Local artist experiences success internationally

A daughter sitting with her father as he teaches her how to draw is the picture local artist Connie Reilly's life began with.

"When I was a child, my father was the artistic one," said Reilly, a Buford resident. "I have great memories of having quality time with him."

As Reilly grew older, different teachers encouraged her artwork along the way. It was in high school that she learned that she most enjoyed drawing people.

"I always gravitated towards people. I think it's the most beautiful thing you can ever paint. There is nothing more beautiful than that." Reilly said.

After high school, she continued to draw on the side and did a lot of independent study. She sold charcoal portraits at $35 apiece for the local high school. Soon, people from all over the United States, and eventually the world, commissioned her to paint portraits. Her portraits now start at $10,000.

Reilly went on to paint royalty and win awards. She has painted the Bahrain royal family. One of her paintings, "A Precious and Chosen Vessel," that depicts Mary was selected from more than 1,000 entries in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints 8th International Art Competition and will be on permanent display at one of their buildings in Salt Lake City.

Reilly's life and career took a turn in 2008 when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She was detected at an early stage and is now cancer free, but the cancer took a toll on her mentally as well as physically.

"I couldn't paint for quite awhile because of the event and what it does to your mind," Reilly said.

Her bout with breast cancer changed her direction in her art, and she is now moving toward paintings with a message. Her first painting after her battle was entitled "Gratitude." It depicts a 1800s girl in a garden, holding two baskets of fruits and vegetables, and looking up toward heaven with an expression of great gratitude.

"It's kind of like a thank you card to God. It took me some time to heal emotionally before I could actually paint. I thought I had faith before, but I learned I needed more. I thought I had compassion before, but I learned I needed more."

Her painting, "Gratitude," won first place at the Quinlan Visual Arts Center in Gainesville and is on display now at the Marietta Cob Museum of Art.

Reilly's new direction has led her to give back to the community. She founded the Southeastern Pastel Society and teaches adult art classes at the Johns Creek Art Center. She is also working on doing some children's books illustrations.

"Everything in life you learn can either beat you, or you can overcome it. I'm on the other side of things and grateful for every day."

That picture of a little girl by her father has since grown into a successful artist who has traveled the world, painted royalty, faced tragedy, and learned a lot out of life.