Lisa Schonberg is a printmaker whose multi-layered work is rich with natural imagery. She is both inspired by and uses organic elements to create her work, running flowers, buds, and branches through a large printing press to capture their textures. Like many artists, the pandemic forced her to change directions when her collaborative studio closed during the shutdown. She began experimenting with cyanotypes, a photographic process that uses sunlight, to capture the forms she had come to love.
For me, the part of Lisa’s story that hits home is when she speaks to the challenge of keeping creative momentum. I’ve felt this most acutely at two points in my life: when I was a full time teacher (and my emotional energy was depleted), and during the pandemic (when my emotional energy was… depleted). When faced with this challenge, Lisa found solace in a familiar place. Here is her story.
I’ve always thought of my art as a sort of homage to our natural world. My goals as an artist are to utilize what I find so compelling in nature and create work that metaphorically expresses connections to our human condition and the phases we go through in life. Before the pandemic, I was sailing along, happy as a bird, working in the print studio (Zygote Press, a collaborative printmaking facility in downtown Cleveland) almost every day. Since I retired from teaching a few years ago, I’ve been busier than ever working on a career as a full time artist, trying to make a go of it, exhibiting, doing a few commissions, and selling my work. I guess you could say I’m not really retired. I just traded one profession for more time on another. Some days in the studio were more productive than others. Every artist needs some down time, incubation time, to think, write, and reflect on stuff, right!? But I think I got a little too complacent, maybe… Hindsight and all that…
As soon as the studio shut down and life got a bit strange, reflecting and incubating became an every day experience. Yet, too much reflection and incubation can drive a person crazy. I started dealing with the everyday odd stuff that was occurring. Life was in slow motion. Trying not to get sick, dealing with all the awful news and taking care of family remotely consumed my life for a while. I guess it did for everyone to one degree or another. I consider myself lucky that I have a home, enough food, a loving family, and I didn’t have to teach anymore. Boy am I grateful for that. Teaching is such an honorable profession and those teachers that are sticking with it, trying to do the online thing right now, are saints!
After the initial shock of what was happening to our world sunk in, I decided to somehow work with art again. The idea of not having art in my life was unthinkable. I’m a printmaker and in order to create my work I need a printing press, which I don’t have at home. So with the minimal supplies I had I started sketching, painting, and drawing shadows and light formations of trees and plants, being grateful that spring would be coming soon, all in preparation for making prints again soon. Yet suddenly I wished I was a doctor, a nurse, a therapist, or a teacher again, helping people. My heart ached, and still does, for all those who were and are still suffering. How do you find solace in all of this distress and sadness?
I worked at my Yoga practice and walked a lot. My cluttered basement went from storage space to art space. I made rainbow paintings that decorated our front windows for all the walkers who now graced our street. This was my small way of providing hope and cheer. I sent texts and emails and had many long phone, FaceTime, and Zoom conversations with friends and family. I dusted off my grandmother’s 75 year old sewing machine, found some fabric scraps and some elastic and with a broken needle tip made masks. As the spring sprung amidst the every day uptick in cases of the virus and our efforts to flatten the curve, I worked on cutting stencils and collecting plant specimens with plans to print again. I taught myself a new process making cyanotypes using natural materials as my muse and worked outside in the sun.
Hypersensitive to the rhythms of nature and change in seasons, I found solace in the view outside my basement outside my basement door to the backyard and the bit of woods that graces this space. Facing my worktable to the outdoors I imagined it as a vast forest, an infinite land of peace. I guess as artists we are blessed with imaginations that can run wild in times like these.
For me, solace can be found in nature every day and I value her ability to calm us, provide inspiration, hope, and beauty even in inclement weather and tough times. When my doors and windows could be opened, the sounds, the wind, the smells, the birds, the crickets and cicadas, the rabbits, squirrels, bees, chipmunks, and an occasional owl all provided their symphony despite what’s happening to our human world. For some reason, all of this seemed louder than usual, like sweet music to the senses. The leaves turned greener than green and flowers burst into colorful blossoms. I pruned and planted and listened to nature say ‘go on’, ‘keep going’, and ‘persist’ despite these setbacks. Nature can sooth us and encourage us to power on.
When I went back to the studio in June, I created a series of prints titled ‘Lost in the Woods’ in response to this time. This series is hanging in a group exhibit titled ‘Cause for Environmental Change’ at Bonfoey Gallery in Cleveland until the end of October. These prints are evidence of being lost for a while, lost in the process, lost in the act of reverence, and lost in the beauty with hope for renewal. Lost is not a bad thing; it’s a release and sometimes much needed. It can help. It did help. Solace can be found in being a little lost in the woods for a while.
I guess my story is not that super unusual or compelling. Plenty of people I’ve talked to have had similar experiences and find nature to be their source of comfort as well. Finding our way through this time of uncertainty can be found in the lessons of nature. She’s the best teacher and an excellent role model!”– Lisa Schonberg
Thank you Lisa for sharing both your work and your story. And for teaching us how to find our own way through the uncertainty.
You can find Lisa’s work on her website, or follow her on Instagram at @Lisa.schonberg .