Making an Impression with Amanda Bienko
As a kid, I remember going on a nature walk at my local wildlife preserve, where the park ranger taught us how to make "nature rubbings." They gave us paper and crayons with the paper peeled off, and told us to explore. We found leaves, tree park, and other funny-shaped artifacts with which to create our rubbings. I still remember mine: the star-shaped maple leaves in blue crayon, the rough diamond bark from an ash tree in orange. They were like echoes of the forest that I could take home. Footprints. Magic.
That same kind of wonder was what I felt when I came first across the work of Amanda Bienko a couple years ago. Amanda is a pro at taking impressions from Nature and elevating its voice into her prints and illustration work.
First, give us some background. What were you like as a kid? Have you always been artistic?
"I was definitely born an artistic child," Amanda asserts. While, like most kids, she had a variety of interests, it was clear from her childhood drawings where her talents were. "When I look back on my school drawings my mother kept, they are full of details and it’s easy to see the artistic qualities!"
Naturally, art was always Amanda's favorite school subject, and in the 9th grade, she had what she looks back on as her “formative moment.”
"My high school art teacher (who I’m friends with now as an adult) really helped to encourage me and set me on the path of becoming an artist. I was an awkward skinny tall girl with glasses and felt so out of step. We had sketchbook assignments in art class and I remember she wrote in my sketchbook that I was talented [...] I remember feeling so proud and wonderful and like someone thought I was special."
With her teacher's encouragement, Amanda worked to create a portfolio for her application into an exclusive studio course at her school. "I practiced and practiced until my junior year when I was allowed to apply and I got in."
Her creative endeavors have taken many forms. "I change the mediums I become obsessed with every 2-5 years." In fact she says her first creative love was poetry. She went from carrying around her little notebook of poems, to picking up a camera and learning about photography but drawing has always been Amanda's "steady calm place."
"I always return to it and enjoy it and find true expression in it."
After graduation, Amanda went on to study Art Education in college, and received a Master's in Inclusive Arts Practice.
"I wanted to be an art teacher to give children the opportunity I was given by my art teacher."
In her personal art practice, Amanda brings her self-expression, reverence for nature, and celebration of all the wonderful creative energy floating around in the universe, "because I am honoring myself when I express and that in turn honors the energy of the world." She says her artistic practice is closely tied to her spiritual life, "because it is using elements around me to create something that didn’t exist before." Pure magic, in my book.
What about your creating space? Do you have a space set aside for your work, or does art just kind of happen all over the place? How do you keep all your different tools and supplies?
"I feel like my creative space starts with me because my mind is always running and thinking of things to create." Amanda's studio space has taken a lot of different forms, depending how her living arrangement, as well as the mind of projects she's doing. When she preps the cross-sections of trees she uses for printing (the "tree cookies," as she calls them), for example, she's using a blow torch. There's no doing that from your sofa. So she usually has a combination of making-spaces set up both indoors and outside.
"I can roll ink and pull the prints in my actual shop and of course I can draw designs around [tree ring prints] in my studio as well."
And a diversity of settings just suits her creative style. "I hate sitting at a desk or standing when I make art. I don’t feel comfortable that way." She says sometimes this means cuddling up with a cup of tea and some music, drawing with all her supplies perched on an end-table (and a cat squeezed next to her.) "If I’m drawing you can bet I’m on the couch or recliner." We can totally respect this work setup.
While no stranger to a good creative mess, Amanda says she practices good studio hygiene, being sure to tidy things up after a working session. "I like to clean it back up when I’m finished so next time I start with a clean organized environment." Some of us could learn from such an example... In addition, she shares that, "a few times a year I will reorganize the way my space is as well so it matches my needs."
What do you need in order to be productive and inspired? Any must-haves to get those creative juices flowing?
Amanda says she's never really liked having a consistent sketchbook practice. "I always resented having to keep one in all the art classes I’ve taken over my art learning career. There have been times in my life when I kept a sketchbook and drew everyday to help me with depression, but I am never going to keep one to just keep one."
Generally, she catches her ideas as they come to her- wherever inspiration strikes. "I write descriptions of them on my phone in the notes app. This always jogs my memory." Then, when she's got the time to work, "I pick the one I haven’t been able to stop thinking about or I pick the one that feels right."
This approach of going with her creative flow and working when the Muse appears has helps Amanda to keep creating, even when life get's complicated. Learning to deal with medical limitations and the emotional ups and downs of life has taught her the importance of balancing her emotional, physical, and spiritual wellbeing with her productivity. "For me emotional stress is my biggest no no. So my life and especially my space needs to be calm because I can’t create if I am feeling too unwell to create so I try my best to take care of myself and my environment!"
Finally, how do you stay inspired?
Amanda fills her space with her own art, piece friends have made, and other works she's collected. "It’s also full of thrifted and antique items, fun rugs and lots of colors! I cannot stand boring white walls. I feel decorating your space and making it your own is so important!"
"Your home is your sanctuary and the place where your magic goes to recharge."
She says that she thinks everyone's ideal space is going to be different, but that we should all strive to make our spaces our own- even on the smallest of budgets. Amanda shares that, as a broke graduate student, she decorated her space with things she'd make from the twigs and pinecones she collected outdoors. "With some creativity almost everyone can put their mark on their space."
After spending the last 7 years working as an art teacher, Amanda made the choice to prioritize her health and leave her teaching position. She's now taking the time to focus on her art- and her practice just keeps evolving.
From those "tree cookie" prints, to her ethereal illustrations, to her quirky series of self portraits, Amanda continues to elevate the voices of the natural world, while expressing the fullness of her own.
"My work focuses on the whimsy, weird, spiritual, and sensual parts of life, magic, and divine energy of the universe."
If you would like to follow Amanda's exploits and see more of her work, you can visit her website at www.amandabienko.com. She can also be found painting, printing, and sharing funny videos on Instagram and TikTok @amandajanebienko.