21 SECRETS Spotlight :: Amy E. Bruce


Every Wednesday at Dirty Footprints Studio Tonia Jenny, the 21 SECRETS Creative Director & Course Manager,  is interviewing one of the talented teachers in our program.  Be sure to sign up for blog notifications below to never miss a spotlight — and CLICK HERE to check out past interviews. 

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Hello Passionate Art Journaler!

It’s time to share another fabulous artist with you and this week’s Spotlight Artist is Amy E. Bruce. Amy is another artist I first met while on a soulful retreat and I was immediately drawn to her loving kindness and strength of empathy. When she’s not in making-bliss in her art journal, Amy is passionate about capturing her world through photography. And her kind and empathetic superpowers serve her well in her vocation as a full-time art teacher to high-school students. Amy’s 21 SECRETS Paper, Glue, Scissors workshop—Visual Nests – A Mixed-Media Exploration—lovingly guides you through a very-cool process combining intuitive mark making and photography; you’re gonna love it! But before you run over and experience her workshop, let’s get to know some more about Amy.

From what era of your life, up to this point, would you say you learned the most about your authentic artistic voice?

I would have to say that the past six years have been the most transformative. I had a few personal tragedies that really made creating art a form of therapy, so I had no choice but to find a way that worked for me.

To add insult to injury, my job as an art teacher and adjunct had changed so drastically from being creativity-driven to rigid and data-focused, that it forced me to disconnect my work as a teacher from my work as an artist. I had already burnt out on the assumed expectations of producing and showing work in order to stay “relevant” and now the worry my job was now causing was affecting my health so I just had to pump the brakes and learn some self-care.

I found that pulling back from what was expected of me and getting space to allow for what I was genuinely interested in helped give me a reset. I needed permission to just be drawn to what I like to do and pursue it for the simple sake of it bringing me joy in some form.

I was starting to make work for me, no matter how scary or risky it felt. I took all the techniques and inspiration that I had collected and distilled them down into what really mattered to me and it became natural. This was a period of great healing for me and I know now that the burnout was definitely the fire I needed to walk through, to get to this amazing side.

How are the things you value most in life reflected in what you create?

Being authentic and allowing for the messages to come to you is a lesson I am learning now. I am finding little reminders of this wanting to appear in my work recently and am just allowing it. I have always had a “plan” in life, from day to day at work and with a lot of my artwork. So letting go and allowing the accidents, the play and the magic has been a valuable lesson that I guess I am still learning and letting my artwork teach me.

In what do you find inspiration that it seems few others find inspiring?

I have a great affinity for things that are aged or worn and show evidence of heavy use. I like to use things I find as the vehicle for my imagery, to almost turn them into an artifact that may have been left behind. I also have this affinity for photographing abandoned locations where there once was activity and life. I think this is because I love the idea of the energy left by us as still present, even after someone is long gone. Maybe I was an archeologist in another life because I do love me some Indiana Jones!

If we were lucky enough to see your workshop’s “outtakes” or “bloopers” video, what would be the scene?

Oh boy, you would see the three different outfits I changed in and out of, my hair up, my hair down, a couple different pairs of earrings, more lipstick, less lipstick and a lot of goofy faces and cursing that I made to just test whether the sound was working OK! It’s a very different animal to be on the other side of the camera after years of being the observer. But it was a great chance to see how I might appear and come off when teaching my current students. I am so grateful for the chance to make these discoveries.

Where will you be and what will you be doing five years from now?

This is so funny because my answer above was about how I have to not plan so much! Lol! But I can’t help but keep some big-picture plans in mind, especially as I am turning fifty this year. (I know! Gulp!) Technically, in 4 years I am eligible to retire from my district with twenty five years there; thirty total. While no one really knows what is going to happen, I would just like to think that I could be able to do so financially with a steady creative practice that continues to be both a source of joy and income. I wouldn’t mind living by the water in an amazing cottage with David Harbour either!

Amy’s “bloopers” answer made me laugh out loud and I would say that’s something any of us who have made videos can relate to! After reading more about this soulful artist, if you’ve connected to Amy, please check out more of what she’s about on her beautiful website or through her social media feeds.

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About Amy E. Bruce

Amy-Bruce_headshotAmy E. Bruce is an artist and an art educator who has been teaching for twenty-seven years. She currently teaches Studio Art, Computer Graphics and Photography at the high-school level in Alexandria, Virginia, has taught in both K-12 settings and was an adjunct for Virginia Commonwealth University. She specializes in mixed-media photography, pulling images out from behind the formality of glass and frame and lets them breathe on canvas, paper, wood and other alternative surfaces. Amy’s work taps into the energy of the moment captured in her photographs by exploring both archival and digital photographic processes merged with various mixed-media techniques.


Amy teaches Visual Nests – A Mixed-Media Exploration in 21 SECRETS Paper, Glue, Scissors

Drawing has always been a practice that brings me back to center and acts as a warmup for my head and heart as I dive into any given project. While my work has been photographic-based over the years, I’ve found that combining mixed-media techniques with my photographs sets up a perfect combination for the mark making I desire, and the imagery that I capture and love, to manipulate. Join me as I bring you through my process of using expressive, stream-of-consciousness drawing to create interesting and dynamic backgrounds for a mixed-media collage. You will learn how to build a “Visual Nest” that can hold your collage and I’ll share tips and tricks you can take and apply to your own mixed-media practice.

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