Stephanie McWhirter’s Training Comes from the Heart

Peoria, Illinois nurse and artist Stephanie McWhirter with her sketch pad

By Amanda Stoll / Photography by Craig Stocks

With no studio and no formal art education, Stephanie McWhirter uses what she feels in her heart to direct her pencil.  She’s making her work more public now, after years of keeping it very personal.

Stephanie grew up on a farm just outside of Peoria, near Tanner’s Apple Orchard. Her father was a farmer, and her mother was always busy with the seven kids. As a child, she spent a lot of time playing the piano and drawing.

“It just seemed like so many cool things were done with the hands,” Stephanie said. “I could make beautiful music with my hands when I was little, so I played music for a long time.”

Along with her continued drawing hobby, her work as a nurse in the OSF St. Francis Medical Center Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU) is dependent on what she can do with her hands. Consequently, much of her art reflects her appreciation for hands.

She has no formal art training and no formal studio, working on her art where she is most at home— curled up on the couch in her living room, surrounded by her 3 kids and their 3 dogs.

She works mostly in black and white, keeping to the basic pencil, paper, eraser equation, but occasionally works color into her drawings. She began drawing at a young age, when a pencil and paper were some of her only options for supplies, as well as one of the few things to do.

“You can make something look like it’s almost alive with just a pencil, a piece of paper and an eraser,” Stephanie said. “That’s really all I had [growing up], so that’s what I draw with.”

Sometimes she takes her art to work with her, sitting quietly by the babies’ bedsides and drawing. She began working at OSF after attending nursing school there, and has since worked there for 6 years. It’s rewarding and exhausting, both emotionally and physically. She channels those emotions into her art to help her cope with them.

“I really had a hard time finding where to put those [feelings] when the babies would die or when they would go home and you don’t see them anymore,” she said. “I can take out those emotions sometimes when I get stuck when I’m drawing, and I can remember what I felt.”

As she often tells her kids, it’s necessary to unload some of those emotions before they become overwhelming. Comparing it to a sack that gets fuller and fuller, she said you need to take those emotions out and deal with them before your sack “blows up.”

Her faith plays a large role in her work, and her life as a whole. At work, she prays with parents, families and patients on a daily basis to help them with the struggles they are going through.

“Faith plays a part in everything I do, absolutely,” Stephanie said. “I know where my source for everything comes from, and that is absolutely through my faith and through Christ.”

Maybe soon her faith will start to show in her art as well, but because it’s still new for her to share it with people, those things haven’t come out on paper quite yet.

“I believe it’s a gift, but it’s also very personal,” she said. “It makes me a little nervous sometimes when people look at it… its like a part of you that you put on paper.”

She has many pieces that she keeps to herself, and many that she only shares with her family and close friends, but keep an eye out for Stephanie on the local art scene as she breaks out to show the rest of the world her drawings.

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About Craig

I have a passion to create, and I'm fascinated with the tools and technologies of creativity. My process is to interpret the scene through a combination of camera position, light and post-processing to present my unique vision and share the emotion I feel.