The Cultural Arts Alliance of Walton County has announced that Jenna Varney of Santa Rosa Beach will be this year's featured artist.

"Jenna is a rising star in the local arts scene, especially at the Foster Gallery, where she has won Special Exhibition, Best in Show and People's Choice awards," said CAA Executive Director Jennifer Steele. "Her talent, attention to detail, and generosity of spirit are remarkable, and we are honored to showcase her beautiful work."

Varney was also named Visit South Walton's 2018 Best Acrylic Artist of the Year.

Varney began painting at age 8 and by age 16 she was painting professionally.

"When I was younger, at about 6 months, my mother saw I had drawn a face so she always had crayons around, then signed me up for classes at age 8," said Varney.

Varney moved to Santa Rosa Beach six years ago from England where she and her military husband were stationed for five years.

"We had been looking to move closer to the base, but when I saw Santa Rosa Beach, I wanted to live here," said Varney.

The couple bought their first home here.

Varney describes her art as hyper realism -- like photo realism, but has life, she said.

She currently works in acrylics.

Winning as this year's featured artist is the first large award she has won, she said.

"It's pretty cool," said Varney. "It's a dream come true. People who win on the posters are the best, and to find out they picked me was very exciting."

Her work is in Foster Gallery, Crust, the Emerald Coast Association of Realtors building, and in a family restaurant in Bellport, New York.

Varney's artwork titled "Blue Oysters" will be the featured image on all ArtsQuest marketing materials for the festival.

"I feel I already owe so much to the CAA and now to be chosen as this year's featured artist at ArtsQuest is a truly humbling experience," she said. "ArtsQuest features the best fine artists in the area and to be among them is truly a great honor."

As ArtsQuest's featured artist, a solo invitational exhibit is on display at The Foster Gallery until May 6 featuring Varney's new Coastal Dune Lakes series.

Varney is a Long Island, New York, native who earned a bachelor's degree with honors from SUNY Farmingdale. She has traveled the world and cataloged her experiences on canvas. Her childhood memories of life on the Great South Bay resonate in her choice of subject matter. Zooming in on the smaller things of everyday coastal life, her style amplifies the natural beauty of each study.

The artist was recently commissioned to do a mural for First Watch in Destin and a MooLala mural at Baytowne. She has also done the Rosemary Beach Farmer's Market poster, and the artwork for the annual Rosemary Beach Trading Company's July 4th 2013 T-shirt. Her Pink Octopus mural can be seen at the Lilly Pulitzer Store at WaterColor.

The event, a Mother's Day weekend tradition, is scheduled for May 12 and 13 at Grand Boulevard and this year will be the 30th annual ArtsQuest.

The festival is part of Art Week South Walton, a collaboration of visual, performing, and literary arts events presented in diverse formats and venues during the month of May.

ArtsQuest will feature more than 130 other artists in various mediums, including ceramics, glass, oil, acrylics, photography, sculpture, metal and wood. The exhibiting artists from around the United States will compete for awards and cash prizes totaling $10,000.

The festival will also offer heritage art demonstrations, a CAA member artist exhibit, a Walton County student exhibit, continuous live music and entertainment, and "ImagiNation: Where Kids Rule." A cash bar will be available throughout the weekend in Grand Park.

The rain-or-shine event is open to the public, but a $5 admission donation is requested.

Visit artweeksouthwalton.com for more information.

ArtsQuest began as a small art show in the streets of Grayton Beach in 1989.

Cultural Arts Alliance of Walton County offers support, connection and access opportunities for all forms of art.

For more Information, visit CulturalArtsAlliance.com.