Bradenton portrait artist Paula Hawkins loves her craft

Bradenton Herald – Every brush stroke is priceless.

Bradenton portrait artist Paula Hawkins’ brush brings light to every facial expression, every emotion. Some of the oil portraits are similar to photographs. Some take an impressionistic stance.

They capture a piece of time: young sisters in white dresses; brothers polished and primed. Couples in love. Families defined by brush marks, to become instant family heirlooms hanging in their home.

Hawkins has painted portraits for more than 70 people over the years — from local residents to the wife of nationally syndicated radio host Glenn Beck. Hawkins enjoys painting each one.

“The nice thing about what I’m doing is that I usually know, almost always, where the piece is going to end up,” she said. “It’s not like I’m doing art and then I just send it places and nobody buys it. The thing I enjoy the most is doing personalized art for people that I know will appreciate it.”

Though she’s painted all her life, the 55-year-old has never had any formal training other than a few art classes in school. But you would never know that if you visited her small studio. Amid the hung portraits showcasing her skills are numerous awards and recognitions — so many that she hasn’t bothered to count them all.

There’s the Fuji Masterpiece Award, Artist of the Year — Florida, Best of Show, etc.

On a quick glance, there’s at least 25.

Many of the awards are from photo restoration competitions — one of Hawkins’ many talents. Before she started Hawkins Studio in 1991, she worked for various photographers in Bradenton, touching up and restoring photos by hand. It was a trade that was highly in demand before the do-it-yourself digital age.

Hawkins, a Jackson, Miss., native, has so many awards that it has allowed her to earn masters’ degrees from the Professional Photographers of America and the Florida Professional Photographers associations.

Behind every portrait is a story, such as the flight attendant named Jean who lost her life during 9/11. Her plane was the first to hit the Twin Towers, Hawkins said.

Jean’s aunt, who lives in Bradenton, commissioned Hawkins to do a portrait of Jean on an old photo.

Then there’s Terri Schiavo, the Pinellas County woman who was at the center of a national right-to-life

case after spending more than a decade in a persistent vegetative state. Glen Beck, who later became a proponent for the family during their struggle, collaborated with Hawkins on the portrait of Schiavo.

“We presented it to them (Schiavo’s family) on stage at an event in Tampa,” said Hawkins. “They were just overwhelmed.”

Hawkins met Beck, the FOX News TV host, at an event when he worked in Tampa. She offered to paint his portrait. He declined, but offered up his wife.

He ended up liking Hawkins’ work so much that she’s done several projects for him since. She did two oil-based art deco pieces for him, including one that is based on the fresco at New York’s Rockefeller Plaza. The piece is called “Wisdom” and features a verse from Isaiah 33:6, which reads: “Wisdom and knowledge shall be the stability of thy times.”

“Wisdom” hangs in Beck’s New York office, Hawkins said.

The artist has also collaborated with the radio host on a series of projects with a patriotic theme. They include images of Samuel Adams, George Washington and Benjamin Franklin with one of the captions of “Faith,” “Hope” and “Charity” under each. One set in the series will be Beck’s, another set will be auctioned off and the third will be sold to the public.

Hawkins said she felt privileged but humbled that Beck asked her to work on the project.

“Because this is my tiny little part of helping remind people that we need to get back to our constitution, that we need to get back to our founding fathers,” she said.

Rooted in art

It was Hawkins’ mother who encouraged her to pursue art.

“She thought I needed something to do,” Hawkins, who is a grandmother of two, said laughing.

She said her methods may be different than artists who have studied their craft, “but what matters is the outcome.”

When a client comes to her for a portrait, Hawkins doesn’t make them sit through a posing session. Instead, she talks with the client about what they want in a portrait. Then after the client sets up a photo session with a photographer of their choosing, they bring the photos to Hawkins for further discussions.

Hawkins said she looks for natural, pleasant-looking photos, not ones with big toothy grins. She doesn’t always paint verbatim from the photos. Sometimes she’ll change the background or move people around — all with the client’s permission of course.

Hawkins’ painted portraits can be pricey, they can go anywhere from $500 to nearly $4,000.

“But people who know the value of a real brushed oil painting will still seek it out,” Hawkins said. “What I like to say is portraiture is not expensive, it’s priceless. . . . It will never fade. It will be with you forever. It’s an investment that you can pass down to your kids.”

That’s what Lynn Carlsen had in mind when she came to Hawkins, wanting portraits of her son and daughter, who were younger than age seven at the time.

“I just wanted a nice keepsake for my kids — something more than a photo,” the Bradenton resident said.

After looking as far as Atlanta for an artist, Carlsen chose Hawkins because of her beautiful, meticulous work.

Besides portraits, Hawkins still does photo restorations of pictures that have been torn, ripped and faded with time. She said it still interests her, mainly because of the people she gets to meet through it.

“People find me in the phone book and bring in their old beat-up stuff that really means the world to them,” Hawkins said. “It makes me happy that I can see them go out of here happy.”

Hawkins has lived in Bradenton with her husband, Jack Hawkins, a local attorney, since 1989. His family is from the area.

With brushes, paints and canvases filling the Hawkins household, the medium didn’t rub off on Hawkins’ two grown children, though.

They have artistic ability, but it’s just expressed differently.

Her daughter is an interior designer. Her son is into music.

“But nobody does art,” Hawkins said.

published June 11, 2010


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