Elegant pearls were strung across her neck, high heels on her feet. Anne Corhern can still visualize her kindergarten teacher—and how she painted her teacher in the first piece of her art she can recall. Throughout her childhood, art was her form of communication, turning a blank page into something more with each detail.

“Watercolor is almost like a language. It’s just how it flows out of me,” Anne says. “People ask me, and I don’t know if I could teach it.” Rich colors warm the thick white paper she uses for her paintings. Although watercolor often delivers a light and (wouldn’t you guess) a watery effect, Anne’s work diverges from that standard.

Pulling one sketchbook from her collection, she flips through the pages of her studies on space. She uses watercolor to paint the deepest, darkly vast skies that are spotted and textured with stars. Whites in the galaxies are soft, yet they blend into a pigmented black-blue beautifully.

Churches and houses fill many of her commissioned paintings, so it makes sense that she has architectural background with the precision in every edge. “I missed my art. But I like the analytical side of science, and architecture let me meld everything together,” she says of her architecture career. After graduating from Mississippi State and working for a few years, her husband’s job eventually moved them to Fairhope, which rekindled her love for drawing and painting.

“Look at all these people who get to paint,” Anne remembers thinking as she was surrounded by galleries. Maybe she could do a more than just paint churches as wedding presents for friends. So, she put time into art with classes and supplies, even while still managing the last of her architecture exams and being a mom.

In her den, the heart of her Vestavia Hills home, she paints on her easel, fenced in by the streaming natural light from the door to her backyard. Her children know not to play with her good supplies, so she instead helps her almost-3-year-old son Christopher with his own Elmo watercolor set. And while her newly rekindled art career is taking off, she’s not missing an extra hour at the pool or a school field trip to catch the perfect lighting for her work space.

For her, it’s passion and an escape, an outlet more than a business. It’s starting to have more of a life of its own, she says, but she want it to emerge organically. After showcasing work in her first show at Trinity United Methodist’s Art in the Lot two summers ago, Anne still feels new to the field. She might consider it a hobby, yet she pours in energy and detail into every commission and every idea.

“I struggle with the legitimacy of defining myself as an artist. If someone asked me what I do, I’m a stay-at-home mom, and I was an architect before that,” she explains. “To come out and say ‘artist’ has a vulnerability.” Of course, her 6-year-old daughter Rebecca unwaveringly calls her mom an artist when someone asks though.

However she defines her artwork in her life, Anne finds much beauty in it. With a kind of mystery, painting contains feeling that cannot be explained with only words. She has a story behind every piece, both those her friends own and commissioned art from people she’s never met before. Some are more personal, especially the paintings that she creates to surprise other people, knowing it’s the perfect gift to give.

She points to one photo of her best friend Elizabeth’s parents when they were traveling. When Elizabeth’s dad passed away from prostate cancer, Anne knew she’d have to paint this photo of the couple who had become her second set of parents since their seventh-grade friendship blossomed. “It was a way for me to express my love for all the years, all the meals, all the times I was picked up and the welcoming additional family they were,” she says.

Faces brightened with laughter, the couple sits on brick steps leaned in towards each other. She painted the photo realistically—a scene lacking flashing color but filled instead with blacks, greys and blues. Yet you can still almost hear the laughter and experience the joy preserved in the image. “It’s how I think of our Sunday nights,” she says. Her watercolor captures that moment and speaks for itself: “There was nothing I could do, but it was the one thing I could do.”

About that Technique

If you’ve ever dabbled with watercolor, you know it takes control, patience and layer after layer of paint or ink wash. Anne was first introduced to the medium by a plein air watercolor painter Wyatt Waters in her hometown of Clinton, Mississippi. With that in combination with her art classes at Ole Miss, she created her technique: shadows first. Before any lighter colors, Anne puts in her darkest colors first, setting up the richness of how the paint looks on paper. “That helps me see the piece in my head.”