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!
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It’s a cool morning in Santa Barbara and I’m sipping coffee and reading my favorite blog. Thank you for this wonderful introduction to Colleen. What a colorful spirit!
Don’t you think being creative is such a gift? Love “Meet the Makers”!
I love this mental picture of you visiting Colleen’s story over your morning coffee Patty! I think that being creative is the biggest blessing ever & all of us have it-but lovely folks like Colleen show us how to release & embrace it:)
I so loved reading this. What a beautiful heart Colleen has! The positivity just pours out from this story. Thank you so much for sharing it with us Colleen 🙂 I am feeling rather inspired now!
This is so inspiring. My seven year old loves art and collects, gum wrappers, found pieces of metal, branches and more that she incorporates into her art work. She is always getting in trouble because she has secret stashes of trash that she calls treasure. I’ve printed this to show and read to her.
Wow, so inspirational! I just just spent an extra extra long lunch hour getting lost in Colleen’s work and blog. Thank you for sharing her world with us – I love these stories of transformation and finding one’s voice. Beautiful!
Had the privilege of taking a class with Colleen — so fun! She truly brings joy to all she does — whether creating or entertaining.
Yay Colleen! Your work brings nature and development together in more ways than one–the images, your recycling partnerships, placing nature-inspired-yet-futuristic pieces out in the world. . . thanks for sharing your art, thoughts, and personality!
I am a huge fan of Colleen!!!! Her energy is powerful and so is her art! Thanks for sharing.
I too had the privilege of meeting Colleen. She truly is an inspiration, such a sweet soul. Her work is beautiful and colorful. It’s so great how she creates from recyclables and brings joy to others thru her art! YAY Colleen!
O.k. that is brilliant! I just love the photos and Colleens house is amazing! Colleen is very talented gal and I am so happy to have a chance to sneak peak into her creative life.
As I read all these beautiful comments about Colleen, I reflect back to High School where I met her. She was beautiful then as she is now in evey aspect of her life. She has always been positive and inspiring (and of course, creative), and I am so honored to call her my friend (still). I love that she has made her life what SHE wanted it to be…loving, and colorful, and successful…Congrats Colleen!!
These comments all make my heart sing! Colleen’s bright loveliness is obviously touching the world & I am so happy to see all this love + support!
Hooray Colleen! So happy to have just met her just a few weeks ago. I am so planning a studio visit this fall!
I feel like I can really relate to this. I didn’t think I was creative at all until I had kids, and then I realized that even the simple things can be “art” and that if I withhold my creativity by telling myself I’m not creative, then I’m really selling myself short and I’m not being true to the person that God created me to be.
Colleen – that photo of the flowers hung outside the brownstone is completely moving me. I want to rent your cottage (ok, or maybe just a cottage near me) and feel the same inspiration. Your life choices sound glorious and I look forward to getting to know you more via OMHG and I’m SO looking forward to your submission for #handmademarathon so that we can spread the love!
My heart is swelling reading all of these amazing comments for you Colleen. Though none of it comes as a surprise to me… you simply radiate joy and are an inspiration to all of us.
More than a month ago, our paths crossed and within days I had already invited myself to your studio and called you on the phone. I continue to be captivated by your journey and I am looking forward to the adventures we’ll share together.
I happen to adore Colleen and was lucky to make friends with her like soul on facebook. I found this article to be refreshing both in content and design. Really beautifully created.
She is such a rare loving artist. I always love artists who are real and kind.
Lovely lovely blog article. Thanks for posting this. Smiles to all Kelli
FANTABULOUS article on an amazingly beautiful artist, inside and out! Colleen is a work of art from the universe, and I’m fortunate to be in her galaxy. Always an intentional person, whether creating, or listening to a friend. Thank goodness for her bright ideas and art to enhance our lives. Stay true sista, grow always, blooms abound! love you tons, shar
I have been blessed to know Colleen for several years and her enthusiasm and passion are infectious. She is sincere and genuine. She is full of humor, honesty, & heart. Her energy AND her bravery know no bounds. In one word she is a joy. So happy to see her light shining so bright. xoxo
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