This article appears in the June edition of 400 Life Magazine.
Andy Burt grew up painting, creating small works of art for his friends and even taking art classes in high school despite never seeing his art as a career path.
He attributes his love for the craft to his mom, who he said was his first and greatest inspiration.
“I thought everybody grew up with an easel in their house,” Burt said. “I thought that was a normal thing to walk down the hallway and there be an easel there because my mom always had one out, painting.”
She was, he remembers, an incredibly gifted artist, and he recognized he had that same gift. But as he grew, graduated from high school and began looking forward to his career, he slowly started to use his gift less and less.
At the time, he did not see being an artist as a true career path. Much like many of his peers, he felt his path had to be a traditional one. He pictured himself in a 9-5 job, getting married, having kids and driving a station wagon. He did not have a plan to continue with his passions, and as a result, they got away from him.
One day as he redecorated his kid’s room, however, he decided to paint a mural on the wall. He painted for the first time in years, and suddenly remembered just how much he loved it. That planted a seed in his mind that eventually grew into much more.
After nearly 30 years of working and raising kids, Burt found the inspiration and strength through his faith and loved ones to switch careers and follow his passion. Now, he works full time as the owner of The Wall Nut, his solo business where he has the chance to hand paint wall murals for businesses and schools throughout metro Atlanta.
Burt created The Wall Nut in 2014 just a few years after rediscovering his passion for painting. He said he was not looking to start a new career. He had been working in insurance for nearly 30 years at the time, and while he felt something was missing, he was happy with his job and company.
When he first started, he wanted to start getting out and painting again.
During a difficult time in his life, he said his therapist had asked him what he felt passionate about and what he enjoyed doing outside of spending time with his family. In the moment, he had no idea how to answer the question. He enjoyed painting, but he also had not painted in a long time.
“I knew I had a God-given gift to paint and be creative, and I really wasn’t using it,” he said.
After that, he started going to an oil painting class taught by Rick Rennick, an art instructor with the Cumming Parks and Recreation Department. Once he started painting again, he didn’t stop. It encouraged him to start painting more and more, and he realized through his faith that he could use this gift to help his community.
“Once God lit a fire under me, I realized this is what I should be doing,” Burt said. “I had less worry about it knowing that I really felt like I was doing what I was supposed to.”
That is why when Tracey Smith, the principal at Mashburn Elementary School at the time, approached him about painting a mural at the school, he didn’t hesitate to say yes. He loved the opportunity to come to the school and paint for kids in the community.
He donated that mural, and then once word got out about his work, principals from other schools started reaching out to him. He even started getting requests from schools outside of Forsyth County.
One day, he painted a mural in DeKalb County, and then once that principal moved to a school in Atlanta, he began painting there. Through word-of-mouth and sharing his work on social media, the requests from both schools and businesses began to snowball, and eventually, they also began to pay him for the hours he was spending on ladders, painting works of art on their walls when he could.
He started spending less and less time working in insurance before leaving that career entirely. Burt was surprised to find at some point he could support him and his family on his art alone, which is how he was able to eventually start The Wall Nut.
“It’s been a real blessing,” Burt said. “I’m finding this second career — this new joy through my passion. And it has been amazing.”
Burt described these days as the happiest of his life. He not only loves painting, but he loves painting for kids who usually also love seeing him work. While he usually doesn’t like painting in front of others, he said elementary students are the best audience.
He always tries to work during the day when he knows kids will be passing by so he can hear them as they walk by. They always shout, ‘You’re the greatest painter!’ and ‘This is so amazing!’ And he hopes that at least one of the kids walking by in the crowd will be inspired to find their own creativity, whether that is painting or some other outlet like writing or design.
While beginning this new career, Burt also sought to inspire others with his art through volunteer work. He continues to donate murals and paintings to the community and nonprofits when he can, and one of his favorite organizations to work with is Sunshine on a Ranney Day, which helps to give dream room makeovers to children with long-term illnesses or injuries.
He remembers one painting he worked on for more than 80 hours for a girl in Gainesville who was born with a rare physical disorder. The nonprofit was working to build a therapy room for her above the garage in her family’s home, and she asked for the room to have a jungle theme.
Burt spent many weeks at the home, painting trees, monkeys and birds, creating the perfect jungle for the little girl to enjoy. Now, he said he still keeps in touch with her and her family.
“Given this gift, I need to share it with others …. To help them bring joy to a kid’s face, whether they’re in school or, in this case, they have an illness or an accident has happened, [I want to] be able to give it back to them and hopefully bring some joy and happiness to their lives through my gift of painting,” Burt said.
Through this work with different nonprofits and his new career doing what he loves in his community, Burt said he feels blessed and overwhelmingly happy to have taken the leap of faith he needed to get to this point in his life.
Now, he realizes the biggest lesson he can leave with the people in his life is “it is never too late to follow your dreams or follow your passion.”
He said nothing else has ever been more satisfying or rewarding for him.
“I don’t think I could have done it without listening to my faith,” Burt said. “People may call it different things. For me, it’s my Christian faith, but for some people, it might be a pull or that gut instinct …. That voice inside my head, I finally listened to it, and I’m so glad I did. Because life is short. I’m in the best place I’ve ever been in my life.”