Unless you’re an oil painter, you may not know that on Earth Day each year Gamblin Oil Paints releases a limited-edition paint color by the name of Torrit Grey. Intriguingly the company makes the unique oil paint color from the actual dust particles collected in the filters at its manufacturing plant after a year of production.

Torrit Grey happens to be a favorite paint color of gifted Cherokee County artist Kristina Laurendi Havens. Kristina often uses that color choice to tone down a common feature of her art—bright color. The gritty grey color takes the edge off bright hues a little like dust does to a rug. “The addition of Torrit Grey turns out to be the perfect foil to one of the characteristics of my painting,” explains the artist. “I love color—maybe too much at times.” Havens is personally much like her art: vibrant and upbeat with shades of strength and grit.

Havens accepted a commission for a set of sixteen portraits of saints for Our Lady of the Mountains Roman Catholic Church in Jasper, Georgia, about four miles north of the Cherokee County line. From the hands of Havens, the personality of each saint leaps off the canvas with depth and emotion, bringing a new complexity to each. Havens says, “I truly hope that these paintings will provide a small measure of comfort to those who need it when they look into the eyes of the saints and gaze upon my interpretation of their likeness.” It’s mesmerizing how the portraits bridge the centuries to bring familiarity to our generation.

In 2017 Northside Cherokee Hospital in Canton unveiled its new state-of-the-art hospital building. The hospital commissioned Havens to create six paintings. Each reflects a scene from Cherokee County and the extended local community.

Havens says, “The paintings represent the community, home, and vibrancy through colorful themes.” Havens believes that much healing comes from within, and beautiful art can help accelerate the process. She is thrilled that the hospital chose to invest in works of art by local artists. It’s a unique way to assist patients in recovery.

Northside Hospital chose to display Havens’s paintings in the cafeteria. One day in February, Sarah Lenz was eating a sandwich at a table underneath the painting of the Burger Bus. When asked how the paintings made her feel, the Woodstock resident responded, “I’m here visiting a sick family member, so I am stressed out, but these pictures are bright and cheerful. They remind me that outside the hospital, life is carrying on with happier times.” Sarah added, “I particularly love the perfectly blue skies in the paintings. They remind me good times will come again.”

Havens’s artwork is not just for patients. Elise Torney, a nurse who works at Northside Cherokee, also enjoys Havens’ work regularly. “The original art livens up what would traditionally be a very sterile space,” Elise says. “The scenes evoke a thought of pleasant days gone by, which is the kind of distraction we need when faced with health concerns.” Healthcare workers, patients, and loved ones all find a brief escape through the beauty of Havens’s paintings.

Havens’s home studio is as exhilarating as her artwork. The aroma of oil paint permeates the senses while brushes, pencils, and well-loved palettes patiently wait to transform blank canvases into masterpieces.

Artist Kristina Laurendi Havens in her home studio. Photo Credit: Nathan Fowler/Mileshko

It’s been said that “Not everyone who can do can teach, and not everyone who can teach can do.” Kristina Havens clearly rises above this label. Cheryl Ruffer, a resident of BridgeMill in Canton, is a testament to the fact that Havens can both do and teach successfully.

Cheryl has been a student of Havens’s for more than five years and has been commissioned to create pieces and also sold her artwork on the market. Cheryl explains that each class is an intimate group of four to six people and lasts about three hours. Cheryl has found kinship with Havens and the other students and recognizes that one of the fundamental functions of the class is to keep all students committed to consistent progress on their painting. Cheryl enjoys the attention Havens gives each student. “As a teacher one of her greatest traits is her encouragement. Kristina Havens meets people at the level where they are and challenges each to push forward.”

Despite all the work Havens has done portraying local scenes and long-departed saints, her primary subject matter remains live models. She enjoys the challenge of capturing a living, breathing person. Havens points out that there are subtle changes to a subject during a session because of a model shifting, lighting changes, or deviations following a break, so allowances for these variations are required, keeping an artist engaged. On her Etsy shop where Havens sells custom portraits, figure drawings, and original art, she says, “Whether I’m painting portraits or drawing from a live model, the human figure is a never-ending source of inspiration.”

Kristina Laurendi Havens is a bold, colorful soul balanced with a touch of Torrit Grey. She is one of Cherokee County’s vibrant treasures.