Grayton Beach artist Andy Saczynski said he was shocked when he received the call last week from the Cultural Arts Association informing him that his work had been selected out of 13 applicants to represent Walton County for the coming year.

Walton County Tourist Development Council Executive Director Dawn Moliterno made the announcement Tuesday at the TDC's annual luncheon that Saczynski is the new Artist of the Year.

As Artist of the Year, Saczynski's work will be featured in the TDC's advertising and marketing campaigns promoting the area and in its public places.

The TDC and CAA began partnering in the Artist of the Year program in 2003. One artist is featured annually. Last year's featured artist was jewelry artist Allison Craft, who traveled to New York City and presented her pearls on leather to dignitaries there as goodwill gifts in promoting the area. Saczynski will have the opportunity to do the same.

CAA Executive Director Jennifer Steele said a panel of reviewers on a selection committee felt Saczynski distinguished himself by his work with the American Heart Association, Mattie Kelly Arts Foundation, and other organizations.

"He is a folk artist," said Steele, "who uses recycled and reusable items he finds in South Walton in creating his artwork. He uses acrylics, wood, metal, copper and even musical instruments to turn junk into funk and that is what stood out."

Saczynski says he has been an artist all his life, or at least since third grade when he was constantly doodling and drawing cartoon characters. He began taking it seriously during his senior year of high school. He won a fine art scholarship to Okaloosa-Walton Community College and studied there for two years. Four years ago he began looking at art as a career. He credits another Artist of the Year, Allison Wickey, in being instrumental in encouraging Saczynski to pursue his dreams.

"Doodling and drawing has always been fun for me," he said. "It's pretty neat doing what I love to do."

Born in England, the son of a career Air Force man, Saczynski has lived in South Carolina and Maryland before moving to Bluewater Bay at age 7. He now lives in Miramar Beach with his wife, Lori, and their children.

Saczynski said he applied for the Artist of the Year honor several years ago, but doesn't believe his skill set was yet fully developed at that time to garner the win.

The artist believes his painting technique helped set him apart.

"I smear the paint on the surface with my flip flop, then used a plastic spoon to smear the trees in my painting of Western Lake," he said. "I do a lot of those. I just see things in a different way, like with my use of all reclaimed wood and broken objects.

He said his work is an eclectic mix of raw inspiration and creativity inspired by the great outdoors.

"I was in shock when I got the call. The amount of incredibly talented artists who applied ," he said. "It's an honor; an accomplishment I have dreamed of having.

Saczynski's studio gallery opened in April in Grayton Beach in Mystic Porte next to Hurricane Oyster Bar, where he sorts through a collection of items his friends consider to be junk and donate to his creative endeavor.

"Seeing something that's been tossed aside is inspiring to me. I use what someone else might consider trash and turn it into art. A lot of that comes from the way I grew up. We were given a lot of freedom and exposure to unique antiques," he said. "Music is a big inspiration. I take instruments apart and use different pieces. I am learning to play bass guitar and my art progresses along with it."

Saczynski's gallery is open Tuesday through Saturday. For more information call 850-502-0072, email, or visit online.