Mental Health and Creativity

CREATING your way to Positive Mental Health

by Elizabeth Rice

I do not have it all figured out. Who does? I do however, believe that sharing one’s journey and opening up the conversation is one of the healthiest things we can do for one another and ourselves.

Personally, I have experienced a range of emotions and all levels of happiness at varying points in my life. That’s humanity, right? One constant in my life, has been the desire to create. I have always enjoyed the problem solving components of a DIY project, art in all mediums, and the pride in creating something.

My company, Concrete Theory, was created out of a weekend project. I found myself in a stressful, yet rewarding day job that took a lot out of me. I set a goal to do something I enjoyed, just for myself, every weekend. A few weekends into this journey, I discovered the medium of concrete and rediscovered how great it felt to create something.

There are two types of “funk” I tend to find myself; a compulsive urge to do a million things within forty-five minutes and the lack of desire to do much of anything. When I am feeling down or defeated it is my instinct to withdraw and isolate. Despite knowing this to be the less than ideal choice, it happens. Having a creative outlet has been a great asset when these feelings arise. Often times, taking that first step of creating something new reminds me why I started in the first place. Similarly, finishing a previously started project gets me going again and allows me to check something off the never-ending list. The sense of accomplishment (usually paired with a cup of coffee) reignites my desire to share in the community again and reminds me what I love.

Art as Meditation

by Hannah Martin

A great number of celebrated artists were known to suffer from various forms of mental illness and while I don’t know if there is a direct link between this, I can somewhat imagine what it might have felt like to create. Anyone who has suffered a mental illness and has practiced art will know that art is almost like escapism. Sitting down to practice some sort of art forces us to think about what we are doing in the current moment; it almost becomes a trance. Meditation also emphasizes the same state of mind, focus on the present moment and let everything else escape you.

I often think about how it feels to create. Meditation seems to be one of the closest ways to describe that feeling. Despite the creative process being different for every individual, there seems to be a unifying factor that brings a sense of escapism. On top of that, creativity is a form of self-expression, which implies that when we create we are reflecting on ourselves and using art as an outlet to organize our reflections.

Whether it’s writing or painting, practicing your creativity is one of the best ways to alter your state of mind, reflect on yourself and bring about positive change towards your mental health.

Resources for mental health:

Find FREE mental health resources in Milwaukee here.

Bloom Center for Art and Integrated Therapies

NAMI Greater Milwaukee

Lighthouse Clinic

La Causa

Pathfinders Milwaukee

Wraparound Milwaukee




Feature: Elizabeth Rice of Concrete Theory

Elizabeth Rice is a Milwaukee native who creates and designs concrete goods. Her work often features geometrical shapes and greatly involves plants and greenery. She has participated in maker markets around Milwaukee and loves contributing to the maker network in Milwaukee.

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Where did your inspiration behind Concrete Theory come from?

I am constantly inspired by design & culture around me. Concrete Theory began as a weekend project in a time when I was experimenting with a new medium each week. I was living in Austin, Texas when I planned to try something different each week for a few months.  Two weeks in, I fell in love with concrete. I have always loved puzzles and problem solving. Mixing concrete and using recycled and found objects as molds for my work is the ultimate puzzle!

What does your creative process look like when it comes to making concrete goods?

The process often times begins when I least expect it. A take-out container, an item at the grocery store, or a trip to Home Depot have been known to spark an idea in me! I begin with finding the exterior mold for the object that I want to creste. These vessels range from milk cartons, to to-go containers, coffee cups to gift boxes. The puzzle component comes in next when I need to find a smaller, interior vessel. When the molds have been designated, I hand mix the concrete and pour it into the  forms to set. Waiting until the concrete has cured is crucial and releasing the item from its vessel is very satisfying!

What’s one thing you’ve learned since starting Concrete Theory and how has it impacted your creative process?

Great question. As satisfying as the end result can be, the process of creating with concrete has been a lot of learning through trial and error. One thing that a lot of people may not know is how fickle concrete can be. I have learned that each bag of cement is variable in texture and grit. I am constantly surprised by how different materials manifest the production of concrete. For example, cardboard is too porous, aluminum does not release cleanly, and shape and size can affect the integrity of the object.

What inspires you about Milwaukee?

Being a native of Milwaukee, I have a lot of iconic memories in The Good Land. However, I am loving the influx of new restaurants, shops and buildings lately. Shapes and textures inspire me. The geometry of new buildings in contrast to the lake is breathtaking.

I am also very inspired by the community here. I have found the local business and the “maker” communities to be welcoming and supportive.

 What is your go to shop to buy plants from in Milwaukee?

 I love Rojahn & Mullaney for large orders and beautiful fresh florals & Bayside Garden Center for tropical and succulents. I always find unique plants at ModGen, Ursa, and the seasonal farmers markets (I’d love to hear where others shop for plants!)

Find Concrete Theory on Instagram and Facebook!



Women in Art

Some people say that there is no force more powerful than a woman determined to rise and I know this statement to be entirely accurate. Frida Kahlo herself said “At the end of the day we endure much more than we think we can.” The accomplishments that women in art face may seem transparent but this is a time to challenge the shadow that lies above them. It is time to celebrate them and their inspirational work that can say, evoke, scream and elude so much. Their talents are not little and their voice is even more powerful.

Milwaukee is a community full of exceptionally talented female artists who are breaking the mold and knocking down barriers that stand in their way. They also have an army of allies that support what it means to be a women in today’s world and in our community. So much is said through what they all create so it is time to listen.

Meg Ciccantelli

I grew up in Wauwatosa and attended Marquette University. I have lived and worked in NYC, Minneapolis, Madison, and Chicago. I worked as a freelance journalist, then as an advertising  copywriter and public relations. During the recession, both my job and my marriage ended. I came back to Milwaukee to start over.  My art practice developed  as a way to reconnect the dots of work and community.
I have always been captivated by abstract expressionism and nonrepresentational art. Helen Frankenthaler, Franz Kline, Mark Rothko. Also, contemporary artist Chakaia Booker’s tire sculptures!!  I could not stop looking at them…
So yes, I do appreciate that “experience” of color, of an unexpected shape or expressive mark–it’s something  that engages at an intuitive level. I work with acrylics, collage, inks, oil pastels. I am a newcomer to art making. I have shown my work at Sanger House Gardens during the Doors Open Milwaukee and also sold pieces to private collectors. I enjoy the creative process of painting, working through several layers of paint and uncovering the unexpected surprises. Thank you for your interest. I look forward to seeing the future contributions and collaborations.

Megan Woodard Johnson

Megan Woodard Johnson is a mixed media and collage artist living and creating in West Bend, WI. Her work layers vintage paper ephemera, acrylic paint, a variety of drawing media and sometimes found objects. She makes work that examines the meeting place between private moments and shared or universal experiences.

Megan and her family live in West Bend, which is also where she keeps a studio. She teaches workshops in analog collage, and participates year round in group and solo exhibitions as well as juried art fairs in southeast Wisconsin and northern Illinois. In early 2019 she will be part of a four-woman collage exhibition at the Cedarburg Art Museum.




Annelise Pollard

Annelise Pollard was born and raised in West Allis, Wisconsin. In May of 2017, she received her Bachelor of Arts in Fine Art Studio from Judson University in Elgin, Illinois. Her work has been shown in juried exhibitions at the Draewell Gallery in 2016 and 2017. In 2017, she participated in a local exhibition at Cream City Clay in West Allis. Currently, Annelise resides in West Allis where she practices pattern making with watercolor as well as portrait and production photography. She has also recently started painting with alcohol inks. To view more of her work, go to or check out her Instagram.


Jenny Jo

Jenny Jo is a Milwaukee-based artist and muralist working in watercolor, ink, and acrylic mediums.  Her explorations in art-at-large began in San Francisco studying poetry and myth under the legendary Beat poet Diane di Prima.  She wrote, produced, and performed several fairytale plays with her genius, junkyard cohorts, The Stars and Garters Theater Company.  From this decade of performance and writing, Jenny Jo extracted the determination and methodology to teach herself to paint and compose visual art. She is a self-taught painter and illustrator, lured back to the canvas by her childhood passion for drawing the female form. Jenny Jo is in love with the past, specifically the lives of artists and writers she admires.  She is currently at work on a series of paintings exploring these muses in portrait form.  You can see her murals around Milwaukee in various locations including Cafe Lulu, Classic Slice Pizza, and Black Cat Alley.



WAZALOO’s works are the illustrated notes taken from her experiences exploring the collective unconscious.  She pulls symbolism from dreams, mythology, & nature, translating messages from the cosmic clouds of Knowing into condensed visual stories. Her work is deeply spiritual, and is itself a practice in worshiping the beauty of the relationships between shapes & energies.  Also very personal, she often depicts herself in an idolized, limitless form with the power to create & manipulate reality.  WAZALOO finds that creating meditative windows into worlds beyond provide her with a healing escape from the harshness of Earth, and invites others to join her in the plane of thought & feeling.



Ariana Vaeth 

Ariana Vaeth is a Baltimore raised artist focused on personal narrative living in Milwaukee. Enticed by the theatrics of the Baroque to the Modern portrayal of American is the Realist Movement; Vaeth finds stimulation in the melodrama of everyday life.  Her work revolves around the moments experienced as she travels into Womanhood. Her paintings honor interactions with the people who construct her character and document personal reflection.



Erin Paisley

My name is Erin Paisley and I’m a self taught ceramic artist. I’ve always been a maker, and I always knew I wanted to be an artist. Having children made my work change, as I wanted to capture the magic and wonder for them that captivated me when I was small. With everything I make, I’m always chasing that feeling I had the first time I watched Fantasia as a kid, or being in awe of all the beautiful breakables I wasn’t allowed to touch in my great grandmas china cabinet.



Melissa Lee Johnson

Melissa Lee Johnson is an artist, illustrator, and graphic designer, living & working in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. She also gives people stick and poke tattoos, but files that under the “just for fun” category in life.

In her practice, Melissa explores personal narrative through editorial illustration and traditional drawing. She creates scenes in which characters, who are largely autobiographical, perform their identities to the audience. Her drawings cover themes of mental health, feminism, and the domestic setting; they have been described as darkly humorous, highly detailed, and playful.

Melissa received her BFA from the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design in 2016, and has since worked as a graphic designer and digital illustrator. She’s constantly trying integrate her practices into one mega-practice that disregards the boundaries between art and design.

Melissa wants to adopt a pair of chihuahuas, and has eaten the same breakfast for ten years, and wants to know what you’ve been reading lately.




Feature: Emily Berens

Emily Berens is a powerhouse to say the least. She’s an Associate Lecturer at UWM’s Peck School of the Arts in the First Year Program, Coordinator for the Milwaukee Visionaries Project, Grant writer extraordinaire, and Digital Artist. Her connection to the Milwaukee community as an artist and teacher combined with her inspiring talent and work makes her the perfect first feature. She was also my first art instructor at UWM and now a wonderful mentor and friend. If you love her work as much as I do, you can find her stuff here!

Tell us a bit about your background; how did you end up in Milwaukee?

I grew up in East Aurora, New York, which is a small town not far from Buffalo and Niagara Falls. East Aurora is an interesting little town, in that it was the birthplace of the Roycroft Art Collective, which was a big contributor to the Arts and Crafts Movement in the Late 1800’s through the 1920’s. The Roycroft Collective/Arts and Crafts Movement had a big emphasis on the importance of Craft and Handmade work and materials; there were a lot of little art studios and art fairs in my town growing up. When I took a History of Design class at UW-Milwaukee, the Roycroft movement was mentioned by my Art History professor and screened in our class materials, and I thought it was really odd/funny.

My dad is a photographer who focuses on the craft of traditional darkroom studio work and he would show his photography in outdoor community art fairs every summer. My sister and I would help out at his pop-up booth, and over time I got to know a few of the other painters, photographers, and printers who would come to each show. It was really fun to be able to walk around the shows and see what everybody was working on. I think those are some of the first experiences that inspired me to want to be part of an arts- based community.

I went to college at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and moved cross-country from Upstate New York to Madison shortly after turning 18. I had been to Madison previously a few times to visit a friend, and fell in love instantly with the eccentricities of the arts community there, and the sprawling massiveness of the University community. I think when I was there 2004-2008, UW-Madison had around 40,000 students total; my parents worried I would be overwhelmed by how big the campus was. In reality, I loved how many people there were, and how everyone was always doing something different (both in the arts, and across other programs and majors).

At Madison, I changed my focus of study a few times; I studied in Journalism/Mass Communication, Fine Art (with a focus on Printmaking), and then ultimately ended up graduating with a bachelors degree in Graphic Design. I moved to Milwaukee for the first time in 2008 for my first Graphic Design job, working for a series of publications run by an area nonprofit. I moved briefly to Chicago while working towards an MA degree in Interdisciplinary Media at Columbia College, then returned to UW-Milwaukee to earn my MFA degree, graduating in 2013. Shortly after that I started working for Milwaukee Visionaries Project, and teaching at a few area Universities (a few years later I returned to UW-Milwaukee as a full-time staff member). I have been happily residing in Bay View for the past five years, living in a 126-year-old house with my husband Andy, who is a Milwaukee-area Native.

Emily Berens – (from left to right) Adams and Ohio (2016), Savannah (2016), Bricks and Mortar (2016). Mixed media.

Can you describe the Milwaukee Visionaries Project that you are coordinating?

Milwaukee Visionaries Project (MVP) was created by UWM Art Ed Professors Kim Cosier and Laura Trafi-Prats (they are amazing!) and started out in 2010 as a project funded by UWM’s Research Growth Initiative (RGI) Grant. We are an after-school filmmaking program that serves middle and high school students from across the city of Milwaukee. We just moved this past year from a classroom in a school on Milwaukee’s South Side to a bigger studio space in UWM’s Kenilworth Square East Complex; as a result, we have benefitted from a huge increase in middle/high school students, UWM student volunteers, and contributing teachers from across the city.

We are an open-format, project-based learning initiative in which we pair students with subject matter experts to create multi-media projects intended to tell their stories. Students in our lab this year have worked across an array of projects and media- from modeling Claymation puppets for stop motion filming, learning basic woodworking and set design techniques, editing footage in industry-standard software such as Adobe Premiere/ After Effects, and writing dynamic scripts and storyboards. Student film projects have shown at Milwaukee Film Festival’s Youth Show and Extremely Young Film Festival in Houston, Texas. I started teaching in MVP in 2013, and moved into a role as a supporting Program Coordinator this past year. I now work to help recruit new students and make connections between our students and members of the UWM community. My goal for MVP participants is for them to get comfortable from an early age with being part of the University and have an idea of the pathways they can take as part of the Peck School of the Arts. I also think this program is a great example to all members involved in the many different forms and formats that collaborative arts partnerships can take! Check us and our work out at

Emily Berens – Buffalo. Vignettes.

As an artist yourself, what kind of work do you do?

Both my Master of Arts (MA) Degree from Columbia College-Chicago and my MFA degree from UW-Milwaukee were in Inter-Media- essentially, it’s a loose term for anything and everything incorporating multiple forms of arts and technology. I like to consider myself a ‘Tra-Digital’ artist- one who blends their work in traditional and digital media. I am most skilled in the digital software end of things, but try to blend in the handmade- sketches, prints, old photos, even found paper and textures- into dynamic digital collages. My work is a lot about process- tracing the same paths multiple times, creating material experiments through trial and error, and not thinking of works of art as having a linear “stop” and “end” point. Many of my prints and short animations are continually evolving, and I will show multiple editions of them over a period of months (or sometimes, even years). I would say in both my personal artistic process and in my teaching practice, appreciating and embracing the value of learning through experimentation is key.

Where do you get your inspiration and what drives you to do the work you do?

When I was working as a Graphic Designer in print publishing, I did a lot of infographics. I honestly love looking at how information and data can be organized in different ways to communicate a message, and that is something that carries over into both my own current work and into the artists I gravitate towards. I love artists like Emma McNally and Eric Fischer, who work with nonconventional methods data representation, often pairing real data with experiments in mark-making.

To me, the very act of organization is also an art! Pinterest has honestly become a huge part of my research process in the way it allows me to group and catalogue a lot of different visual thumbnails from a lot of different places. In both my teaching and artistic practice, I am continually trying to find new ways to catalogue how ideas are spread. I keep a digital archive of work, but I also try to keep as much hand-written documentation as I can, from sketchbook pages to notes scribbled in the margins from lectures and meetings attended. When looking for inspiration, I have found that sometimes if you pull from a large archive of stream-of-consciousness notes and cull them all together quite after the fact, you find connections and threads you never realized were there before.

Emily Berens – Milwaukee (2013)

What are some Milwaukee creatives that you personally find inspiring? 

I love that in the time I have lived here, Milwaukee to me has become a city of start-ups. I am really inspired by the variety of DIY gallery, retail and creative spaces. I recently got to visit Var Gallery in the 5th Ward for the first time in January, and thought they have an amazing range of exhibitions and participating artists. Sparrow Collective in Bay View and The Waxwing on the East Side near UWM are both retail spaces that showcase a wide range of Milwaukee-area artisans and work that often has a regional focus. Redline Gallery has a diverse range of exhibiting artists-in-residence, and gallery nights there are wonderful to visit. I have also for a long time loved the work of the Milwaukee Home studio (… it’s simple, but it works, and it hits you right in the feels.

What are your go-to spots in Milwaukee?

I work a LOT. And I love hybrid, non-traditional workspaces. A new favorite this winter has been the new Fuel Café on 5th street, which doubles as a coffeeshop bar/restaurant. The entire 5th street corridor in Walkers Point has had a number of great businesses coming in, ranging from galleries, bars/restaurants, and breweries. Another after-work favorite is Urban Harvest, which is just down the block from Fuel. They have great beer, board games, and occasionally host area pop-up restaurants. When not doing a pop-up restaurant, other great area spots- like nearby Transfer Pizza– will deliver to them. Colectivo Coffee on Prospect- right across from my Kenilworth studio space- is becoming an interesting venue for music performances. Smaller coffee spots- like Alderaan Coffee and Pilcrow coffee- have unique offerings and awesome customer service. With the ‘working a LOT’/ ‘not getting a lot of sleep’ part, good coffee is really important to me :).

This is Atelier

Welcome to Atelier! I wanted to make a little post here to officially introduce you to this project. I’m Hannah, a lifetime Wisconsinite and recent UWM grad, I’ve decided to start Atelier as a way to engage our community of creators in Milwaukee. I have very strong hopes that this blog will become a sharing space for artists, creators, writer and thinkers alike. From conceptual writing on the arts, to artists’ features, and all community art events in between, Atelier will be a space for all. If you would like to contribute as a writer, be featured or help organize community art events please get in touch!

To kick-off the first post here I wanted to talk about the balancing act of working a full-time job as a creative. Anyone who has ever been in this position will understand the impossibility to balancing time for creating after a long day of work. This time is the hardest by far. But there is a lot of benefit to being in a position where you can’t just be a full-time creative. Learning to make balance can be really beneficial to how you spend your time creating. It can provide a more thoughtful and well executed practice. If your time is limited, you’re going to be more intentional with what you create.

What inspired me to write about this topic was about two weeks ago, while in NYC, sitting at a bar drinking a sad excuse for an Old Fashioned (insert Wisconsin joke here), I decided to take some time off of work and spend a few days painting. Working in a digital medium can be highly beneficial but there is something quintessential about raw canvas and paints.

What I had learned by the end of my few days was that, I do indeed have my own individualistic style. My canvas ended up looking a lot like something I’d create digitally. When you don’t have a lot of time to spend developing your own style, it can seem like what you create isn’t true to you or reflective of your thoughts. In actuality, this was the opposite for me!

On my time off I also got the chance to go to the Interactive Media Lab put on by Christopher Willey, a Digital Studio Practice instructor at UWM. It’s basically an open opportunity for anyone to come and explore digital media mediums, including virtual reality! This in combination with my time spent painting kind of encompasses what I envision for Atelier, a community space where the public can come in create, learn and share plus an opportunity to focus solely on my own practice.

That being said, if you would like to work with me please get in touch! Anyone is welcome to share here, whether you want to write something or want a space to share your work. Thanks for reading!