By Leti Wesolowski, contributor
You might have met Juanita from her mosaic classes at Bemis School of Arts or seen her murals at some local public schools. In fact, she has been making mosaics for the last 16 years and has been part of many exhibitions and gallery shows in the Pikes Peak region. A native of Pennsylvania, Juanita started working in fiber since she was a little girl, learning embroidery, crocheting, knitting and even sewing her own clothes. She got her BA in Communication Arts and Mass Media in Illinois and has explored numerous personal and career interests, from graphic art design, to voice studies, theater costume design and construction, marketing and editorial work, even sugar art creation. A home decorating project, the top of a coffee table she built, sparked her interest in mosaics and started a new chapter on her life. She opened her Colorado Springs home studio in 2001 and since then, she has been constantly learning on her own and experimenting glass, incorporating into some of her pieces her renewed fiber sensibilities. Her artwork is both visually pleasing and durable, ranging from florals, landscapes, abstract, and music inspired wall art, sculptures, and portraits. She has had the opportunity to create small to large scale installations and commissioned works for homes and public art. She has been a Commonwheel member for the last 13 years and is currently our Marketing Manager.
What is your first memory of creating something with your own hands? How did you get interested in art?
I've always been a "maker". I got involved in sewing and needle work as a child and have wandered through clothing design, costume design, directing theater, and a variety of hands-on craft media. I still do a good deal of fiber work in knitting and crochet.
I think one of my earliest memories of "making" something was when I was around five. My mother and I picked cherries and we each made a pie. (My father tasted them both and told me my pie was better.)
For me inspiration often comes from musing "what would happen if I combined this with that." It could be materials (alcohol inks and collage are my latest mash-up) or mixing visual imagery with non-visual concepts (how could I express music or an emotion?).
I'm a how/why person in that I always want to know how something was made, or why it was made in a certain way. If I can't figure out how someone else did something, I will often find a way that works for me to get to a desired effect.
My preferred medium is mosaic. I typically use glass, but a lot of pieces include collage and/or paint, alcohol ink, and colored pencil as well. I work at Commonwheel part-time so my studio time is not as frequent these days, but I get to spend at least 2 to 3 days a week on my artwork.
I knit and crochet so I've always got something to occupy my hands and my imagination. And this summer I'm taking my first drawing class. I haven't focused on that skill since my college days so I'm looking forward to it.
Tell us about your creative process. Walk us through the steps to create one of your mosaics.
The most crucial part of the longevity of my artwork is in preparing the base. Mosaic is like skin in that it needs a sturdy structure to adhere to. The function of the artwork will determine what the base is made of and how it is prepared. For my wall art I typically work on wood—hardboard or medium density fiberboard (MDF)—which I prime with a water-based wood primer.
The next step is determined by the design of the piece. I often incorporate collage, paint, beads, fiber or dimensional elements, such as air-dry clay or Plasticine clay. These additions have to be prepared and cured before they are affixed to the base. I use a water-based glue to adhere the glass and inclusions to the base. This goes on white and needs about a day to fully cure.
Next, I finish the sides and back of the wood with acrylic paint and varnish the paint once it's dry. If the piece is to be grouted, that happens after the base is finished. I generally use sanded grout in my pieces. I just like the texture of sanded grout juxtaposed with the smooth texture of the glass. Then hanging hardware is affixed to the back of the work and it's ready to leave my studio.
Watch the video at the end to see Juanita working on one of her “Night Music” wall mosaics.
Glue or adhesive (there is a difference), a dual-wheeled tile cutter, and paper plates to collect all the glass pieces.
Is there an artist that you admire or follow?
I’m part of a mosaic mentoring group on Facebook and I troll Pinterest almost daily. Ellen Blakely's work has directly affected the trend in my gallery art. She kind of pioneered the use of clear tempered glass over other materials.
What is your favorite piece you’ve ever made? Why is it so special to you?
My favorite piece is often the one I'm working on (however) some of my proudest achievements were a 12' by 38' mural that explains the history of everything at Discovery Canyon School, a 4' by 8' mural at Steele Elementary School, and a "portrait" I created earlier this year for a national men's group. I guess (they are special to me) because these were some of the projects that have stretched me the most as an artist.
What are you currently working on?
I'm currently working on a commissioned sculpture for the Red Wing Motel in Manitou Springs. I'm excited about this piece for several reasons—it will be my first piece of public art in Manitou and I haven't made a sculpture this big or this site-specific before.
Follow Juanita’s progress of this project on her Facebook page (JCanzStudio) and on Instagram (JuanitaCanzoneri) or visit her website http://www.jcanz-studio.com/ to learn more about her public art pieces around Colorado Springs or to contact her about commissioning a mosaic.
Visit Commonwheel and receive 10% off all Juanita’s creations through the whole month of July (in-store sales only). You can find her work online also at our online shop.
Watch Juanita make a mosaic here.
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