Celeste McCann is a freelance artist living in Metairie, Louisiana who began fully pursuing her passion in the wake of tragedy. Her portraits portray the rich culture of Louisiana using acrylic paints on canvas, re-purposed wood, slate and rocks.
McCann said her creative talents began to flourish during her childhood, citing her parents as an important creative influence. While they aren’t artists themselves, they helped McCann develop her creativity. Her father is a civil engineer by trade and her mother is a registered nurse who would often take McCann and her six siblings out in nature to collect various natural objects and create art projects with them.
“We did so many projects together involving collecting seashells on the beach, seed pods from magnolias, melting down Mardi Gras Beads. Always watching my mother garden participated in helping my creativity soar,” said McCann.
To develop her creative talents, McCann participated in creative outlets during her childhood, whether it be through school art classes or extracurriculars. During her senior year in 1977, McCann participated in a school art exhibit. She recalled a woman from the crowd sought her out to purchase one of her paintings but her mother loved the painting so much, she wanted to keep it.
“Always in the back of my mind, I wondered what would have happened if I had sold it.” She also did various creative jobs, like making sand art in jars and fully decorating and designing Mardi Gras floats and costumes for two years, all while maintaining a full-time job.
However, McCann wasn’t always sure her artistic talent could lend itself to a stable career.
“When I was in high school, my older sisters new exactly what they wanted to pursue in college, so I felt the pressure to try and find a career path,” said McCann.
She first wanted to study art therapy, but wasn’t able to find a reasonable location to pursue it. “I reluctantly attended Delgado Community College in Commercial Art until I could zero in on what I wanted to do.” She supplemented her art courses with many business and accounting courses, which she said definitely helped along the way. After completing two years, companies began offering her jobs to design letterheads and business cards. “It was quite fun, but it didn’t pay very well at the time. And the thought of being an artist didn’t even enter my mind at this point,” said McCann.
It was when McCann found a job working for Robert F. DeCastro Inc., a wholesale picture framing supplier, that she felt she’d finally found her niche. McCann said, “I met many, many people, artist, business people and other suppliers. It was a fantastic experience.” While this experience solidified her desire to create art for a living, it wasn’t something that took off immediately. Her husband, Pat McCann, said, “Celeste has always been very artistic, but wasn’t able to pursue it while our kids were young. They just wasn’t enough time in the day, so painting took a back seat for quite some time.”
When Hurricane Katrina hit, it took McCann’s father’s restaurant and also her job along with it. They decided McCann would be a stay at home mom for a while until the future became more clear. It was during this time when McCann started painting and renting booths at her local elementary school’s craft fair. Pat McCann said, “She sold quite a few items. She was so excited that we made the decision that she would pursue her dream of being a professional artist. We haven’t looked back since.”
The process was a double effort. Pat McCann said, “Since Celeste paints on re-purposed materials, I’ve taken the lead on cutting and assembling her pieces prior to her painting. We have a running joke that I don’t want her using any of my power tools since it’s kind of hard to paint with no fingers.” Pat McCann also helps his wife with the manual labor when setting up tents or stalls for local art fairs.
McCann has developed a unique art style of her own through her time creating. McCann said, “It just came naturally. I’ve always been able to jot a quick line or two to get an idea across.” As an artist, she finds artists who influence her style in one way or another. Those artists are the ones you see around Jackson Square in New Orleans displaying their art in the French Quarter. “I love observing the many different styles of artwork out there, whether it’s blown glass, painting, working with wood, or fine art. Every day is a resource to an artist’s mind,” said McCann.
Two things that are prominent in McCann’s works are Louisiana culture and her faith. McCann cited her mother as her biggest influence for her love of New Orleans culture. McCann said, “She would bring us to the French Quarter to see the art at Jackson Square and the artist painting them, all the while explaining our local history to us.”
One of McCann’s friends and neighbors Carol Lorio said, “I think Mrs. McCann’s clear, clean and visually inspiring topics are relatable to most people, especially a native of New Orleans. She has truly captured New Orleans culture.”
McCann said she was originally worried she wasn’t good enough to paint professional. “I was saying little prayers, asking for guidance, since I was putting so much time into my paintings. Then I realized, God gave me this talent and I should dedicate each one to Him as a prayer of thanks.” McCann signs each of her paintings with the words “With Gratitude” as a sign of gratitude for her talents.
Since beginning her career as an artist professionally she’s begun freelancing her creations to customers. “My work can be found at many art markets and gift shops around the New Orleans area. I put new works on Facebook which generates interest and often sales. I list the different markets I’ll be participating in so I can be found easily.”
McCann knows firsthand that painting can be difficult to build a sustainable career. For those looking to pursue art as a career, McCann said, “My advice would be to paint as often as you can. The more you paint, the better you get, and the more comfortable you feel with your medium.” McCann said connections are invaluable in this field. “Be confident when expressing your work. Your customers will be confident in turn. But put yourself out there, whether it’s through business cards or over social media. Put your work out there.” -30-