It’s always a challenge for emerging artists to find places to show their work. They hope to get their art displayed where it can be seen by lots of people so that someone will decide to buy a piece to take home. Local artist A.J. Rodgers recently found a high profile way to show his art directly to the people who are most interested in what goes into homes. The Home Builders Association of Fayetteville (HBAF) sponsored the 2010 Parade of Homes Art Contest in a first-ever partnership with The Arts Council of Fayetteville/Cumberland County. The marriage of the two agencies has given Rodgers the opportunity to have his painting used promotionally for the 2010 Parade of Homes and placed on the cover of the tour’s guide magazine. Calvin Mills, the arts services coordinator at the Arts Council, said this year’s contest promotes the creation of art as a profession and not simply a hobby. “It’s showcasing to the whole community that the business sector supports and recognizes the value of art,” Mills said. The contest provided financial awards to the top three winners – Rodgers; Brandi Neighbors, second Place; and Edwina Clark, third Place. Natalie Woodbury, HBAF executive officer, said all of the 15 contest submissions were great, but Rodgers’ watercolor titled “Welcome Home” stood out because of its realism, coloring and reproducible quality. “It was the most realistic to reproduce and welcoming. It was a house that our builders build,” Woodbury said. Rodgers, 67, said he selected different features from houses he photographed to create the one that became the winner. He said he believes it’s the colors and perspective of the home from the street that gives the painting an edge. A Fayetteville native, Rodgers started coloring with crayons in the first grade, but he really began to work diligently with painting after retiring from work at the commissary warehouse at Fort Bragg in 1999. He had spent 17 years in Civil Service and two years in the U.S. Army. “I’m basically a self-taught artist,” he said. His training amounted to high school art, a correspondence course and countless hours of studying about the arts and artists, past and present, in the library. Early on, he worked with oil paints, but now he mainly uses charcoal, pen and watercolors. “For me it was a very slow process. It took me a very long time for my work to evolve to what it is now,” he said. He particularly enjoys painting portraits, landscapes, historical pictures, seascapes, animals and regional-related paintings. While “Welcome Home” was created in his studio, Rodgers said he relishes living the scene by painting on location. “When you work on location, you get kind of an atmosphere. The colors are more vibrant; the colors are more true. When you work in different types of weather, you get the feel of the actual. It produces better work. My work is much freer. It seems like the picture has more depth; it has more feeling than otherwise,” he said. Brandi Neighbors, 32, said her second place-winning oil on linen, also called “Welcome Home,” evokes the feeling she experiences when she arrives at her house and sees her front door. The interesting angle, she said, draws the viewer past the shadowed birdhouse and to the entryway. Neighbors hasn’t always felt comfortable with her artistic endeavors. She grew up in Fayetteville and began an animation program at the North Carolina School of Commercial Art in Raleigh, but left to go to work full time, eventually returning to school to earn a Bachelor of Science degree in commercial art. Neighbors currently teaches at the college level and is working on her masters degree in fine arts, which she expects to have by the end of the year. “I feel like even this past semester I’ve grown so much and I’m excited to see where I am in 2012,” she said. Edwina Clark, 69, painted the third place-winning “Beauty in Bermuda” in watercolors on clayboard, a surface with which she had been experimenting. On a trip to Bermuda about five years ago, she became fascinated with the multi-colored houses and how the white rooftops peeked out above lush foliage. The roofs have grooves for the rainwater to wash down and the houses are pastels in pink, blue or yellow. Clark took photographs and later painted the view of the tops of the houses behind the tropical greenery. This year, she took the painting off her hallway wall and entered it in the contest along with two others. “I didn’t think it would win because it wasn’t a local house,” she said. Born in Charlotte, Clark wasn’t interested in art as a child and doesn’t remember her first experience with it, but she’s been painting for about 30 years. She recalls taking acrylic painting classes and having a knack for it, but her favorite types of art are watercolors and framed batiks. As a military wife Clark moved around quite a bit, frequently having to leave behind friends and jobs in order to support her husband’s career. She said art became the constant in her life, providing her with a reliable outlet each time she was uprooted.