The 254

Devin Watlington

By Jen Naylor Gesick

Art with Heart

Mart native and Baylor grad, Devin Watlington is trying to bring a little light to the world through her art. The professional artist is creating and sharing on Instagram inspiring portraits of people on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic, and many are her friends.
She works as a contract muralist with two different mural companies in Austin and was about to start with a third when “social distancing” entered the collective vocabulary. All her jobs were postponed indefinitely or outright canceled.

So she was hunkered down at her parents’ house near Waco in late March, trying to figure out how she could possibly help people while adhering to the stay-at-home order.

She thought about how much time she was spending on her phone and Instagram now and how much scary news she was seeing. “So I thought people need to have something to lighten up their feed,” Watlington said.

The best place to start? With dogs, of course. She used the only art supplies she had — her iPad, Apple Pencil and the Procreate app and began sharing a new digital dog portrait daily. It was about then when she received a message about creating pieces to thank those on the front lines working to ensure the rest of us stay healthy, safe and fed.

The message from a co-founder of Listenly, a digital platform based in Austin that promotes emotional health through listening, asked Watlington to be part of their “Hold the Line” campaign to not only show support for those workers, but also to let them know the company is offering free listening sessions if they need to talk about things they are going through. Watlington quickly agreed.

She reached out to one of her best friends from college who is a nurse and asked her for a picture of her working with the protective gear on. When Watlington saw it, she said it inspired her and made her think about Shepard Fairey, the artist who created the iconic Obama Hope image.

Watlington draws the person in Procreate from the photo she is looking at, and then she adds elements related to that person’s job or the news of the day.
It was only supposed to be one piece for the campaign, but Watlington knew she wanted to keep going. She started getting photos from other friends and family members in the medical field, firefighters, EMTs and even her childhood best friend who works at H-E-B. She also depicted Dr. Tim Martindale, her “favorite doctor” and primary care physician since she was a child. He tested positive for COVID-19, and published a daily diary of his experience fighting it.

Her mom suggested that since she knows so many essential workers, she should do a whole series and have an art show after this is all over.

“The most special thing about this series is that I do know everybody I have done a portrait of,” Watlington said. “It’s kind of my way of telling them thank you for everything they have done and that I do notice the work they do.”

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