Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Patricia Zannie, Collage Artist, Tells Her Story

I’ve been in love with color since I held my first crayon. Over 75yrs later, I’m still using crayons in my “fauvist-like” mixed media collages, using colorful strips of pattern, origami/papers from around the world, and contemporary magazine images to make imaginary landscapes. I use the waxy transparency of crayons to cover the “white” edge of cut papers, blending them into a smooth transition, making the composition look more like a painting rather than a collage.

Tissue PapeLandscape

Early on, I was influenced by the “Modern” compositional ideas of Cezanne, who flattened the picture plane, discovered warm colors advance and cool colors recede, and fostered the scientific concept of “binocular” vision - with the focal point at the position of the viewer and NOT at the horizon line, the reverse of what is taught in traditional Western “perspective”.  I am mesmerized by the Fauvist colors used by Matisse, his use of multiple patterns and his combination of both two-and-three-dimensional components in the same artwork. 

But, like so many other artists, my career path diverged after college and I got a “day job” while continuing to create artwork, taking Fine Art Classes in the evenings.  I watched American Rebel Artists in New York City transition into Pop Art, Abstract Expressionism and Modern Art. 

Winter Scene
Inspired by Robert Rauschenberg’s concepts of expanded boundaries, I experimented with incorporating a wide range of techniques and materials into my artwork, using wax, fibers, feathers, beads and found objects. Like Rauschenberg, I incorporated “found” images, including prints and images from magazine and books. Like both Rauchenberg and Andy Warhol, I rebel against the esthetics and precedents of a traditional “Western Classical” approach to Art.

Cluster Of Cactus

Fortunately for me, I had the opportunity to visit several cities in Japan, studying elements of Zen design as found in the Ukiyo-e woodblock prints from the 17th - 19th centuries, as well as Japanese techniques for papermaking, marbling, book binding and painting with stone.  The same way many of the Japanese Zen design concepts influenced Post Impressionists such as Van Gogh and Toulouse Lautrec, they influence my work and I continue to pass them on to my students over the past nineteen years.

October Landscape
I got the opportunity to quit my job and became a full time artist. I went back to school and got a Fine Arts degree in Design and started teaching at the college where I attained my degree and joined several art galleries to exhibit and sell my artwork.

 In the Woods No. 6

Although working in a representational format, I flatten my picture plane, often using a “worm’s eye-view” with the focal point at the viewer and incorporate intricate pattern.  I also use both two-and-three-dimensional elements in the same picture. I use bold, saturated colors and rely on my use of color to establish the concept of depth of field.

I paint with paper, using pieces of colored paper, handmade or printed from around the world. I compose intuitively, without any drawing or “real” image as a reference. I rely on some basic geometric diagonal shapes for composition and strip in vertical patterns for trees. Then I use inks, oil pastels, and crayons on top of the pieces of paper to draw realistic details and use the crayons to integrate all the divergent pieces into a comprehensive “rational” landscape.

Garden Path
My goal is to draw the viewer into the artwork by using pattern to flatten the picture plane, while at the same time, using color to provide a realistic illusion of perspective, or depth of field.  Thus, by presenting both two-and-three-dimensional elements in the same artwork, the viewer’s mind is captured by the intrigue and he or she realizes that it is both contrary to past Western precedents but is in keeping with the “reality” of our scientifically accurate binocular vision. 

Deep in the Woods
I love the “faux” aspect of making up my fantasy landscapes - it’s like making a puzzle of thousands of pieces without the picture on the top of the box. Each line I cut is part of the composition’s design. I use small pieces of paper and drawing to present realistic details. I truly enjoy watching viewers stand, figuring out how I incorporate both two-and-three-dimensions into the same landscape and still have it “look real.”

This is Week 37 of Artists Tell Their Stories. Thank you for reading and sharing Patricia's story today. To connect with Patricia and see more of her work, please visit the following links:

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Jennifer S. Jones, Digital Storyteller, Tells Her Story

Truth will come from story. A friend once shared this wisdom and as I have navigated the twists and turns of my life as an artist, his words always come back to me: “Truth will come from story.”
Appalachia Vista

I will never forget the day I learned the true power of story. I was standing in a double-wide trailer in the panhandle of southern Virginia. I watched as my friend Victoria shared her own story and in her sharing, she helped heal a woman whose only son had tragically died the month before. I was fourteen years old.

Appearance of Life

From that moment onwards I knew I wanted to empower people to tell their story. My work as an artist has always combined theater with social justice, so when a friend passed along interviews she had conducted at the Beijing Women’s Conference I knew what I had to do. The lives on those tapes were like nothing I had heard before. I wanted to meet these women. I wanted to hear, firsthand, what they had experienced. And most of all, I wanted to share their untold stories. The idea for the Letters to Clio project took root. Over the next years, I traveled the world recording women’s stories and crafting their voices into theatrical shows. The award-winning, critically acclaimed, Appearance of Life, quickly became the most recognized show in the Letters to Clio series. Then I went to graduate school.

NYU Tisch

As a graduate student at NYU, Tisch, I never felt like I fit in with my playwriting and screenwriting counterparts. What I was doing was a combination of storytelling and theater. I didn’t want to confine myself to one art form and unfortunately that made me an outsider. Over the next few years I struggled with where to go next, then one wonderful afternoon I was reminded again of the power of storytelling. At a conference, I heard Joe Lambert speak on something called Digital Storytelling. I was intrigued. What if rather than luring people to the theater or a cafĂ© I could deliver my creations straight to their laptop. Art on a lunch break in 3-5 minutes.

Digital Storytelling

Digital Storytelling is a combination of Language (the story), Images (original photographs), Voice (recorded telling of the story) and Sound (music / soundtrack). Traditionally they focus on personal stories, but never in my work as an artist had I shared a personal story. I wrote about women who had brought down governments, changed the course of history. Comparatively my life was uninteresting at best.

Chinese Lanterns Near the Hotel

Then something funny happened. On January 13, 2015, in a small government office in China I became an adoptive mom and in that moment, everything changed. I have never walked on the moon but being told you have exactly 9 days to report to China and become an adoptive mother has to be a close second to Armstrong’s famous first steps. Today, my art revolves around telling the story of our journey – both through publications, my blog ( and of course Digital Storytelling.

Story is a powerful thing. Stories can transform, make us laugh, heal, and provide meaning. One day I know I will return to the theater but for now I am content to see where the next chapter of my art leads. In this last year, I have connected with so many adoptive families. My words have provided a springboard for others touched by adoption to share their voices and experiences. And empowering someone to tell their story? For me, there is no greater gift.

Hands: Me & Jack

This is Week 36 of Artists Tell Their Stories. Thank you for reading and sharing Jennifer's story today. To connect with her, and view a sampling of her digital stories, please visit the following links:

Sample Digital Stories:
(A story about coming home with our newly adopted son, Jack)

From Shanxi to Safeway –
(A story about how my son and I are bound by a single red thread rather than DNA – and why I now avoid my local Safeway…)

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Heather C. Williams, Visual Artist, Tells Her Story

My story is about SEARCHING. To me, drawing is the simplest, most powerful, creative and inexpensive art form capable of doing DEEP, CREATIVE SEARCHING. I feel that it is essential for all of us to learn HOW TO THINK more clearly, critically and creatively. The good news is that drawing can help all of us practice this.

As a child I was fascinated with drawing as a way to learn about the world around me and within me. I drew my thoughts. I drew my feelings. I drew my parents arguing to better understand them. I drew birds and animals. I drew stories. I liked a boy in 4th grade and wanted to get to know him but was too shy to approach him directly, so I found a photograph of him and got to know him a bit by drawing his face. 

My kindergarten teacher told my mother to encourage my drawing and mom was happy to do this. Drawing and painting were activities she used to bring her mind and body back to wholeness from a serious nervous breakdown at age 19. Mom spent 10 years living in an upstairs bedroom, and then, at 29 years of age, in 1941, she felt strong enough to leave the house and go to a local USO dance where she met my dad, a much younger US Army Sergeant. 

Mom was always a quiet person, not a social person or a big talker. She also was not a deep thinker. My dad was the deep thinker, philosopher, and questioner of life. I think I am a bit more like dad. But, like mom, I find drawing and painting to be healing, centering and a valuable way of feeling connected.

Mom, Pencil on Paper, 18"x20"
This is an observational drawing of my mom two years after her very serious heart attack at age 89. She sat completely still, hardly saying a word, while I drew her for 2 hours.

Dad, Prismacolor Pencil on Rives Paper, 8"x10"
This is an observational drawing of my Dad done a few weeks before he died from cancer in 1992. He was staying with me while getting radiation treatments at the Veteran’s Hospital in Milwaukee. These two drawings kind of connect me eternally with my parents.

Mom’s JourneyPen and Ink on Paper,  8"x10"
This is an emotional/intuitive drawing that I did of my mom while I was sitting next to her as she lay in Intensive Care hooked up to many machines and could not speak. The year was 1999. I sat next to her bed, held her left hand in my right hand and drew with my left, or non-dominant hand. I started by just scribbling. I did not know where I was going with this drawing. It took hours and hours. At one point there was a mean-looking spider in the bottom right corner and I saw it as a creature coming to take mom away. Thankfully the spider turned into a smiling snail that told me “this will take a little time”. 

The whole drawing expresses my mother’s journey in the sea of unknown possibilities. At one point the doctors talked about hooking her up to a ventilator. My sister and I told them, no, mom would not want that. Amazingly, mom began getting better the next morning. She survived and lived another 7 years with the pacemaker. 

During this time with mom, I discovered what I call Intuitive drawing. I continue to practice this kind of drawing today. I quiet down, relax and focus my mind on the highest Truth that I know and I spend one minute focusing on this Truth. Then, I draw a line or a squiggle and letting my intuition or imagination take that line and develop a drawing. 

I write about this in my book, Drawing as a Sacred Activity. In the book, I offer three different kinds of drawing exercises: Observational Drawing, Emotional Drawing and Intuitive Drawing.

My book, Published by New World Library, 2002

My SEARCH took a DEEP DIVE when I left home to live in a college dorm at age 18. My parents loved me and to prepare me to live in the world safely, they told me their beliefs about what I would find in the world. However, I did not see what they told me I would see. So I concluded that what they told me was a belief or an opinion. But it was not the Truth. 

That’s when I began to look around and ask this deep question that no one seemed able to answer: “Is there such a thing as Truth...or is it all opinion?”  Be aware, dear reader, (especially if you are a young person), that if you have a deep question that cannot easily be answered – it will begin to drive your life and take you places far beyond what you presently know. 

In 1968, I left college and went to San Francisco to explore hallucinogenics. Below is a self-portrait of me at age 22 after spending a year doing hallucinogenics. My friends were panhandling on the street and I quietly wondered: Is this how I am to live the rest of my life? I was pretty lost and I knew it. Thankfully, I finished college in 1970 and went back to San Francisco to search for a teacher to help me answer my BIG QUESTION about Truth. 

Self Portrait, Pencil on Paper, 22” x 29”
In San Francisco, I met Thane Walker, who became my teacher, at The Prosperos School of Ontology. One day, I distinctly remember grabbing my remaining mescaline tablets and flushing them down the toilet when I heard Thane say: “Drugs may take you to a new, different, even higher place. . . but you always have to return to where you started. If you want to LIVE in a higher place – you must do some work on yourself!”  

So I began “working on myself” by taking Prosperos classes, talking with counselors, and wouldn’t you know - I could see that my ego was caught up in my drawing! So I decided to temporarily stop drawing so that I could study my ego and learn about the deeper Truth of my Being. I said silently to myself, “If ART is meant to be part of my life – it will return to me.” And it did. But it took a few years.

I moved to Mt Shasta in 1971 to do more intensive work on myself with Liz Andrews, HWM. Then, in 1972 I moved to Santa Monica to live close to and work at The Prosperos Inner Space Center. In 1978, after 6 years of classes and working on my memories, beliefs, attitudes, etc., I became a Prosperos High Watch Mentor. A High Watch Mentor is a degree that means, I have committed myself to keep the “High Watch” (to look beyond materialistic circumstances to reveal the eternal and boundless reality always present in the midst of things). The Prosperos School of Ontology continues, to this day, to be the greatest influence in my life.

The self portrait above, at age 45, is an expression of myself as an artist and High Watch Mentor, practicing self-observation, or  nonjudgmental seeing.

 Max, Oil Painting,18 “ x 24"
For the next 5 years, I was an apprentice to Master Artist, Jan Valentin Saether, where I learned not only WHAT to look for in order to draw and paint what I see, but also how to grind pigments, boil mediums and work with oil paint. I have done many oil paintings but this one I did of Max is probably my favorite. Max is Cindy’s grandfather. Who is Cindy? Keep reading, and you’ll find out at the end of this story.

Eduardo, Pencil on Paper, 8” x 10”
I am deeply grateful for what Mr. Saether taught me about letting go of seeing things you can name (tree, cup, face, man, woman, hand) and instead looking for vertical, horizontal and diagonal directions. Paying close attention to where the directions intersect is also something I practice.

Jesse, Pencil on Paper, 8”x10”
The portrait above is of one of my students named Jesse. Recently, I retired from 15 years of teaching Special Ed and ART in the Vista Unified School District. Whew! Teachers are searchers! Being a teacher in the public school system is an amazing and very valuable experience. You are part of a huge system. You cannot just teach what you want to teach. You have to collaborate, prepare activities that inspire young minds, create rubrics & websites & blogs, manage behavior issues, write reports, call parents, be observed by administrators – just to name a few things. 

My last four years were at VIDA (Vista Innovation and Design Academy) a public, magnet middle school in Vista, California. At VIDA, I learned the value of Empathy as a central part of the very creative Design-Thinking Process. Before I was a public school teacher, I was a Teaching Artist who taught a wide variety of students. I was also an assistant teacher for 10 years for the International Louise Hay Teacher Trainings held around the world (Mexico, Italy, England, Canada, Australia, Hawaii and the continental United States). 

I used art to engage all kinds of people. I taught drawing to inmates in the Milwaukee County Jail and brought art activities to people with eating disorders, manic depression, schizophrenia, autism, developmental disabilities, traumatic brain injury, homeless, helping each to express themselves creatively. ART searches every kind of brain cell and brings it forward and shares it with the world.

Cindy, Prismacolor Pencil on Rives paper, 6”x9”
Cindy is my life partner. We met in 1993 and got married in 2008, when it became legal in California. Cindy teaches nurses. Together, we help each other to blossom! I am deeply grateful for her love of the home and her marvelous skills in gardening and cooking. She is also a very talented artist.

This is Week 35 of Artists Tell Their Stories. Thank you for reading and sharing Heather’s story today. To connect with Heather and see more of her work, please visit the following links: