Title: “Florabella” Pyrography design on basswood. Art by Amanda Packard, aka, The Phoenix Quill. This piece was donated to the upcoming Bellevue show for their silent auction, benefiting art programs in local schools. This is also the featured piece for the entire event, and is being used as the promotional poster.
My nearly 80-year mother, who’s primarily a self-taught artist, enjoys seeing the work of other artists. We spontaneously took off late one August Saturday afternoon to checkout a local arts fair at McConnell Springs Park, in Lexington, Kentucky. We found a variety of artist booths exhibiting homemade organic lotions and soaps, paintings, and woodworking.
We soon meandered ourselves into a delightful conversation with artist Amanda Packard, known as The Phoenix Quill, as we perused her fascinating creative works. Beautifully red-headed, Packard’s gentle, friendly personality oozes with that infamous Southern hospitality shared by my mother. (I’ve lived abroad and in the more transient Florida half my life, so my Southernness has dissipated.)
Packard’s artworks are an exquisite visual feast of beautiful craftsmanship and imaginatively story-like inspiration. I had the chance to speak more with Packard about how her creativity began, what led her to create, and what inspires her art.
Though she grew up in Lexington, she’s now married and lives in Harrison, Ohio. When asked to describe her art background, Packard surprisingly revealed that a 10-year involvement in an oppressive and cultish religious group (through her previous husband) had dramatically suppressed her creative expression. Either stimulated by this oppression, or as a rebellion against it, Packard’s creativity called her from within. She deeply felt a “longing to explore imagination!”
Her works reveal a fantastical explosion of creativity. She says creating is a form of finally being able to be true to herself. Allowing her creative expression to come out “was liberating but a tempest of emotions. What hurled me to creativity was using it as therapy. I had honed in on something important to me! That’s what catapulted—my new life— and that art would be a big part of my new life.”
For Packard, her art expresses her value to not suppress it in others, either. She hopes the education system finds this value for everyone to experience. She says that artistic exploration teaches us that, “our emotions are normal and they are to be expressed.”
She says that her creative force had been reignited from her childhood years, with her mother as a strong, positive creative role model who painted, quilted and was a seamstress. Her mother encouraged Packard to observe her painting technique and Packard would emulate it.
“Mom says I was always coloring and drawing, and she did pastels and portraits. I was four or so watching her and being enamored.”
Packard recalls her elementary reading teacher asking her to illustrate a story. When Packard drew a horse, the teacher further encouraged her by gifting her a book on how to draw horses. Packard passionately drew horses through her entire fifth grade school year.
Her high school art teacher further supported her artistic pursuits, and practicing art was a nice outlet during her awkward teen years. During a senior awards event, her art teacher gave her a giant box of 150 colored pencils, with the encouragement to “always hold on to your art.”
These early experiences with positive mentors who encouraged Packard’s creativity have served as inspiration and a source of joyful gratitude repaid through her now constant creative explorations. Her outlets include painting, sculpture, cooking, woodworking, and ceramics.
As a young adult, Packard invested in a wood burning kit (pyrography) and started practicing as a hobby. She started with more traditional work, making simple signs with short quotes or a family name, for people to display on their front porch.
The tools and skillsets essential to Packard’s artmaking include learning about wood types, what burns differently, and how the values vary per different woods. She prefers a softer wood like Basswood to Maple hardwood, as it’s more malleable and has a nice, light color that allows more contrasts for her created images.
As pyrography pens can get as hot as 1000℉, Packard has learned to be cautious to avoid getting a wood oil burn! Another essential to her pyrography process is a good ventilation system and a mask to wear while working. She has experimented to create while using an air filter close to pieces she works on and a carefully placed fan to balance against the toxicity of fumes without altering the temperature of her pen.
She stresses that using the soft basswood is not as grainy, and since dragging a pen across grain makes lines wiggly, it’s an easier wood to work with. She emphasized that though pine has a nice smell and is fairly soft, it’s not great for beginners because its graininess easily affects the task of image-creation. Pine also has sap and oils that affect shading, and potentially boils up, leaving residue on the pen.
How To Positively Impact Your Creative Spark Nature, hiking, being on the water, animals, and emotion itself inspires Packard’s art, especially “morphing an image into something different than what you’d normally see.”
Being emotionally sensitive is her well of inspiration, “Low times or when I feel down makes me more sensitive to things like music. It draws creativity from me.” In fact, she loves listening to even musical genres usually not preferred, because that freshness of sound sparks her passion and creativity.
Walking Through The Artistic Process Packard begins when an idea pops into her head, perhaps from a moment in nature. That idea “connects 100% with my emotions and is pulling me.”
She may dwell on it for days or even a month, tossing the idea around in her head. Once the idea is ready to manifest, Packard starts with composition, form, and the body language of a character, where it’s placed on the wood, sketching her idea on paper to see if it connects with what she wants to express.
“When I find what I’m looking for, I do a paper sketch and then a carbon paper transfer to the wood, versus drawing directly onto wood, to get a clean image transferred to the wood. Then, I burn the outline of my image, and start thinking a lot about color.”
The artist says she used to be afraid of color. Now she has respect for the science of color, and plays around with it, exploring ways for a natural or fantastical look, testing it on spare wood samples. Once she’s spent time on color decisions, she finishes the work, adding a UV protectant, and sometimes a finish.
The Devil In The Details Makes Art Come Alive Her OCD tendency to love the tedious, hard work of detail is her strength as a creator. She loves the intricate, small details and the focus on getting everything right.
As she’s building her work through the smallest things, she says, “You start to see the larger picture emerge. The devil is in the details! Making something alive versus good” is what drives her. “Some artists use color to define their style, but for me, it’s in the details.”
They ask and answer questions for each other about wood-burning. They do artist swaps with each other, based on their favorite topics, and send each other the resulting artwork as mutually exchanged gifts.
Keeping up with different styles like abstract art, and looking at other processes while keeping her mind open to different genres are ways Packard consistently nurtures her artistic skills.
How Being A Woman Influences Creative Process Since she felt oppressed religiously for a long period in her life, and specifically as a woman within that framework, she feels that being a woman has a lot of influence on her creative process. The influence comes into “my creativity as me being a woman, in my roles as friend, mother, wife, daughter.”
She says the experience of religious oppression as a woman “has become my outlet to my imagination. Being a woman influences my art as many of my subjects are female. I love to show a free woman through my art.” Her pyrography often depicts feminine, fanciful and dainty fairies bearing a peaceful disposition.
Keeping Worry At Bay & Using Clarity As Creative Fuel Knowing that the humdrum of daily life can hinder her creative flow, Packard aims to keep stress to a minimum. “Worry halts everything,” so she tries to keep that to a minimum and let trivial things go. She maintains self-care through therapeutic immersion in nature, and spending time with her husband.
“When I have a good vision of where to go with a project, it drives me to do my best. When I have an idea, I just roll it around in mind until I get the direction sense.” Her clear vision about an artistic project positively influences her creative process.
Trusting Your ‘Time On The Shelf’ As Creative Compost Packard has learned to trust herself when that creative flow isn’t happening, calling it, “Time on the shelf.” When going through what seemed to be a creative block, she used to beat herself up for that. But Packard noticed that the time of creative dormancy “is just as useful and crucial to creativity coming back to its flow.”
She learned that her creative process has an ebb and flow. The artist has learned to “just live your daily stuff, doing different things that don’t seem creative. But let it be what it is, and when you come back” to a creative idea, she says, “there’s a noticeable difference,” with sharper skills and creative vision, which triggers inspiration.
When asked to offer advice for someone who’d like to create art, in regard to the most useful skills needed, Packard immediately responded, “Begin by omitting the word ‘mistake.’ Teach yourself how to view mistakes and what it means. It’s not failure—it’s trial and error. My OCD detail-oriented nature has learned to welcome mess-ups. I learned to solve puzzles with that. Take mistakes to spur fresh creativity and make something from them. Accept a mistake and move forward anyway. Practice, practice. Be okay with trial and error!”
Turning Suffering Into A Compassionate Cause Packard is a life-long learner, and her future goal is to be a “student for the rest of my life and to use my art to benefit others like it’s benefitted me.” Having experienced firsthand what it’s like to be constrained, she feels a personal connection to others who endure this kind of suffering. “An idea percolating in my mind is using my art to help domestic violence victims…”
Packard’s creative process has taught her coping skills, and to keep her mind open. She also feels that creativity is itself a form of self-nurturing, as it’s a form of escape she can use if she doesn’t have time or ability to have a real vacation. She says creative work is a “good way to take a break.”
Packard humbly credits her artistic pursuits for instilling within herself “some value and self-worth and the knowing that I have something to offer the world.”
You may find, buy or commission art by Amanda Packard, aka, The Phoenix Quill at:
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