It was five years ago that Cynthia Huston made her art debut after decades of secretly painting. She was a student under Charleston artist Laurie Meyer, who encouraged her to participate in a student art show. With her pieces in hand, she unveiled her work after decades in the dark.
“I was so nervous to even bring my work out for people to see,” she remembers. “It was something I kind of kept hidden. I would do a painting and hide it in my closet. I never thought of myself as an artist.”
But that evening she sold two paintings, one of a sunset over a marsh and another of a house from Old Village Mount Pleasant. Fast-forward to today and Huston is a full-time painter who recently participated in the juried Piccolo Spoleto Art Show and has also just been juried into a national online show by the American Impressionists Society.
“I guess I’ve come a long way from being scared to go to a small student art show to being able to jury into these big shows,” she says. “I have realized God gives us gifts that he doesn’t want us to keep in the closet and hide from people, especially if it brings joy to others.”
Huston grew up in Atlanta but was introduced to the beauty of South Carolina during her years at Clemson University. During a summer lifeguarding in Charleston, she fell in love. However, it would be years before she would make the move and call it her home.
“I think it’s just the Lowcountry in general,” she says. “Everywhere you drive it’s beautiful. You’re always crossing water and marshes, and the wildlife—it’s beautiful. It makes me want to paint!”
Huston graduated with a degree in math with an emphasis in computer science. She worked in telecommunications on the engineering side before shifting to sales, but she also worked at an art gallery in Washington, D.C., as an outlet for her love for art. She has been painting since middle school, taking classes and growing her skills in oil painting. Whenever she moved to a new city, she would find a new art teacher to continue taking classes with, but very quietly, very covertly.
It wasn’t until she was in her 40s that Huston realized that art was her real calling in life. She started having children and left her fast-paced job in sales to teach Latin at Palmetto Christian Academy—but when a position to teach art opened up, she took it. It was through teaching, she says, that she became a better artist.
Since taking that first step to reveal her paintings to the world at that fateful student art show, Huston is now a full-time oil painter. She stays busy with figurative commissions as well as landscapes, cityscapes and wildlife. Her entry into commission work came when she sold a painting of a little boy with a bunny to a friend from high school; a photo of the painting was then posted by an influencer. Suddenly, Huston’s inbox was overflowing with requests.
“I love working with clients and helping them get what they want,” she says. “I look at it as a collaboration.”
These days, Huston gets up in the morning and paints from her home studio, where she has stunning views of the marshes around Horlbeck Creek. Other times she takes her tools to Shem Creek to watch the shrimp boats or see what wildlife greets her that day, or she joins groups of artists in the Old Village of Mount Pleasant to paint. But that’s not to say that her years of math have disappeared; it’s something she uses to help her paint. When she works on a portrait, what she considers one of the hardest things to paint, she sees it as a mathematical puzzle to solve—an “artistic equation.”
After many acts in her life, it’s in this one that she’s the happiest. “This is the first time ever that I love what I do,” Huston says. “I look forward every morning to going up to my studio and getting to work. I feel so blessed to be able to say that; it just took me a long time to get there.”
Christiana Lilly is a freelance journalist in Pompano Beach, Florida. See more of her work spanning the arts, community news and social justice at christianalilly.com.