STORY BY: MORGAN BYERLEY
PHOTOS BY: KATIE ALLEN
It’s still dark outside on the mornings Abi Brewer gets up to paint. Standing in front of the easel, she begins to work on the details of her newest painting while the opera Toska echoes throughout the studio. The sun begins to shine through the window and illuminates a woman with pastel flowers in her hair, inclining her ear as if listening to faraway music. A pale moth covers the woman’s eyes creating an aura of mystery and magic. “Lady of the Woods” is one of Brewer’s newest paintings and encapsulates her colorful and imaginative style.
For Brewer, a Junior majoring in Art and International Studies, being creative has always been part of her life. Abi began taking dance lessons at the age of four and decided at ten that she wanted to fully commit to being a professional. Dancing twelve hours a day forced her to take online classes and her entire life revolved around her passion for dance. She considers herself a perfectionist and recognizes the parallels between dance and painting.
“I love the elegance and storytelling of dance,” Brewer said. “In painting, I have an eye for older things and romanticized fairytales which is a major theme in ballet.” Her dance career may have ended, but she still retains the elegant posture and fluidlike motions of a ballerina.
Even though Brewer had never shown an interest in painting, her dad surprised her with a paint set for her 17th birthday. At first painting was just another creative hobby, but soon she began selling some of her paintings as a small business.
“It’s funny because a lot of my commissions are of places, but in my personal work I don’t do a lot of places” Brewer said. As a student at the University of Alabama, Brewer often found herself painting landmarks around the campus. “Almost 80% of my commissions when I first started out were of sorority houses. I just hoped that slowly what people wanted became what I wanted to be painting.”
As the business slowly grew, she began marketing herself on social media and opened an Etsy shop to reach new audiences. However, the true growth began after her first pop up event at House Plant Collective in Tuscaloosa. She then began taking her art to local farmer markets and art shows which allowed her to better understand her customers and audience.
“I felt like I could connect to the community better and people could place a face to the name,” she said. “They knew I was an actual person.”
A painting can take Brewer anywhere from a couple hours to several days depending on the size and difficulty of the painting. To start a painting, she often already has an idea in her mind but will do research before she gets started. For example, in her recent painting “Tears of the Moon”, she researched flowers that bloom at night so she could include them in the painting.
Brewer also considers herself a mixed media artist and combines elements such as oil paint, resin, and gold leaf into one of her paintings. Her paintings range from colorful butterflies to intricate fashion paintings that use actual fabric.
“I call myself a mixed media artist because I don’t stick to one niche. It’s been a criticism in the past, but I can’t work like that. I have my fashion illustrations that are a very distinct illustrative style but then my oil paintings are trying to touch on realism and are influenced by French Rococo and pre-Raphaelite style,” Brewer said.
She also recognizes her Chinese heritage as a source of inspiration. She grew up visiting China to see family and enjoys watching Chinese dramas with her mom. During the pandemic, her mom began making masks from Asian fabrics. This inspired Brewer to incorporate the intricate fabric into fashion illustrations that emulate Chinese Hanfu fashion. From flowy silk dresses to embroidered gold designs, Hanfu is traditional clothing that hails from the Han dynasty.
“Many people say my painting is influenced by my Asian heritage, which it is, but it’s where the two meet. I am an American but am also very connected to my Chinese heritage,” Brewer said. As she spoke, she lightly touched one of her purple earrings made by a friend who is an artist. She lives in a world of art, and fashion is an extension of her creativity.
Brewer dreams of one day opening an art gallery where she can share art with more people. Maybe in New Orleans or Asheville, NC she imagines herself surrounded by an art loving community. Her art hanging alongside other artists will inspire others to be more imaginative and creative in their everyday life.
“All of art, at least to me, is portraying a feeling or moment in time,” Brewer said. And so, with the grace of a dancer and mind of a creative, Brewer continues to paint.