to Pennsylvania, where they spent more than 30 years and where they raised their children. When it came time for Howard to retire, they agreed they wanted to return to where it all started; Hartselle is still home to the couple.

Howell-Baxter’s mother and sister also live in Hartselle, and she said she loves being close to her family and around familiar places. “We are so happy we came back, and my husband keeps saying ‘We’re home, Lisa, we’re home,” she said.

The couple have three children and 10 grandchildren, and they plan to travel to visit their family once the COVID-19 pandemic is over.