Austin artist creates one-of-a-kind artwork

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Ryan Edwards

Inspired by dream, Sue Zola pioneered glitter art in Austin and her influences can be seen in cities where her art is shown.

Jessica Lee

In 1999, artist Sue Zola decided she had had enough of the East Coast’s cold winters. The Connecticut native was ready to escape her fast-paced life, so she packed up her car with all of her belongings and ended up in Austin. The live music capital proved to be the perfect setting for a woman with plans to sing jazz music, but her plans did not work out the way she expected them to.

While looking around a local Goodwill store, Zola stumbled upon an interesting picture frame. The frame sparked a memory of a dream Zola had one night, and she immediately purchased the frame and created a piece of artwork to go inside it.

What separates the artwork Zola does from a typical artist is that her medium is glitter.

Zola’s glitter art can currently be seen at Halcyon. Because of the positive reception her work has been receiving, Halycon extended her show into the summer months.

“I definitely call myself the pioneer of glitter art,” Zola said. “It seems every time I show my work somewhere, another glitter artist pops up in that area.”

Zola’s husband David Tyson calls his wife “exciting, boisterous and creative” and feels those same qualities shine through in her art.

“I think that her artwork is some of the most original I’ve ever seen,” Tyson said.

From vintage cowgirls to Frankenstein to Bob Dylan, Zola has found that she can make glitter art of just about anything.

A recent nostalgia kick led to the creation of pieces featuring old-school food box characters, such as Tony the Tiger and the Kool-Aid Man.

Zola’s quirky style has also caught the eye of quite a few Hollywood stars. Quentin Tarantino commissioned a portrait of Bruce Lee. Nick Offerman, otherwise known as “Parks and Recreation’s” breakout character Ron Swanson was given a portrait of Tim Curry, a la “The Rocky Horror Picture Show,” by his wife, “Will and Grace’s” Megan Mullally.

Southwestern University studio art senior Kirby Crone took notice of Zola’s work when it was shown at Magnolia Cafe last year.

“Her work is pop art meets that really campy style,” Crone said. “It’s just everything you love from childhood with glitter. How can you not like that?”

Zola has certainly paid her dues. When she first began her glitter art, Zola sold her pieces at festivals for a mere $15 or $20. She found it hard to compete with the jewelry vendors who were getting more attention from customers.

“It was horrible,” Zola said. “As an artist in Austin, you really have to hustle. You have to make sure you have shows booked every month.”

Now, she sells her pieces for $600-1,000, allows customers to pay off the pieces in installments, and takes commissions.

The process of creating glitter art is a tedious one. Each piece must be done horizontally because otherwise the glitter will not adhere to the canvas. Each color of glitter is applied separately and must fully dry before another color can be applied. Because it takes so long to complete each piece, Zola works on multiple pieces at a time.

Zola has made mistakes while working on pieces, but she finds that her mistakes are usually great ways to pick up interesting new techniques. She believes that sometimes the artist must not confine themselves to one idea, and instead see where the art takes them.

Though a job that is not confined to an organized 9 to 5 routine can be stressful at times, Zola constantly reminds herself of how lucky she is to be doing what she loves in a city she adores. She raves about her newlywed status (Zola and Tyson tied the knot last September) and her four cats, which she refers to as her “fur babies.”

“If you find something that makes you happy, turn it into a job,” Zola said. “It’s made me such a happier person.”

Printed on Wednesday, April 4, 2012 as: Glitz & Glam