We pay prices for civilization. One is that specialization has extracted creativity from so many lives.

To this continent’s original inhabitants, arts and artisanship were part and parcel of daily life. Cultural ideals and influences were expressed in pottery, blankets, carvings and instruments. In contrast our concept of art – something apart from everyday life – was alien.

Some of us rediscover creative genes in our down time away from our professions. Its enrichment is as inescapable as that DNA.

“My grandmother supplemented her income with painting and in her later life that was her income. She was a china painter who lived in Georgia, Florida and Alabama,” Phyllis Henson said.

Kevin Lee profiles artist Phyllis Henson, whose “Fred’s Mule” won the Hazel Harris Smith Memorial Award for Best Graphic Arts at WGAS’ Spring 2014 exhibition.

Kevin Lee profiles artist Phyllis Henson, whose “Fred’s Mule” won the Hazel Harris Smith Memorial Award for Best Graphic Arts at WGAS’ Spring 2014 exhibition.

Henson attributes that forbear for her own yen to express herself visually. The retired Mobile County Public School System employee spends at least two hours a day chasing her muse with a brush in hand.

“You can just kind of get involved in it, concentrate on it and everything else takes a back seat,” Henson said.

Like that aforementioned grandmother, Henson and her family hailed from other quarters of the Southeast, but Mobile isn’t entirely different for her. It reminds her of old haunts.

“I’m from Savannah and my husband is from Charleston so we’ve got all the coastal towns covered by now,” Henson laughed.

When the Hensons relocated to Mobile in 1976, she put her business degree to work during the day but her off hours were spent perfecting other loves. She signed up for art classes to refine something she’d always done on her own.

“Back then I was working mainly in oils and pen and ink,” Henson said.

Her day job kept her from exploring too many other mediums as time was precious. But the classes had an immediate impact.

“I did see something with different values of color, how many different shades of color there are,” Henson said. “I was unaware I had not been fully utilizing that.”

Other classes helped build fundamental understanding – “drawing is the basis of everything; if you can’t do that you can’t paint effectively” – and opened other avenues. Watercolor caught her fancy before she took a break from art for a period.

“About six years ago, I got into it more seriously,” Henson said. “The hardest part is finding the balance between the paint and the water, how the paint reacts to the paint and the water. In the other mediums, you just put the paint down and in watercolor you use the water to thin the color.”

She credits time under William Nolen-Schmidt and his wife Michelle as being instrumental. She also listed Lynn Weeks, Mary Rodning and Bill Morris as prime forces on her.

Henson ventured further, joining the Mobile Art Association in hopes of making connections and learning from fellow members. Before long, she was nominated then approved to join the Watercolor and Graphic Arts Society.

Her diligence was further recognized when she picked up a Best of Show at the Watercolor and Graphic Arts Society Members’ Exhibition at Mobile Arts Council in June 2012. At WGAS’ Spring 2014 exhibition Henson’s “Fred’s Mule” won the Hazel Harris Smith Memorial Award for Best Graphic Arts.

There’s still other forms Henson is eager to learn. Some are more familiar than others.

“I took Sumi-e but never had time to develop it,” Henson said. “In Sumi-e you put the paint down once and that’s it. To me it’s one of the most unappreciated forms of art because people just understand how difficult it is.”

There’s also a bigger leap that that has vexed more artists than Henson. It takes a perspective with which she’s still coming to grips.

“I’ve never done any abstract, I’ve been reading on it because I want to understand it,” Henson said. “There has to be a method and a theory behind it. It’s hard to switch from realism to abstract.”

It’s easy for her to find the reasons to push onward. It’s not the awards but something inside.

“It’s fulfilling to see your results,” Henson said.

That and she’s got her genes to follow.