LAKE CHARLES, LA (KPLC) - Erin Barker was a highlight artist at this year's Spring Art Walk and recently named Louisiana's artist of the year.
She's also using her talents to make a difference.
When she isn't in the studio working on her next piece, she's teaching art.
Erin spends time each week with Ana, a 15-year-old who lives with Aspergers, an autism spectrum disorder that often affects language and behavioral development in children.
A few years ago, while Ana's parents were looking to find some extracurricular activities for their daughter, they found Erin.
"Erin has really helped her with being able to express herself and has helped her with her confidence level," Ana's mom, Penny Seneca, said.
Ana and Erin have been working together for a few years now, and Ana can still describe specific lessons with Erin from her first year.
Ana's mother said Erin incorporates her school work into their art lessons, which she said, has helped Ana in school.
"Her handwriting is a whole lot better than it used to be," her mother said. "She writes smaller now instead of big and small and all over the place."
Ana said art gives her a place to express herself. When she is feeling happy, or even frustrated, she can show it in her pictures.
Erin said working with Ana is rewarding in a number of ways. She described Ana's humor and clever thinking. She even credited Ana to helping improve her own work.
"Ana has a way different perspective than anybody I teach," Erin said. "She actually opens my mind when I'm making paintings. She'll say, 'Why don't you do it this way?' After I drop her off I think, 'that's actually a good idea and I'll add it to my paintings.' "
Just as much as Ana's life has changed, Erin said she is better because of Ana.