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Art: It's a Living

Featured Photo from Art: It's a Living

Elizabeth St. Hilaire is one of our community’s most accomplished full-time, professional fine artists – a gig that’s tough to land and one that takes profound creativity to keep

For as long as she can remember, Elizabeth St. Hilaire has found a sense of self-worth in art.
“I have memories of being excited about art class from elementary school,” Elizabeth says. “Art always gave me my self-confidence. When the art teacher would hold up my work and say, ‘I’m going to put this in the hallway,’ and kids would say, ‘You drew that?’ it made me feel so good about myself.”

The Longwood resident, 48, is now a full-time working artist – and a very successful one, at that.

Elizabeth’s specialty is mixed-media collage, which she also refers to as paper paintings. Her artwork incorporates torn bits of hand-painted paper, along with acrylic paint and other materials. Reproductions of her art can be found on all sorts of home products at Pier 1 Imports, Tuesday Morning, HomeGoods, and other stores. Her original art can also be found at the Grand Bohemian Gallery in Orlando and other fine art galleries. Elizabeth is also a popular art instructor, not just locally but across the United States and other countries including Greece and Italy.

“All I ever wanted to do was to be a full-time fine artist,” says Elizabeth, a native of western Massachusetts.

However, her parents were apprehensive about her career goal, and even Elizabeth knew she would face challenges along the way. So, she majored in advertising design, with a fine arts emphasis, to make herself more marketable. After graduating from Syracuse University in 1990, Elizabeth soon realized she lacked something that was becoming increasingly important in the job market – computer skills.

Elizabeth worked odd jobs for three long years before landing a job designing grocery store ads. That’s when she gave herself a crash course in computers to acquire those in-demand technical skills. Later, she worked for printing companies and marketing agencies and then began a career as a freelance graphic designer.

The early days of her freelance business dovetailed with the births of her two children. Daughter Emilie Nelson is now a dance student at Marymount Manhattan College, and son Connor Nelson is a junior at Lyman High School.

Juggling work and motherhood, especially when Emilie and Connor were toddlers, left little time for Elizabeth to create her own art. But, with a nudge from her mother-in-law, Elizabeth carved out some time for herself. She enrolled in classes at the Maitland Art Center, which reignited her passion for drawing and painting. Soon, she was winning awards. After building her body of work, Elizabeth contacted the Grand Bohemian Gallery, which agreed to represent her.

“That was a big deal for me, because that took me into other galleries,” Elizabeth says.

These days, though, she is her own best salesperson.

“During the 20-plus years that I spent doing graphic design, I learned how to sell products for other people,” says Elizabeth, who is now using all that accumulated knowledge to sell her own creations. “I sell way more work on my own online than I do with galleries because I’m a social media expert. I spend more time marketing my work than I do making it.”

Visual art is not Elizabeth’s only creative outlet, though. She also plays violin with the Maitland Symphony Orchestra and is a blogger for GrowingBolder.com. And, she is the author of several how-to art books. Her most recent, Painted Paper Art Workshop, was published by North Light Books last year. She will be teaching a three-hour workshop on January 14 at Sam Flax in Orlando and a three-day workshop from January 20 to 22 at Lakeside Inn in Mount Dora. Elizabeth will also demonstrate her techniques for the Sanford Seminole Art Association at the group’s January 28 meeting, which is free to attend, at the library branch in downtown Sanford. 

Elizabeth admits there came a time during those three years of odd jobs when she considered giving up on fine art and settling for another career. Instead, she hung in there.

“One thing I’ve learned over the years is, you just have to persevere,” Elizabeth says. “I think that’s been the secret to my success – I don’t give up. And, I’m always trying new things.”

To learn more about Elizabeth’s art and workshops, go to PaperPaintings.com or                                                           Facebook.com/PaperPaintingsCollageArtwork.

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