Meet the Visual Artist: Amarilys Henderson, the Watercolor Devo

"Woah. You've got over 6,000 followers on Instagram!" I declared shortly after meeting Amarilys and asking her what she does for a living. 

"More than most. Not as many as some," she responded.

"This girl is legit." I though after hitting the "follow" button.

When the time came to create the artwork for "The Apple Tree" EP, Amarilys was at the top of my list for artists to contact. My instincts proved correct as she has created the perfect visual depiction for this song & EP. 

For those that haven't been around this blog for very long, "The Apple Tree" is a collection of four songs which will be released on June 9th. Each song tells the story of a person in the muck, mire, or margins of life. All of them worthy and worthwhile of telling. 

The title track, "The Apple Tree," is about my friend Bridget whom I met while she was incarcerated. She told me about the time her boyfriend, in anger, called her an "apple tree." He meant it as an insult to tell her how her life was going nowhere since she was stuck in the ground; unmoving. I'll save the rest of Bridget's story for post-release...hear now from Amarilys who took Bridget's story and transformed it into a beautiful image.

[S]: Why do you paint?

[A]: I need to paint: when I feel something, when I'm bored, when I see a butterfly, as part of my devotion time, and for work. My poor boys think I'm painting all the time and they're probably right.

After I graduated college, I worked in graphic design, did some illustration on the side and then we moved to China where we studied Mandarin Chinese. Then, I had my first born and felt like I lost myself. Life revolved around breastfeeding and it was a blur of eating, sleeping, and grappling with this new normal. Of course, I was totally in love with him, but I desperately needed to paint again. 

When I did start painting again, I promised myself I wasn't going to show anybody. It was what I call my artist Renaissance. I'd paint during nap time as part of my devotional time. My husband knew I was having a hard time and he would ask how my time went. I'd say, "Oh, I painted a watercolor devo," and that's where the name, "Watercolor Devo" came from. I reverted to watercolor because it's always been easy for me. I can walk away from a watercolor with something that I didn't have to tinker with for weeks and months. 

I would do this anyway, but I'm also trying to earn a living at the same time. 

[S]: What is it like trying to earn a living as an independent watercolor artist?



[A]: Well, I'm taking a trip to New York City to show my artwork as part of the Surtex Art & Design show. Originally, I wanted to just attend and scope it out because I've been trying to create an empire without having to deal with the stress associated with going to New York and showing my work. It's $3,000 just to be at the show. I'll have an entry level booth that a person can have for the first year. Everyone else has an 8'x10' booth which is a heck of a lot more work than what I wanted to do. My husband, Ryan, is very supportive but I still carry around this underlying notion that I don't need to [work as an artist] so why am I welcoming this stress into our lives even though I feel I need to do this.

[S]: How do you measure success?

[A]: Hmmm...To me, success would be doing less of what you don't like and doing more of what you love while having people resonate with what you're doing.

It's hard not to attach some sort of monetary goal because that seems to be the American way, but, success is influence - feeling reassured that what you do and who you are matter. And, that those two come together.

Paintings are a reflection of who I am even though I'm surprisingly detached once a piece is out of my hands, so to speak. But, when something I've created hits someone, that is very gratifying. I would call that success.

Really what will make someone successful, in the long run, doesn't have as much to do with talent as it does with doing all the other non-creative parts that people don't want to do. And so, if they've got that in them they'll probably make it.

[S]: How old are your kids?

My boys are 5 years & 6 years. My youngest is adopted from China which is why they're so close in age.

 In studio

In studio

[S]: Where are you from originally?

[A]: Peurto Rico though we moved to Washington D.C., Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Savannah GA for school, then back to Dallas and then China.

[S]: You mentioned your mom was also involved with prison ministry?

[A]: Yes, when my mother was growing up my grandfather was a conservative Pentecostal Pastor who would visit the prison in Peurto Rico. He was really good at seeing people no one else would.

Then, when I was in middle school we lived in Chicago and a traveling evangelist came to speak at our church. He was Peurto Rican so he and my mom had a lot to talk about. At one point he asked my mom if she happened to be one of Louis Alcea's children. She was! He said he had been in prison for "xyz" and that her father had visited him there and led him to the Lord. Years later, there he was speaking at my mom's church. She invited him to dinner which I don't remember, but this is the story my mother tells when people ask her why prison ministry is so important to her. 

At one point, my mother opened up her home as a halfway house for women though she doesn't host many women anymore. But, she still enjoys visiting and teaching in prison in Dallas, TX. 

[S]: What's your favorite color?

[A]: White.

[S]: Isn't that the lack of color?

[A]: It depends on how you look at it.

White makes everything better. Especially with watercolor people fill in the background with color, but when you have a white contrast it helps the eye rest and then it helps it bounce back into the color and appreciate it. Plus, white is happy. 

[S]: What's your favorite color to go on white?

[A]: Ah! I think I fall back on turquoise a lot. The day that turquoise isn't cool anymore is the day my work is going to suffer. I use Upper Pink and Peacock Blue when I'm really struggling, though Upper Pink is morphing into Vermillion Red these days. Vermillion Red isn't a bright blood red and not as bold as orange, but very neutral in-between.

The Pantone color of the year is Greenery. I'm really trying to like it. 

[S]: Do you have a favorite illustrator?

[A]: Mary Blair who's claim to fame is the concept work for Disney's Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan, Cinderella, and more.

When I was a kid, about five years old, I watched Alice in Wonderland every day. After my parents divorced we lived with my aunt and uncle for a while. My uncle still jokes that he's haunted by the song, "Painting the Roses Red," because he watched it with me so many times.

If I could be compared to someone I would love to be compared to her. 

[S]: What was your favorite part about living in China?

[A]: was very community oriented. We are much more independent in the States. And, I'm super independent, so its funny to hear myself say that. Most mornings, I would put my baby in my front pack and walk out across the street and buy my vegetables. I'd chat with the vegetable lady and the lady who would tell me I was picking the wrong ones and then there would be a crowd because everyone wants to know what the foreigner is buying and making. They would ask why I would want chicken breasts instead of dark meat or pork? I kind of miss that. 

[S]: How long were you there?

[A]: Four years.

[S]: Your son is adopted. Did you adopt him there or when you came back?

[A]: We started the process there, but had to start over once we returned to the States. We adopted from the Waiting Child Program which basically means that the children aren't 100% healthy, but it could be as minor as a missing finger. There was this long check-list, this horrible check-list, where you see all these medical conditions and you check "yes," "no," or "maybe." It was really hard to get through that and realize that these are real kids that you're saying no to.

We muscled through and checked a lot of "yeses" and "maybes" for a girl and at the end, decided that if there was a boy within a certain age range with a urological condition then maybe God had prepared us for that. Our biological son had just gone through surgery for a urological condition, so we figured we knew how to handle something like that. Sure enough, the profile we received as for a boy with a urological condition. I had dreamed of a girl, but once I saw his picture I couldn't say no. Then, it made sense. Yes. Two boys. The process took about two and a half years and felt like it took forever.  

[S]: So, The Apple Tree...tell me how you arrived at the artwork for this EP?

[A]: On the practical side, I pursued this project like I would any other. Working on "The Apple Tree" resonated with why I do the work stuff -the good part of business. And, I could sense your passion for this project which helped ignite ideas for the artwork. That combined with the backstory gave me a picture in my mind of what this needed to be. I saw that it needed to be a woman who was also a tree without looking like Medusa. And, it needed to be a little touching, but not too sentimental; approachable and something that a person (a woman, probably) would see and think this kind of feels like something I've felt before.

We tell stories because there's gonna be something in the story that is gonna feel like something. Once I heard Bridget's story, I could relate to her even though I've never been in a situation like hers.  

In terms of her story, I don't like to think about the power of words too much because I may be in trouble more often than I'd like, but it's remarkable to think about how words really do matter. 

Yes! Words really do matter. And, despite how those words were spoken in anger towards Bridget, Amarilys has created a beautiful visual representation of what it means to be "The Apple Tree."

I hope you are as excited as I am for this and other stories to be released into the world! Thank you, one and all.

Until then...