Local Artists Share Their Inspiration

Mason area makers give us an inside look into how they approach their art

Joe Chunko

Photographer Joe Chunko’s career didn’t begin in art school, but in the U.S. Navy where he served until 1966. From there he began a 40-year career in the packaging and printing industry.

“I think I have a good eye, and that eye was developed in the printing business,” Joe reflects. 

It was here that he began learning about the aesthetics of photo composition. 

“I learned that color is not necessarily the only thing that makes a picture look great. Simple things can be just as beautiful with one or two colors,” explains Joe. 

Joe’s job brought him from Cleveland to West Chester in 1988, and he would eventually move to Mason in 2009. The following year he retired, and with more time available, was able to focus on his passion for photography. 

Often preferring to print his photographs in black and white rather than color, Joe takes inspiration from photographer Ansel Adams. Just as Adams was known for his sprawling nature profiles, Joe prefers to go outdoors when shooting.

“Photography is spur of the moment for me,” Joe explains. “Most of my shots are not just of someone sitting on a chair posing.” 

Joe’s portfolio ranges from pictures of Civil War reenactments and sporting events to breathtaking landscapes and shining cityscapes. 

After every shoot, he returns home to go through the images while the subject is still fresh on his mind. After sometimes deleting hundreds of photos, he’ll whittle it down to a small grouping that he is proud of.

You can view samples of Joe’s work on his Flickr page, or up close at Pop Revolution Gallery in Mason, where prints can also be purchased. Joe is a member of numerous photo clubs and participates in juried competitions. His art has been shown at various regional art centers.

Sonja Smith 

Sonja Smith grew up in Indiana, Ohio and South Carolina, but after living in the greater Cincinnati area for 40 years, she considers this her true home. 

As a child, Sonja flourished in a home that fostered creativity and was taught to think “outside the box” at an early age. 

Although she creates digital art as well, it’s another approach that’s become her unique trademark. Sonja began combining pegboard and yarn with her paintings four and a half years ago. 

Her process begins with the selection of a distinct palette of colors. From there, the idea slowly develops from abstract to images of clearer distinction. The yarn is then added to complement and add dimension to the painting. 

“The hardest thing for me is knowing when to stop,” Sonja chuckles. “Sometimes I leave it for a few days and eventually come back and add to it or edit it down.” 

Sonja draws inspiration from Impressionist artists and bases many of her pieces on nostalgic memories from her childhood. Ultimately what inspires Sonja is artistic freedom and the variety it offers. 

“I love the variety, and every time I do a new piece I like to try something completely different from what I’ve done in the past,” Sonja explains. “It keeps me excited about what I’m doing.” 

Sonja began collaborating with her daughter, Sara Ball when they opened an art gallery five years ago. Sonja and Sarah taught art classes together, where they designed their own process for artists to refine their style. 

Although their gallery is closed, Sonja now has art on display at Algin Furniture and Blume home locations in Loveland and Lebanon. Her art can also be viewed and purchased online at SonjaMarieArt.com and via Instagram @Sonjasadie 

Sara Ball

Like her mother, artist Sonja Smith, Sara Ball grew up in a creative and art-filled home. This eventually led her to study art in college and continue into the graphic design field.

Although she began with pen and ink drawing, Sara often works in a digital format. Depending on the direction and subject of the piece, Sara likes to begin by taking photos and researching her subjects for reference. This helps her decide which defining lines are most important.

“I like to make simple, peaceful graphics and let the lines speak for themselves,” Sara explains.

From there, Sara creates a black and white digital drawing and experiments layering colors in  Photoshop or Procreate. She also typically incorporates text snippets or pieces of words in a collage aesthetic. 

She’s inspired by illustrator Pascal Campion and cites him as a major influence.

“I love the realness of his editorials and his use of color and light,” explains Sarah. 

Also similar to Sonja, she draws upon nostalgia for inspiration. 

“I like to draw from memories that people can relate to and bring them back to a distinct place and time,” Sara describes. 

Her art has been printed in a variety of ways, including on clothing, canvas, blankets and more. 

“It’s fun to see my art printed on different things rather than just on the computer screen,” laughs Sara. 

Her trademark theme was honed in a grouping she created five years ago. The unifying characteristic of the works was the inclusion of different pairs of glasses.

“Each one would have a background, like a city, and then a different pair of glasses at the forefront of the image to represent that we all see things through a different lens,” Sara describes. 

Sarah’s art can be viewed on her Instagram page @GraphitiMarie.

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