Nurse turns colleagues into works of art during pandemic

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Kelly Lee Blankenship has been a nurse for 13 years. she's a manager of accreditation and ISO for Piedmont Henry, Newton and Rockdale. .At home, Blankenship is a wife and mother. On Facebook she is the “Unsuspected Artist.”.She paints privately and during live events such as weddings, book releases and church services.She began drawing with her iPad to create inspiring pictures of front-liners. "I wanted to encourage them and spread joy."."This series helped me to show I care for the front-liners and appreciate everything they do," she said

No longer working at bedsides, her art helps her feel ‘like I was supporting those who are working so hard to fight COVID-19′

Kelly Lee Blankenship has been a nurse for 13 years. Born and raised in McDonough, she serves as manager of accreditation and ISO for Piedmont Henry, Newton and Rockdale.

She said she became a nurse because of her grandmother.

“My grandmother (Betty Jones) was a nurse at Henry General Hospital, now Piedmont Henry Hospital, since it opened. Honestly, I wanted to be like her. She has a deep desire to help and love others.”

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At home, Blankenship is a wife and mother. On Facebook she is known as the “Unsuspected Artist.”

Since the COVID-19 pandemic, she has created the “Front-liner Series,” digital illustrations inspired by Piedmont Henry team members who are fighting against the virus.

Blankenship recently sat down with Piedmont’s communications specialists to talk about her passion for art and what inspires her. They’ve shared that interview with us, and we’re sharing it with you.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic, nurse Kelly Blankenship has created the Front-liner Series, beautiful digital illustrations inspired by Piedmont Henry team members who are fighting against the virus.
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Since the COVID-19 pandemic, nurse Kelly Blankenship has created the Front-liner Series, beautiful digital illustrations inspired by Piedmont Henry team members who are fighting against the virus.

Credit: Photos courtesy of Kelly Blankenship

Credit: Photos courtesy of Kelly Blankenship

Q: How did you get started with your art?

A: I have always explored art in drawing and poetry since childhood. In 2016, it was spoken over me by a pastor that I am meant to be involved in worship through art. I started painting at home first. For several months, things kept lining up, so I ended up going to an art conference where I gained the confidence to paint live during worship. Ever since then, I have been painting both privately and during live events such as weddings, book release parties and church services.

Q: On your Facebook page, you call yourself the “Unsuspected Artist.” What do you mean by that?

A: I have never been talented at art. I have always enjoyed it but was never good enough to do anything with it. When I began painting through worship, I would look at what I created in complete wonder and amazement. It was truly “unsuspected” — hence the name Unsuspected Artist.

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Q: What inspired you to create illustrations for your Front-liner Series?

A: As a nurse, I felt the need to help during this crisis. I no longer work at the bedside and I felt helpless while my friends and co-workers on the front line were working so hard to get through it. I began drawing with my iPad to create inspiring pictures of front-line workers. I wanted to encourage them and spread joy.

Q: What’s the process? How do you go about creating a piece?

A: Some people were posting pictures of themselves or others wearing personal protective equipment (PPE). I took those pictures as a reference and digitally re-created them on my iPad. First, I trace the basic outline of the person’s face and features then begin to color and blend them in using different techniques. At the end of the painting, I wrote something that spoke to me about the painting.

Original artwork by nurse Kelly Blankenship.
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Original artwork by nurse Kelly Blankenship.

Credit: Photo courtesy of Kelly Blankenship

Credit: Photo courtesy of Kelly Blankenship

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Q: How does the therapeutic nature of your art compare to your caregiving background as a nurse?

A: This is a great question. As a nurse, I have an intrinsic instinct to care for others, especially when they are facing struggles or hurting. Even if I no longer work at the bedside, that instinct is still there. Painting (whether on a canvas or digitally) helps to fulfill that instinct. For this series I wanted to encourage front-liners and make them smile, which in turn helps me feel like I am contributing.

Q: What has been the reaction from the Piedmont team members you have immortalized in your work?

A: I had no idea that they would make the impact they did. A friend told me she noticed that the morale of her unit had changed, and she believed it was because of the paintings. I heard that some people were moved to tears. Several paintings have been shared many times on social media. I have been commissioned to do some digital paintings of other front-liners outside of Piedmont and even the state. These stories are very humbling to someone who is not a formally trained artist that just wants to spread joy.

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Q: Have you gotten personal satisfaction from doing this?

A: The series really helped me to feel like I was supporting those who are working so hard to fight COVID-19. Working in healthcare is one of the most demanding professions that a person can choose. Yet there is not typically glory — and rarely recognition. Organizations try to highlight the wonderful things that we do, but often the negatives are heard louder than the positives. As for most of us, we don’t do it for glory or recognition. We chose this profession because we want to help others and we care for those around us. This series helped me to show I care for the front-liners and appreciate everything they do.

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