Artist finds purpose in natural collages

Sometimes when her kids are down for the night and the moon is propped high in the sky, Joan Bittinger, Bremerton resident, pulls out her art supplies and makes magic.

Bittinger is a mother of five and a teacher, which she says eats up most of her hours, but when she finds time she likes scratching away the last minutes of the day making art.

She considers art her gift, her voice and her purpose. She takes pride in making pictures with materials most people take for granted. She’s more apt to dig into her food scraps from a night of cooking than to pick up a paint brush or an oil pastel.

To make the color maroon, she squeezes blackberries instead of a tube of paint. She uses a piece of seaweed to make a textured green, an onion skin for a rich light brown, or tea leaves to depict something with fine lines like hair.

“A lot of the things I use in my pictures are things you’ve thrown away,” she said.

In her notebook-sized collages, Bittinger’s scenes are typically packed with people. Her pictures highlight everyday relationships between friends, parents, lovers, sisters, brothers and teachers.

Many of Bittinger prints profile her family in common household scenarios — doing the dishes, eating dinner, reading or playing on the swing set. They are moments she says people can relate to. She knows because they tell her so.

Bittinger says her art also gives her a chance to talk to people — to educate or empower them through the symbolism inherent in her prints.

As she gives value to forgotten materials like cornhusks, coffee grains or laundry lint, she hopes to communicate a deeper message.

“If laundry lint can have a purpose, you can,” she said, smiling.

Everyone is endowed with a purpose, Bittinger said, it just takes a little detective work to find it.

Bittinger learned art fulfilled her purpose five years ago. She was attending a fund-raising event at Emmanuel Apostolic Church, and the Rev. Lawrence R. Robertson told the congregation to use creative fund-raising instead of just dropping money on the basket.

“He said when raising the funds, don’t let it be a fundraiser for a moment,” Bittinger recalled, “but let it be something that will enhance your life and your family life as well.”

A month later, after Bittinger punched out four intricate collages, she knew she had found her purpose.

Bittinger attends Emmanuel a few times a week, and she says Rev. Robertson still talks a lot about purpose and about action.

Bittinger considers her art her action.

Since 1997, her art has been purchased by her church pastor and displayed at a Kwanza celebration, at Black History Month events and in galleries.

In all, she has made 15 collages and 500 reproductions of each since 1997. She sells prints for $25-50 a piece.

Most of the profits go to supplies and to pay for home schooling her 13-year-old daughter, Jessica, and her 10-year-old son Marquis.

She also has twins and a 1-year-old with her husband of 11 years.

Although Bittinger says earning money for art has its perks, she

insists the most important aspect is its educational value. She wants the pictures of people working together to remind us to contemplate how they fit into other people’s lives. To listen to others and learn from them.

“We stop growing when we fail to listen to what other people say and why they say it,” Bittinger said.

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