Wednesday, 30 August 2017 15:46

Vanessa Autumn: 'All it takes is paying attention'

Written by  Kelly Brown
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Vanessa Autumn is a creator, curator and wrangler of the beauty of nature. Take a look at her website,, and you’ll find paintings, collage work, photography, word art and more — all featuring raw emotion and the power of the nature that surrounds us. We asked the self-taught artist about her approach to creation.

What did you enjoy making recently?

The series of wildflower paintings I did last winter felt good to complete. I built the frames for the wood panels myself and used two mediums (acrylic paint and citrasolv transferring) that I’d never used before outside of a little dabbling. I learned a lot about the native flora that grows in the area, which was important to me. These paintings are on display at Light Gallery on South Division right now and it feels good to step back and see them all on a wall together.

What’s your process like?

Patience is a big part of my process. I sit with my ideas, subject matter, supplies, for a long time. Ideas come from everywhere at any time. There are things I do that I’ve noticed get my creative energy moving more than others — cooking myself a meal from scratch, taking a hike through the woods, going on a bike ride — but sometimes I’ll be on the bus or folding laundry or doing something very mundane and something wild will sneak out of my brain. I like that I don’t have the process totally figured out yet. It forces me to pay attention.

Almost all the illustrations on your website are inspired by nature. Where did this interest come from?

I spend as much time as I possibly can outdoors. It’s hard to not find inspiration in nature when you slow down and pay attention. Noticing the contrasting colors of two wild flowers growing in a field together, or the way the trunk of a tree twists. The movement of grass in the wind or Lake Michigan when it’s in the dead of winter … all it takes is paying attention.

How did you develop a consistent style in your artwork and how is that evolving over time?

Being self-taught helps and hurts when it comes to developing your own style. A lot of what I’m learning comes from observing and critiquing other artists, finding what I like and what I don’t like, and then critiquing my own work that same way. It’s easy to slip into just emulating what others are making or jumping onto art trends, but the more I push myself to break away from that and just make what I want, and what feels good to make, my own style has started to shine through.

Aside from nature, what/who inspires you?

Lately, I’ve been wildly inspired by art made in public spaces. I love seeing people who are eager to break out of the ‘white cube.’ In life, I’m always keeping my brain occupied with podcasts while I work. On Being has been a go-to staple of mine for years now and listening to that every week feels like church for me. I’ve also been digging into the work of Robin Wall Kimmerer. She’s a Native American botanist and the way she talks about the natural world blows my mind.

Are you working on any large projects currently?

Yes! I’m putting plans together to make an illustrated guide to foraging basics. Also, I’m working with some members of the community to get some murals painted in the neighborhood.

How do you feel Grand Rapids treats its artists?

In Grand Rapids, a lot of people seem to be ga-ga about art for two weeks when ArtPrize takes over downtown, and then forget about it for the other 50 weeks of the year. It feels like everyone wants to run off to New York or Chicago to make big connections and be thrown in the middle of what’s hip and happening there. I understand the draw to that, but I feel really drawn to creatively investing in the place that has supported me for the last seven years. … I’d love to see businesses and individuals in the city learn how they can support artists (outside of ArtPrize).

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