By Elizabeth Sturgeon
Photos by Kathryn Bell
Step into Art & Soul off Shades Crest Road, and you’re met with a gallery wall of potential on the right. Ships are deep at sea, and sunsets are vibrant with melty warmth. Dancers and animals and hazy landscapes all cluster together and draw the eyes of those who want to paint them.
To the left, owner Amy Anderson already has a candle lit. The wall is clear and calm to counter her inspiration wall with a peaceful ambiance. Towards the back, she has her own used book library of nature, sports and other images, and even further back is what remains from kids’ art camps and after school classes. Only months into opening her new space, Amy has already found the right rhythm.
On one of the bleakest, coldest days in January 2021, Amy came to the space in Bluff Park, right down from Mr. P’s, and saw her dream come to life – her own studio to teach art to all ages and levels. She signed the lease that month and, 10 days later, held her first class in the space.
Today Amy offers a wide range of different classes at Art & Soul, including open studio nights, one-on-one private lessons, after-school art, and more subject- or medium-specific workshops. “Everyone has a different taste and style, and I don’t mind giving people freedom,” Amy says. Hence the wall of different subjects, sizes and textures. She allows her students to pick what they’re interested in painting, and she helps them work toward the finished product. “No matter who you are or what age you are, you can connect with something on the wall,” she says.
As she develops her different classes, Amy brings a lifelong love of painting and a diverse range of different art and teaching experience. She remembers her early fascination with adding water and color onto a page, and she’s continued to pursue art in whatever way she can, even when it didn’t always intertwine with her career.
While a student at UAB she studied psychology and then spent a number of years working in substance abuse prevention. Amy would speak to children and community groups about substance abuse, truancy, bullying and other topics. “That’s when I started to get good at public speaking and feeling confident to pursue my dream.”
Then in 2015 she decided to quit her full-time position to teach art, working with grants through Dothan’s Cultural Arts Center that took her all over the area. Amy would bring supplies and work with area elementary schools, or hold adult watercolor lessons during the day, or go to the Diversion Center, a juvenile safe house facility, where she taught teenage girls.
She also picked up every other teaching gig she could find to become a full-time freelance art teacher, and she was inspired by the way art affected people, especially working in groups. “Art is a bonding thing,” Amy says. “For me, I want the social part – I want to do art with other people and encourage other people. It’s something where you need feedback, or encouragement.”
In 2019, Amy and her family – she was then pregnant with her second son – moved to Bluff Park, and she began to connect to the art community here. She held art classes at Wild Roast Café and also turned her basement kitchenette into a small studio for private lessons. 2019 also marks when Amy defined her own painting style and built her body of work.
Her abstract blooms, as Amy calls them, are blooming petals that intertwine and pass through each other. “I love creating the transparent petals and wondering which petal is on top,” she says. She works with acrylic paints and gloss on wood and sticks to a high-contrast “romantic and vintage” color palette – rosy pinks and purples or, for her “moody blooms,” deep and varying blues.
Amy paints natural imagery – more blooms, trees, fish – in watercolor, too. She brings a loose and abstract look to these as well, and many of her students want to paint pieces in this style. In all of her classes, she focuses on what her students want to paint or what they want to hang in their home.
As pupils gather in her space, Amy is inspired by the confidence children show. “They’re brave when it comes to art,” Amy says. She sees they are not afraid to pull an idea from their imagination and recreate it on paper, and she likes to expose them to all kinds of mediums – pastels, charcoal, splatter paint, tie dye, sometimes clay. Amy has room to cover the wall in butcher paper and let them work at a big scale, and she likes to teach them about murals too. (She’s worked on quite a few herself over the years.)
In her week-long spring break workshop for kids in the spring, she really saw all of this come to life in the new studio. Amy had students who wanted to try every new medium, and others who always wanted to stick with a canvas and their own ideas. “Some just know exactly what they want to do, and they’ve been waiting for the moment to do it,” Amy says.
The type of classes Art & Soul offers is evolving as it grows, but it will always incorporate the balance of independence and guidance, of loving your finished product and enjoying the experience, for all her artists. Amy’s psychology background really comes into play in the ways she sees painting and creating as a therapeutic practice.
With small class sizes and one-on-one attention, Amy provides students with all the tools they need to create something beautiful. “All you have to do is start – don’t wait until you have the perfect idea,” she says. “You’ll get in the flow and you’ll find that inspiration.” And with the inspiration comes a burst of creative energy and a peace in the process of creating something of your own.
It’s all in the name, Amy says. Art runs deep in who and how we are. “It’s soul stuff. Art and soul – those things are inseparable.”
Art & Soul is located at 807 Shades Crest Road. Learn more at artsoulbluffpark.com or call 205-502-4133.
Growing up, Amy remembers watching Bob Ross with her family. “I was enamored with the peacefulness – Bob is so Zen and happy,” she says. There’s no denying that the Bob Ross spirit is strong throughout Art & Soul, plus the influence of the artists in her family, like both her grandfathers. She remembers seeing the enjoyment they got from art and their attention to color, texture and detail. Don’t be surprised if you see a Bob Ross Night on her schedule soon!
Art & Community
Amy hopes to take art outside of her walls this fall through something called Art Club, a club for community art service projects. Back when she worked with Dothan’s Cultural Art Center, Amy remembers bringing water bottles to school art classes that didn’t even have a sink in the room. She wants to locate other needs in Birmingham-area communities and find ways to share art and positivity – however that takes shape.