I first discovered Liz Paganelli Fine Art in the Piper J Gallery in Truckee, automatically drawn to the beautifully detailed colorings of nature and the world. Later, I was fortunate enough to take a Nature Journaling course with her at the studio last July, surrounded by the abundance of greenery outside the Garden Folly building on West River Street.
She taught us how to be in the present when nature journaling: noticing the weather, noise levels and people around us. She showed us how to unleash our curiosity through drawing by asking ourselves questions such as why a flower is a particular color or think about what it reminds us of.
Even as a writer, I found that taking that class allowed me to stay in the present and later I remembered more about what happened that day, as well as what I learned about the intricacies of the feverfew leaf I drew.
“Art is the one thing that truly connects the mind, body and soul. It keeps me balanced and gives me a tremendous amount of joy.” –Liz Paganelli
Paganelli has been into art since she was 5 years old when her mom bought her a set of fingerpaints.
“I just sat at the kitchen table and painted with them all day,” she said.
A few years later, she watched her cousin draw a portrait of her dad and it was just magic to her. Something clicked. When she became an adult, Paganelli earned her Bachelor of Fine Arts from California College of the Arts and a master’s from John F. Kennedy University where she worked in portraiture. She has also studied printmaking at Kala Institute in Berkeley and at a graphic center in Florence, Italy.
“I always loved art and creativity and my mom was always so supportive. She gave me a space to create art. My mom loved nature and grew roses. She would look at one, turn to me and say, ‘How could a person not believe in God?’” Paganelli said, smiling.
She was raised in the San Francisco Bay Area and when her own children grew and moved out of the house, she and her husband were ready to make a change. They moved to the North Shore 30 years ago and have lived there since.
“It was such a good fit. I found a group of women to hike, kayak and go cross-country skiing with,” she said.
Shortly after she moved to Tahoe and began enjoying more of the outdoors, she created her “Into the Forest” line drawings series.
“The forest is so interesting, so mysterious,” she said.
Paganelli likes to create her artwork in different collections with around 20 pieces in each. After making “Into the Forest,” she then completed what she calls the “Ravens Alphabet,” which explores the notions of ethics, order and virtue.
“I have five grandkids and I wanted to leave them something, so I did a series of mixed-media virtues. Some are literal and some you have to contemplate,” she said.
The pieces go down the alphabet, with names such as “Awareness,” “Endurance” and “Intuition.” Paganelli also completed a “Walking A to Z in Yosemite” series of colored etchings documenting all the camps that she visited.
Her work is always evolving, as seen through each of her collections. Most recently she’s been creating mixed-media art on panels with vibrant flowers, birds, paper and lovely scripts all carefully intertwined.
Looking at her sunflower panels, I noticed that intricately drawn birds, petals, postage stamps, color and illustrative text collaborate.
“I spent a lot of time in Italy and that’s where I get the papers and stamps. I’ve collected a lot of stuff; the hard part is making it cohesive,” she said.
Paganelli has also always been interested in The Renaissance and illuminated manuscripts and is fascinated with Joris Hoefnagel’s work, a 16th Century Flemish artist. She recently created a Hoefnagel-inspired collection and as we flipped through a book of his work, Paganelli said: “His compositions are so interesting, intricate and crazy. They don’t make much sense, but they are so much fun.”
As we looked at more of her art in her sunlight-filled studio, Paganelli said: “These pieces and a lot of the work I have are about connections and those connections to nature. I look at these and they tell me a story, and what is going on in my life at the time. Art is the one thing that truly connects the mind, body and soul. It keeps me balanced and gives me a tremendous amount of joy.”