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Everyday Greatness: Painting to Change the World

See how this mixed-media artist, who as a child was told she had no talent, is using her newfound gift to pay it forward.

Lynn Colwell in her studio; photo by Steve Colwell
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Who she is: Lynn Colwell is a mixed-media artist in Redmond, Washington. In grade school, a teach­er told her she had no artistic talent and Lynn believed her. Until 2015, that is, when she retired from a career in corporate communications. Looking to pursue a new interest, she took a year-long online painting class.

“It blew me away,” she says. She started painting striking portraits of women’s faces, combined with short messages of hope and empowerment. A new one almost every day. In five years, she’s completed about 1,000 paintings.

What she does: Lynn gives her paintings away. She started with friends, but that only went so far. Then she read about a movement called Art Abandonment, which encourages artists to leave their art in public places for anyone to pick up. That gave her the idea of putting her work into the hands of strangers through Facebook. All of it.


Why she does it: Lynn didn’t want to sell her art, but she wanted to feel she was making a difference in the world. She was interested in living simply, protecting the environment and giving back. Could my paintings inspire others? she wondered. What if she asked people to donate to their favorite nonprofit in exchange for one of her works?

How she does it: Nearly every day, Lynn posts a painting on her Facebook page. The first person who responds saying they’re interested has 24 hours to make a donation of $25 or more to their favorite nonprofit or an individual in need. Then the painting is theirs. Lynn doesn’t ask for proof. She trusts that the people who want her paintings share her ideals.

Five years later, she’s still amazed at the results. Her paintings have raised more than $57,000 for nonprofits such as animal rescue cen­ters, homeless shelters and food pantries as well as for people who have lost their jobs or been overwhelmed with medical bills. Sometimes Lynn hears that a painting helped someone at the moment they needed it most. “That gives me chills,” she says.

How you can do it: To be a part of Lynn Colwell’s art-for-a-cause effort, send her a friend request at facebook.com/lynncolwell. Then keep an eye out for a painting that speaks to you. Lynn personally approves each request, so she asks for your patience. Also, she spends most of her time in her art studio—there’s painting to be done. “I wake up every day and can’t wait to get started,” she says.

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