Editor’s note: One look at the picture above and you’ll know exactly why I invited Colleen of Colleen Attara Studio to visit us to share her creative journey. Her bright joyful art and spirit make the world a more beautiful place and her story is one that so many of us will be called to. Thank you for opening up your studio and heart to us Colleen!
My art started with drawing one simple flower. I was sitting at the table with my then 4-year-old daughter and she prompted me to add on to a piece of art she was making. She glued a button in the shape of a vase to cardstock. I doodled a whimsical flower around it.
That was ten years ago and since then I have drawn, cut and painted thousands of those whimsical flowers. And I am always aware that sometimes the simplest of actions can take you to the most amazing places. I am an eco-artist/treasure hunter and I make joyful art from reclaimed materials.
Reusing materials in my art is the only way I have ever wanted to create. And “happy” gushes from a well deep inside me. There is something so hopeful in creating art from materials that are destined for a landfill and something serendipitous in making art from materials that find me. When I spot something in a salvage yard or on the side of the road, I see both what it is and what it can become. I am always on the lookout for possibility.
One of my favorite materials to reuse is reclaimed business signs and scrap plastics. I use it to give my artwork dimension. I turn it into colorful flowers that pop out of my artwork, canvases to paint on, background skylines in my city paintings, clocks and sweet words scripted in my handwriting. These signs also become large installations in hospitals and healing spaces.
I love to do reverse glass painting and I can often be found searching salvage yards for a unique vintage window or frame to paint on.
Bright colors on the glass look dreamy to me, real but yet not real. These paintings often become prints and I really like the natural shadows that occur because of the dimension of my artwork. I always use mistake paint purchased from home improvement stores. I love color and rejected paint is so much brighter.
After I treasure hunt for all my materials, I take them back to my cottage studio that is on an historical 234-acre farm in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. It is a magical stone cottage that dates back to the early 1800’s. My neighbor is a thriving art center and farmers work in the fields outside my windows. At anytime, an artist can pop in just to say hi. These are usually wonderful, unexpected moments of collaboration. A grey farm cat visits weekly. And it not unusual to see a red fox outside my door.
The very best of days are a block of hours in my studio, candles burning in the fireplace, coffee poured, and music playing. Sometimes I host art workshops here and this space inspires others too. This property is my muse and my creative ideas seem to grow alongside the rows of corn.
Before that simple flower doodle put me on this magical path, I was unconsciously inching my way here. And every skill I acquired prior is part of my journey. I used to be very corporate as in “traffic, 8 o’clock sales meetings, and a big briefcase” corporate. I worked in local television as an account executive for over ten years. I loved my job. Everyday I thought creatively about partnerships between businesses and my television station that would work for everyone.
But there was a pattern forming. I kept trading time for money. After my son was born I left ABC-TV for a job share at FOX-TV. Three years later, I had my daughter and my priorities shifted again. When she was a year-and-a-half old, I convinced my husband to let me be the nanny. The timing was perfect as my son was headed into kindergarten. We moved to a smaller house, spent six summers on a boat, had some wonderful adventures and I have never given my decision a second thought.
When I no longer needed my mind space for corporate ideas, artful ideas came pouring out of me. And even more came out when I started taking art classes at a local art center on the Delaware River. Sometimes these classes made me uncomfortable because I was doing things I have never done alongside professional artists. That discomfort lead to me to some great discoveries, both in art and in myself.
I am still creating win-win partnerships with businesses so I can recycle and create. If it doesn’t work for everyone, it doesn’t work.
I team with local business that support me; sign shops and plastic fabricators who take the time to put signage aside for me in special places instead of throwing it out. I haul away their trash that they thoughtfully put aside for me. And sometimes I leave behind homemade creampuffs. Last fall, I installed a 70-foot commission in a new hospital that was created from all recycled signage. I could not have done it without these businesses I partner with. I needed their expertise as well as materials.
That one simple flower that started it all is becoming a much bigger part of my eco-business. These blooms are now are printed on recycled signage and are UV resistant and need no water or sunlight. I see them hanging from brownstone windows in all major cities. I am collecting materials and working out production on a larger scale. A Kickstarter project is in the works so I can install these flowers in flowerboxes on vacant city buildings, hopefully adding pride along with bright colors and hope.
I love adding color when needed.
Five random things about me:
- I am comfortable being uncomfortable. I know when I leave my limits I grow.
- I collect lipstick and people.
- I write a beauty column for a regional magazine as an artist who thinks make-up is an art supply.
- I believe the words “can you please help me?” are extremely powerful.
- Most of my clothes have paint on them. I think this adds character.
Connect with Colleen!