An Artist on the Cutting Edge

Pastry chef cut paper

Years ago, Sharyn Johnson Sowell ’77 went rowing with her husband, Russ, and their two young sons. To distract the boys before they went overboard, she picked up her husband’s Swiss Army knife and began cutting shapes in the brown paper bags left over from lunch. Today, Sharyn spends 12-18 hours a day creating, designing and marketing unique works of art cut from hand-made paper.

“You learn so much about form and line with cut paper,” Sharyn says. “It is so good for training the eye.”

For 12 years she didn’t save any of her cuttings. Then her son’s art teacher took an interest in her work and told her to stop throwing it in the garbage. In the past five years, Sharyn has received national recognition for her snippets.

Her designs dance across greeting cards, candles and rubber stamps. They hang on walls as posters and original hand-cut paper. Her work has appeared in galleries and museums nationwide, including Affaire in the Gardens in Beverly Hills, the Lincoln Center in New York, and Boston Symphony Hall. She appeared on KING-5 NBC-TV’s “Evening Magazine” and “Northwest Backroads.” Victoria Magazine featured her romantic Valentines in 2002, and she was the featured artist in the Mary Engelbreit Home Companion Magazine Holiday 2003 issue.

In the beginning, her studio was a shoe box. Now she works out of a rose-covered cottage on her property in Washington. She exhibits and sells her art retail, including hand-printed greeting cards printed on an old-style printing press. In additon, she uses her cut-paper images to design products for manufacturers.

Sharyn is still amazed that she went from receiving a degree in business and marketing to becoming a professional artist. She realized her art and marketing had achieved a certain success while attending a licensing convention in Manhattan last year; her booth was situated between such corporate giants as McDonald’s, Nickelodeon and Yahoo.

Her most rewarding experiences, however, come when people mention that there is something special about her work and want to know more.

“For Christians, work should be an act of worship,” Sharyn says. “I can make an impact with the message I have in my work. I have a very strong philosophy of work that I consciously try to convey. My message is that miracles surround us every day, but we look right past them. We should really open our eyes, enjoy and then say ‘Thank you!’”

Sharyn has fond memories of Westmont. Professor Moises Silva greatly influenced her thinking, and she has not forgotten Professor Arthur Lynip’s way of making learning relevant to daily life. She recalls singing “May the Mind of Christ” so often that its words sunk in deep and changed her permanently.

Sharyn begins her busy days with a devotion, which is key to balancing her art career with family and church activities. Last September she joined in planting a new church. Through a café church setting, the new congregation hopes to reach out to the unchurched and the wounded, as well as creating a strong body of believers who follow Jesus Christ.

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