Artist Jennifer Lanzilotti knew she has a lot of creativity inside of her, but it wasn’t until a few years ago that she began to let it out. As a mother with a background in social work, she left her career to spend more time with her family, but along the way she found a renewed sense of creativity that was dormant before.
First, she began writing novels, but one fall as she returned to her car windshield covered in maple leaves she had an epiphany to paint. Her canvas? The leaves themselves.
The “Detroit Performs: Live From Marygrove” team sits down with Lanzilotti to hear how she began painting fallen tree leaves and her love of natural landscapes that she found in the process. Lanzilotto talks about her process of finding, selecting, and preparing the leaves for painting. Plus, she talks about the other, newer mediums she has painted, finding her creativity again as an adult, and her goals as an artist and writer moving forward.
Jennifer Lanzilotti, Artist and Writer: You’re working on a canvas that is part of the earth. And then, if I paint on this leaf, I’m giving a piece of Earth back to somebody. So, I actually don’t have a background in art. It’s really funny, my background is in social work. I gave up social work to be home with my kids and that’s when I started writing. I wrote some action/adventure/romance, and I kind of did it with the idea in mind that my kids would read it one day. They’re kind of the movies that I had going through my head that I thought, I need to get this on paper. The series is called, “Heal Me”, and the first book is, “Heal Me”, and the second book is, “Healed”, and it’s actually about a woman who has the ability to heal. And so, at a time when terrorists have hit nuclear power plants, a government agent is sent to find her and bring her in, and he ends up learning that this person’s not who the world thinks she is.
For “Chicory Island”, there’s an organism in the water, and it’s the fear of if something happens to our drinking water, to the Great Lakes. And I’m obviously a big nature person; I love nature so much and I’m all about protecting the water and the Great Lakes. I spent years writing as a stay-at-home mom, and I’d never painted before ever in my life. And the opportunity to paint on leaves literally fell on my car. I parked my car under a maple tree and it was in the fall, and when I came outside, my car was blanketed with maple leaves, so the opportunity was right there. So, I picked one up and I remember thinking, this is flawless. And I thought, I’m going to try it, I’m going to just try painting. And I honestly didn’t even have any good paint, I didn’t have a good paint brush, and I realized for the first time that I’m really drawn to landscapes and it was a learning process for me.
I can collect 100 leaves, and out of all those leaves, only 50 of them are going to be worthy. So, I bring them home, I soak them in the sink in water, and then I dry them with paper towel and I press the leaves. I have a really good friend who made me this really great leaf press. I wait 3 weeks and then when they’re completely dry and I’m happy with it, I’ll take it outside and I’ll spray it with a protective spray, and then it’s ready to be painted. I have always loved nature and the idea of bringing nature inside. It’s almost a style jagged leaf, fallen from the earth. And so, you’re collecting a leaf that has died and you’re giving it life. It’s being reborn in the form of a painting that will be forever preserved on someone’s wall, and I love that idea. So, once I released this inner artist that I obviously always had but didn’t know about until recently, I started viewing everything differently and I’m obsessed with trees; I love birch trees.
The initial idea is to look at something and that inspires me, but by the time I’m done with it, I have gone off in a totally different direction. I’ve added my own twist to it and it’s all just almost like beginner’s luck. Every day I’m inspired, I want to paint or I want to write. I’m writing another story; it’s like creativity overload, there’s so much I want to do. I started doing bottles, you know, I ran out of leaves and then I thought, well, let me paint on a bottle. Make it one continuous scene around the bottle. My friend gave me the idea to turn them into incense bottles. It works, that makes a really nice incense bottle. It’s also a bottle that you would have just thrown away. So the same concept, you’re repurposing it, recycling a bottle. Pallet wood is really popular right now and I remember thinking like, I wonder if I could paint on canvas, something that would look like pallet wood.
And so, I took the canvas and I made a stencil and I painted it and worked on it all afternoon. And when it was done, it actually did look like painted pallet wood. I think somewhere with being a mom and a parent, I dropped the idea of “I can’t”, I used to maybe look at something that, Oh I could never do that. But now, I have this attitude of, hey, all I can do is try. I don’t know if I can do it, but I’m going to try it. And so, I did, and it’s one of the things I’m most proud of and of all the things I’ve ever done.
It took me 30 hours to do and tons of paint. I’m still in the beginning stage where if you really like my art enough to want to hang it in your house, I’m just thrilled to pieces. More than anything, I think I’m really grateful that I was able to be a stay-at-home mom because that gave me the extra time. This is a discovery for me. I don’t ever want to quit painting, I want to keep going and pursuing it. I’m just so grateful that I have this. I would definitely like to keep selling and I’d like to get my books published and I would like to really get my name out there. I’d just be happy to have more than 100 followers on Instagram, to be honest.
Subscribe to One Detroit’s YouTube Channel & Don’t miss One Detroit Mondays and Thursdays at 7:30 p.m. on Detroit Public TV, WTVS-Channel 56.
Catch the daily conversations on our website, Facebook, Twitter @DPTVOneDetroit, and Instagram @One.Detroit
View Past Episodes >
Watch One Detroit every Monday and Thursday at 7:30 p.m. ET on Detroit Public TV on Detroit Public TV, WTVS-Channel 56.