Painting of hands holding blue waterThe Lord has continued to bless us this year, and we are so excited to announce that one way in which He has done so is through a donation from local artist, Whitney Winkler! We sat down with her to talk about what the process was like as she made the piece, what inspired it and how art has an impact in her daily life.  

This interview has been edited for clarity. 

So Whitney, how did you get into painting in the first place? 

I have three kids, and they’re a big reason that I’m a painter. They are 10, 7, and 5, and at one point they were 5, 2, and 0, and it was crazy town. I started painting when my second born was an infant.  

I’ve always been a creative outlet person. Before kids, that actually looked like songwriting for me. I come from a pretty musical, bluegrass family from the Midwest. My mom writes folk songs, my Dad plays the banjo, and my brother plays the guitar. I knew that I am most alive when I am processing my world, emotions, and thoughts through creativity.  

When you’re that sleep deprived, writing a song just seems crushing so there wasn’t that outlet anymore. I started painting at like 11 o’clock at night. I’d use watercolor, just like a mindless medium, and I’d paint while we watched shows to wind down before the baby would wake up again.  

I started to sell my work, and selling it to my friends. When my youngest was 1, that’s when I decided “I’m going to give this a go,” and I worked from home. 

It just grew and grew. Now I’m a full-time working artist, and I’m opening a new store on Broad and Hollywood. It’s a studio/store combo. It’s just wild. 

What generally inspires your work? 

I’m really inspired by new life, hope. I’m working on botanical bouquets series right now, and most of my work is pretty bright and hopeful and in general, that’s just who I am. Not in the sense that I don’t understand or feel sorrow, I feel like I’m always drawn to see the glass full, and sometimes to a fault.  

I’m just really inspired by pushing back darkness through my art and finding ways that art can be exponential. It doesn’t just have to be something beautiful on a wall. It can continue to impact a community and be something to find joy in on a mundane day.  

I’m fascinated by how art brings people together, and what I really want to do in my new store is to host workshops and elevate other people’s voices. I think art has a lot of lanes that are just so helpful. 

When our mobilization director, Catherine, came to you about this piece, had you heard of World Relief before? 

Yes. I had supported in the past financially and gone to some of your events, so I just knew that when Catherine approached me I would have to be a part of it. Art is the way that I know I can serve the community, just like anyone else with their skills. I just feel like that’s a way to give. And sometimes for me that looks like giving a percentage back, sometimes it looks like getting the artwork and letting you have free reign. 

So then, what inspired this piece, and tell us a little bit about how you arrived at the hands cupping water. 

Catherine gave me a little bit of direction about what you guys would like to use, such as the hands for the logo. So with that and the colors, I had a good direction to go off of and not to stray too far from the brand that it already has. I like the challenge of fitting something into a brand.  

She initially approached me because I do hand gesture art already, and then we talked about kind of a “go team” type gesture with hands, and then we talked about the cupping the hands. Both of them you could make correlate, but I just felt like that kind of embodied what you guys do.  

When I had the blue to work with, I could see water, and that’s the most basic human element of life. I know [World Relief Memphis] advocates for way more than just basic needs, but that’s a start. I liked the concept of water, advocacy, and relief. I just wanted it to feel refreshing like a sigh of relief, so that’s kind of why I did the drips of water coming down. It captures all of those words, but also the element of stepping in on behalf of someone and helping them.  

What was the process like for you when you started making the print? 

I sketched out the hands, and they ended up looking strong. Sometimes I like to paint hands looking more delicate, but I was debating whether I wanted the hands to look that masculine. But as I read over the [World Relief] website and the vision, that core faith, absolutely got all of us: weakness, strength, but I think ultimately the overarching foundation of your mission is that we’re walking in this calling because of God’s calling to our lives to lay down our lives.  

I like the symbol of the hands being strong and safe, but also it doesn’t have to be God’s hands. It could be a representation of them, His safety, but I went with the strong hand.  

As far as the drips go, I painted watercolor, and the drips, I wouldn’t say that they were a mistake, but I didn’t plan for it to be dripping. So, I think a lot of the process took me by surprise. Just the way the hands came out and the way the water was dripping through. Both of those were not things that I set out to do. It just made sense.  

Did you ever think you would have to start over then? 

No, that’s how I work all the time actually. I’m a very loose painter, and I don’t paint delicately or intricately, so, I’m pretty used to my medium leading me, rather than the other way around. With the blue I was like “Yeah, this is it.” I imagined someone cupping water, so thirsty, and it just felt really real to have the water come through your hands.  

How long did the whole process take you? 

I don’t start a painting until I feel like I have an understanding. So, I was on the phone back and forth with Catherine, making sure I had the concept for about a week, and I did the painting in a day. I think I did have a few versions of hands before I landed on the one.  

Did you have an idea of how you wanted the print to be used? 

Stickers was the initial concept, but I think once you have that art you can really run with it and hopefully raise a lot of money with one piece of art. I feel like things that are beautiful speak to our generation, things that are crafted and carefully done speak to our generation. So, I feel like that is needed in the non-profit world.  

Did your faith impact this project at all? 

Absolutely! Ever since art has become a career for me, I had always wanted that to be a part of it. Like I said earlier—I think if Christians can serve in the lane that they’re already in it could do so much.  

 I’ve grown confident to be a Christian in every vocation, and I just try to paint from a place of redemption and hope.  

Last year, I was able to give to 5 or 6 organizations, and, if I have control over my business, I want it to be a large percentage of giving, as much as I can. This to me was a no-brainer because it just keeps on giving to an organization I care about. It really can be the same as writing a check in some ways, so, it’s an outflow of something I believe in, and I feel like I’m always looking for those opportunities in our city.  

I would encourage believers to serve organizations like World Relief in whatever gifting or day job they have that gives them (World Relief) a different skillset than they have. A graphic designer could donate time, for example, and then organizations like World Relief could invest in other areas. 

Out of all of this, then, what would you have to say others who are just hearing about refugees and immigrants or are hesitant to get involved? 

Start somewhere. Like I said before, start in an area that feels already in line with your gifting and your time. I think a lot of time people can get paralyzed by that I-don’t-have-every-Tuesday-and-Thursday or whatever it is. That fear holds you back from doing anything, and I relate with it.  

I feel like even just talking about it to your own communities, maybe over dinner. Personally, I can live my whole life in Memphis without ever encountering an immigrant, so I feel like we have to talk about it because they really are in the shadows.  

We are so thankful for Whitney and the beautiful piece she donated to us, and we cannot wait to share it with you all! If you want to learn more about her work, head to her website or follow her on Instagram @whitneywinkler_art.  

If you want to donate a portion of your time like she suggested, fill out a volunteer application today, and we’ll see how we can get you connected to the community. Together, we’ll welcome our newest neighbors to Memphis.