BELOIT — Artist and maker Lynda Wallis is always in a state of awe. Whether gazing at native wildflowers, her zebra finches’ polka-dotted feathers or a newly unfurled leaf, she finds beauty and excitement in nature, and well, just about everything.
“I have a low wonder threshold,” Wallis mused.
It’s part of the reason the wide-eyed wanderer is branching out from her 35-year career as an illustrator who specializes in interpretive signs for nature preserves and custom maps to bringing her experience and energy to her own work.
Her new creations, visible at Lyndawallisartistmaker.com, incorporate torn paper, quotes, her drawings, feathers, greeting cards, vintage wallpaper, napkins, private letter snippets, and the occasional fast food bag. A sprinkle of glitter gives it changing looks depending on lighting, and the work can hang in any direction.
“You can keep looking at them over and over and see something new,” she said.
The bits of dried plants and flowers, and even a lost love letter, represent that which is transient. They pay homage to the moment and the unexpected.
The new type of work is taking notice.
An exhibit titled “Trust Yourself to Feel Exactly What You are Feeling” is a solo gallery show at the Pump House Regional Arts Center in La Crosse, Wisconsin. It started in January and will run through the end of February.
Some of her new pieces will be featured at the University of Wisconsin Health University Hospital through March 4. Pieces from the LaCrosse show will be featured along with new work in the lobby of Nicholas Conservatory in Rockford, Illinois from March 21 — April 2.
Her “drawn-from-nature” aprons, bags and greeting cards featuring her original work will be at the Alliant Center in Madison Feb. 10-12 as part of the PBS Wisconsin Garden & Landscape Expo.
Wallis was starstruck with nature, which she found to be “direct and beautiful,” since childhood. As her family moved around a lot, she loved to draw animal friends who would accompany her.
She was classically trained at the Art Institute of Chicago and graduated from Viterbo College in La Crosse before launching Freelance Illustrations. Her first job was to create interpretive panels describing a 3,500-acre park in McHenry County, Illinois, which helped propel a 13-year career as an in-house map maker for “Chicago Wilderness.” Her work then attracted a growing cadre of clients. About 10 years ago, she started making hand-beaded leather wrap bracelets to sell at art shows.
Being a single mother, she always had to keep a close eye on her income. Once her children, Tyler Etters and Willow Wallis, were grown, she knew it was finally time to do more of her own art. In May of 2019 she moved from Lake County, Illinois to Beloit’s west side to begin her next chapter and cultivate her voice.
When asked what she discovered her voice to be, she said: “It’s joy. It’s about being unafraid to represent how I feel about life and nature. It’s about trusting myself,” she said.
After years of making representational images, she yearned to create something different, noting people bring their own preconception to specific imagery. She opted to instead leap into color, texture, design and layering for more abstract art. She also desired a more physical experience, as opposed to working behind a computer and drawing desk.
“I just started tearing paper,” she said. “I dance. That’s the joy I feel when I’m creating this art.”
All of her pieces are inspired by a word, an intention or an interesting item, and evolve as she goes.
“The trick is to be present the entire time and allow for whatever is developing in front of me. Sometimes, it will shift in direction,” she said.
The many forays have not gone unnoticed. In February of 2022, she won a judge’s choice award at the Northern Lights Gallery Show at the White Bear Center for the Arts in St. Paul, Minnesota. It was followed by an honorable mention Powderhorn Art Fair in Minneapolis.
Her pieces are being increasingly sought after, and her schedule is being filled up with commissions where she pairs requested keepsakes with her own vision. She also plans to offer her wholesale items to regional retailers soon, and share more of her work in Beloit and the region.
Finding her own voice and sharing it boldly has been a long time in coming. The directness that drew her to nature as a child has been brought to life on canvas and in her life.
“It’s better than my dreams,” she said.