BY GINNA PARSONS
NEW ALBANY – Mackenzi McKinney has been practicing art since she was old enough to hold a crayon in her hand. In those early years, her favorite subject to draw was horses – lots and lots of horses.
“I still draw horses today,” said the 28-year-old artist. “I do pet portraits. I paint them from photographs – animals won't stay still long. I paint dogs, cats, horses, birds – really just about any animal people want a portrait of.”
And that's not all she does. McKinney also teaches children's art lessons, she decorates people's homes and she gives new life to old, damaged furniture.
“I do a lot of shopping in salvage stores,” she said “I'm not above taking things out of the trash and picking up pieces off the side of the road.”
When McKinney gets hold of these salvaged pieces – such as dressers, desks, sideboards, stools and doors – she paints them bold colors or trendy colors or funky colors or a combination of all three. She's been known to attach small mirrors the size of dimes to the drawers of a desk, to paint black and white polka dots on a dresser and to trim a hall mirror with feather boas.
If you don't believe this, you can see it all for yourself at her shop, Creation Station in downtown New Albany.
McKinney got into the damaged-antique-turned-art pieces four or five years ago, when she started decorating her home. She has no formal art training.
“People would come to my house and want to buy all my furniture and the paintings on my walls,” she said. “Then people started calling me and wanting me to do murals, faux finishes and furniture painting in their homes.”
So then she became an interior decorator of sorts.
“I'd go into a new house being built,” she said. “I'd go into the bedroom and paint the walls, do a glaze and a mural, then I'd make the drapes for the windows and pillows for the bed and a cushion for a window seat.”
In one home in New Albany, she laid ceramic tile, did a faux plaster finish on a bathroom wall, tiled a kitchen countertop and backsplash, painted murals and paintings, laid a brick floor, made curtains and stained glass windows and hand-painted three pieces of furniture.
“If I had to use a house as my portfolio, that would be the one,” she said, shaking her head.
As much as McKinney enjoys going into people's homes and transforming the walls and floors, the work wasn't touching her creative genius quite enough. So she decided to teach art lessons.
“I started doing them at my house and it grew and grew,” she said. “My husband, Matt, said, Look. If this is your dream, I think you need to open our own shop.' That's what I'd always wanted to do. Once I knew he was backing me, I went for it.”
In March, McKinney opened Creation Station on Railroad Avenue. On Mondays and Thursdays she teaches art lessons; the shop is open to retail customers Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. The rest of the week she leaves open to do custom murals and faux finishes in people's homes.
Best job in the world
When asked what her favorite part of her job was, McKinney had a hard time narrowing her interests to one thing.
“The kids in my art classes – that's one of my favorite parts,” said the mother of two. “Kids love what we do, even the simplest things. They love art. I'm so glad they know art has a place in their lives. Maybe one day they'll get to like the theater because they were exposed to art.”
But painting also holds a special place for her.
“When I get home in the evenings, I'm looking for something to paint,” she said, giggling. “When I lay in bed at night, I think, Do I need to go shopping for antiques tomorrow?' Can you beat that job?”
She tries to name her most favorite part again, but she can't.
“Pet portraits, shopping for antiques, doing stained glass and furniture painting – you give me those and some meat and water and I could live the rest of my life content.”
And as far as using her art to make a living … well, maybe she can and maybe she can't. But it really doesn't matter, because art is what she's going to do with her life anyway.
“I would rather love what I do and be broke as a joke than be rolling in the money and hate my job,” she said. “That would be pure misery.”