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Art & Life with Cheryl Penner

Today we’d like to introduce you to Cheryl Penner.

Cheryl, please kick things off for us by telling us about yourself and your journey so far.
I was born and raised in Phoenix, AZ with Eskimo and Alaskan heritage. I am a Christian, a photographer and I am currently learning to paint on canvas as well. With all that, I have the challenge of shaking hands which tends to be a challenge in photography to say the least. I love to help and encourage people whenever I can. I enjoy doing volunteer projects to help others and also to teach others about creating art.

The following story is why I am a photographer today.

I was raised by my single mom with very challenging health issues, but she still managed to raise three daughters successfully. It did not help the situation any as I was born with my own health challenges. I was born cross-eyed. But thanks to a great surgeon in my younger years they were able to correct the problem after a couple of surgeries. I am very thankful and blessed that have normal vision, and I thank God every day for it. I cherish everything I see and I believe this is part of the reason I am a photographer today.

Some of my fondest memories that make me who I am as an photographer today would be when my mom would take us to Alaska every summer to visit grandma, aunt, uncle, and cousins. We would stay the entire summer, which was amazing! The relatives taught us how to fish, gather berries, camp; basically, they taught subsistence living, from which you don’t get in the big city. I remember always trying to soak up nature, enjoy it, and to capture and burn all the memories of fishing and playing on the tundra into my brain, every detail I could possibly remember. Kind of like a photo! The wilderness in Alaska influenced me to fall in love with nature and carried into adulthood. It put a deep desire to always stay connected with nature and the great outdoors despite living in a big city. My Alaskan heritage played a big role as to where I am today in my art and photography.

As a young adult working her way through life in the big city, it took me 20 years before I discovered that I like photography. But not with the fancy cameras. I like to capture moments, moments in nature when hiking, moments in life, and all with point shoot cameras! But mostly I like to photograph nature. I have had no formal training in photography. My goal has always been to have a photograph that tells a story or captures something unique or beautiful. But photography for me is challenging because I have those pesky shaking hands. It can be quite frustrating if I am having a bad day of shaking to get good photographs. Despite that, I almost always find a way to get my shot that I am looking for. And it helps to have a tripod and a good photo editing program! But the biggest help that I have is my loving husband to encourage me when I am frustrated with my shaky hands. He keeps me moving forward when I want to give up.

Recently, about five years ago, I met Linda who is an artist and photographer. Linda saw my photographs and invited me to join the ‘Call to Art’ group at her church. She as introduced me to a unique way to display my photographs thru a multimedia approach. I love that approach as it lets me display my photos in an “artsy” way.

So now I am an artist too! And again my shaky hands do challenge me in this as well, but I am learning and I don’t let it slow me down, just need to work around it and do my best. An artist friend once suggested to me that I embrace my shakiness and incorporate it into my art. I might just do that!

Can you give our readers some background on your art?
I love macro photography in nature, capturing things other people might not see. I love to go on hikes, taking photos of nature in all its glory. I try very hard to capture Gods beautiful creations, as well as His beauty, through my photos. That is my goal with my photographs. I am not in it to make money; I am in it to glorify what God has created and to see if I can capture any of His beauty in my photos. I hope my photos will make someone smile and uplifts their spirit. And I hope my photos capture stories as well, though that skill is still progress. It is not easy getting one photo to capture a story.

Often my better photo shots are by accident. Meaning, I intended to take a specific photo of something and when I get it into the photo editor, I find a surprise in it. I once, with my cell phone, took a photo while on vacation. It was of a red lily in a pot near in a downtown area. I thought what a pretty red flower and took a photo of it, and then kept on walking. I truly did not pay attention to what I took. Later when I got it into the photo editor, I realized I had captured a very large snail slithering up the flower petal. I was surprised to see that! I call those unexpected shots, ‘God shots’! I printed that photo on canvas and called it Snail’s Pace as a reminder to slow down in life and take a good look around, a lesson from which I apparently needed to learn. I love the ‘God shots’ as they are often my best work!

I will say that I enjoy my new found skills of a multimedia approach to displaying my photographs. I like that it makes my photos more ‘artsy’ and interesting to look at rather than just a regular photo in a frame or canvas. Though sometimes the best photos only needs itself to tell its story.

I also enjoy acrylic painting. I have not been doing this long, about four years. I will say that my inspiration for each painting is very unique. When I am at church singing worship songs, an idea for a painting will pop into my head. I make note of the idea in my phone and use it later to create a painting. The challenge is, I have no formal training in painting, I can’t draw much at all, and of course, I have those ever-nagging shaky hands. But none the less, when I get one of those inspirations, somehow, some way, I make it work and it comes out exactly the way it should. What might take other artist hours to paint, it will take me days or weeks to paint because of mypesky shaking hands and my lack of skill, but it does get done. And of course, it is my goal that my paintings show Gods mercy, Gods peace, Gods love, and His wonderful grace.

One of the things I like to do when learn a new painting skill or technique is I like to pass those skills on to my fellow artist in the “Call to Art” group. We will hold a paint class and I will show and teach what I learned. My fellow artist, as they learn new skills, will teach what they have learned as well. We even do outreach painting classes to the community. What a great outreach organization to belong to, artist inspiring artist!

You ask what do I want people to take away from this? I hope my story inspires someone with a disability to try and find some sort way to create art. If they have a desire inside to create art, then find a way to create it. Every artist has challenges, so just go for it, take that step of faith and create. Look for the beauty God created in the world and capture it, or create the beauty.

How do you think about success, as an artist, and what do quality do you feel is most helpful?
Success for me is; if my message that I was trying to convey got across to the viewer. Did I make them smile? Did they find it beautiful? Did it make them cry? Did it make them laugh? Did it make them think about God? If my message was received and understood, then I was successful. The quality I feel most helpful in a person as an artist is just the willingness to try.

What do you feel are essential characteristics to a successful artist?
First and foremost, is perseverance. You need to work thru the difficulties, work out the wrinkles and keep creating despite challenges.
Second, the willingness to put yourself out there! Take that risk and create some art and then put it out there for people to see and react to it. That is scary! Taking in the good and the not so good reactions to your work. That is scary but ultimately rewarding!

Third, willingness to learn new techniques and new ways of creating. Always be thirsty for more knowledge with an open mind to learn other ways of creating.

Forth, volunteer at some organization in your community. It makes you a better person, helps others, and will be reflected in your art that you create.

What’s the best way for someone to check out your work and provide support?
People can see my artwork through the “Call to Art” events at Desert Springs Community Church located at
14440 W. Indian School Rd, Goodyear AZ.

You can see some of my work at the Call To Art website at

I will be setting up an Instagram account in the near future, so keep an eye out for me!

Getting in touch: VoyagePhoenix is built on recommendations from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you know someone who deserves recognition please let us know here.

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