When Stephanie Kirkland picked up a paintbrush for the first time, she didn’t want to put it down.


Like many young adults, Stephanie Kirkland knew what her strengths were when she started college at the University of Alabama. A childhood full of writing stories and creating illustrations for them laid the foundation for her college studies in English and art. But it wasn’t until she tried to sign up for a photography class and instead had to enroll in drawing that she discovered a world of art she couldn’t leave—a land of brushstrokes, colors and canvas. “Initially, I thought I wanted to take a photography class in college, but in order to take that, you had to take drawing as a prerequisite,” Stephanie says. “I loved that so much, but ended up never taking photography. I took painting instead. I absolutely fell in love with painting.”

During her sophomore year, Stephanie logged countless hours in the studio, often losing track of time and working on paintings late into the night. What started as taking one class just to be able to take photography turned into a second class, in painting. And Stephanie wasn’t satisfied with simply minoring in art; she soon decided to pursue a double major.

But after college, she put her art on hold and took a teaching job at a high school in rural Alabama. “I was working about 80-hour weeks,” she says. “I had no time to paint that year. That was sort of a wakeup call for me. It was extremely stressful, and obviously, no one needs to be working that much. I felt like something was missing.”

Painting became her stress reliever and creative outlet, even though her time for it was limited. Two years ago, however, Stephanie started prioritizing it again. The more she painted, the more she wanted to keep painting. That’s when she knew she needed a change.

Now, Stephanie works in communications—which appeals to her “writing brain,” she says—and does art part-time. It’s often how she starts her day. “I love painting in the morning,” she says. “I just find that really refreshing, and on the weekends. It doesn’t feel like work.”

Stephanie is preparing for her second year as an exhibitor in the annual Bluff Park Art Show, set for Saturday, Oct. 5 this year. “The quality of the artists is fantastic,” she says. “It’s really an honor to be in the show. The Bluff Park-Hoover community is really supportive of local artists, and I’m excited to be able to participate again.” The area is also conducive to Stephanie’s outdoor adventures. Moss Rock Preserve is one of her favorite places to hike and gather inspiration.

She paints mostly with acrylics, which dry quickly and allow for layering and texture, she says, adding, “They fit really well with my style.” Color and texture are the main elements of her abstracts and landscapes. “The outdoors come into my paintings a lot,” she says. And remember that photography class she skipped in college? It hasn’t stopped her from capturing her travels and then using the photographs for artistic inspiration. “I take a ton of photos when I travel,” she says. “Most of my landscapes are based loosely on a photograph because usually it is a very specific place. But when I’m thinking about colors to include—cool or warm, muted or bright—those decisions are more based on memory.”

She also draws inspiration from what she calls emotional pieces of art, such as a sad song or a movie with a powerful ending. “I never really understood that attraction until I started painting,” she admits. “I think art has a really unique way of capturing human experience in general at that deep emotional level. Like brush strokes that seem very of-the-moment … My style has those concepts. I have those at the back of my mind whenever I’m painting, of capturing feelings and not just visual replicas.”

Shows like the Bluff Park Art Show give Stephanie and other artists a place to display their work for people to see in person. “You can do your absolute best to photograph it, but there is nothing like seeing a piece of art in person,” she says. “It just has a different feel to it. It’s a more immersive and quality experience.” In addition, collectors can talk to artists face-to-face. “I just love meeting people who are interested in art and getting feedback. To talk to people in person about your work is invaluable. I could talk about art for days, and it’s fun to meet other people who are as excited about it as I am.”

Stephanie will exhibit a mixture of her paintings, including a new collection inspired by her travels to Provence, France, which she calls “one of the most beautiful places on the planet.” For a preview of Stephanie’s work before the show, visit Stephaniekirklandart.com. You can follow her on Instagram and Facebook @stephaniekirklandart.