It’s three days before the Hogansville Hummingbird Festival and Melissa Howington is as busy as ever. There are snowmen and pumpkin door hangers to be painted and the time to do so is running out fast. This festival is her busiest time of the year, and it’s one of the things she most looks forward to.
“I work until midnight Friday night (the day before the festival),” Howington said. “I paint, paint, paint, work, work, work, and it’s not even all painting. It’s pricing and hanging and putting the hangers on and all the finishing work that I despise, so I put it off until the very last minute. We’re up there at midnight putting my tent [together]. I push it until the very last minute. My goal is to get as much as I can get in there. I feel like if I put a number on it, I’m limiting myself.”
Howington isn’t just an avid painter — she’s a painting fanatic. She said if she had it her way she would paint 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
It shows in her work, which includes animals, floral arrangements, nature scenes and much more.
“It’s my therapy. I have to get some kind of painting done,” she said. “[Even] a little bit or I feel like I’m going to explode. I feel like I have to get that creative energy out of me. My brain is going all day long, 90 to nothing, until I go to sleep. I want to create everything in the world. I want to do it all, but I can’t.”
Howington grew up in Hogansville and has never left. She jokes that she’s gone as far as LaGrange in her life, but has never really lived further than that from her hometown.
She’s married and has two kids, and she was proud to raise them in Hogansville.
“I love little hometowns. A lot of people say I’ve got to get out of this little town, it’s not the place for me, but I love it, and I have loved raising my kids here,” Howington said.
Her love for painting started about 29 years ago, around the time she married her husband Jeb, who works for the Troup County Fire Department. The couple almost always celebrates their anniversary during Hummingbird Festival weekend.
When he’s off work, Jeb helps his wife get ready for the paint parties she hosts at Flower Garden & Gifts by Debbie, where she borrows half the store for her paint parties.
“My goal would be to paint every day, but I end up doing a lot of cutting door hangers for paint parties. That consumes my life, the paint parties,” she said. “This is like my job, coming down here to do the paint parties, and [painting] is my passion.”
The parties are $40 apiece and often cater to big groups of friends. Howington lets each person pick the shape they want to paint and she cuts it out for them. During the fall, she hosts as many as eight paint parties a week.
“I could have 20 people in here all painting something different,” she said.
There are signs all around the shop, reminding people of the rules of the paint party. The biggest one — enjoy yourself.
“It’s just a door hanger, not a Monet. Have fun!” reads one. Another says “perfect is boring.”
“I [tell them] don’t worry about getting these lines perfect. I tell them throw and go,” she said. “Throw that paint on there and move on to the next section.”
About a year ago, she started working with a company out of Mississippi called Lucky Bird Clothing. They’ve taken some of her designs — such as her pigs and snowmen — and put them on pillows.
She also has booths at two stores, Blue Bell Home Décor and Gifts in Columbus and Southern Charms in LaGrange.
Her favorite painting, a 45-inch x 46-inch cow, is painted onto a dresser. She said everybody loves the cow, but up to this point nobody has been willing to pay the $350 asking price to take it home.
“Everybody and their brother loves him. They all want to take him home but they aren’t willing to pay the price on it, and I’m not willing to come down,” Howington said of the cow. “He’s my pride and joy and I will not budge on that price, so I’m going to hold onto him until I find the right person that would be willing to pay for it.”
If you ask the artist to describe her style, she has a difficult time just picking one. It’s easy to see why when you consider all the different subjects she paints.
“I love animals and you’ll see different styles of painting too,” she said. “It’s like I have a split personality as far as art because I can’t stick with just one style.”
She uses everything in her paintings too. She paints paint can lids and uses them in her pieces and any unused door hanger is painted and used for one of her booths or the Hummingbird Festival.
This year she only had one booth at the festival, but she hopes to have two booths next year. After the festival, she usually takes a vacation, just because of all the work she puts into getting ready.
“I love the people coming around. I love the people you haven’t seen in 25 years coming back because it’s like a high school reunion,” she said of Hummingbird.
“Then you get to hear people talk about your art work and buy it, and that makes you feel good. It’s that one-on-one connection. You don’t get that at home or just putting it in your booth, unless you’re working in your booth and people come by.”