By Gina Malone
With art growing out of a daily practice of gratitude, how could it be anything but bright and happy? Artist Lori Portka discovered art early on, set it aside and has found her way to “happiness through art” once again.
“Growing up, I loved three things—art, nature and animals,” Lori says. During her childhood, she was drawing whenever she wasn’t running around in the woods looking for animals and collecting leaves, flowers and rocks. Even at a young age she looked upon art as a job she loved. “I would make greeting cards for my family for every celebrated holiday and birthday,” she says. “I took card making very seriously at an early age. I created a logo for the back of each one and I said that I was going to grow up and work for Hallmark.”
At 15, however, she lost her beloved father to cancer, bringing the strain of depression to her mother and financial insecurity to the household. “Losing my dad and seeing how terribly it affected my mom made me want to have a solid career with steady, reliable income,” she says. “I wanted to be able to completely take care of myself and be independent.” She attended college, earned degrees in elementary and special education and began a career as a teacher. After marriage, she began studying for a masters degree in mental health counseling.
It took the ending of that marriage to reconnect her fully with the art that had fed her soul in childhood. “It was a total shock at the time and I was completely devastated,” Lori says. “After grieving the loss of my marriage for weeks, I decided to get back into creating art again— art as therapy, as a way to heal and recover.” She learned from reading Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity that she had been living as a shadow artist, which she defines as “someone who loves art, did art as a child and is surrounded by artists, but is not creating art.” She began painting again, giving her friends paintings of their dogs as gifts. “Their sweet reaction to my artwork started to build my confidence,” she says.
The next few years brought work as a teacher and counselor, a new marriage, and creating art and showing it at craft shows in her spare time. Then a gratitude project she saw online inspired her to spend a year and a half on one of her own. “I started the A Hundred Thank Yous gratitude project as a way to keep gratitude front and center in my life and also develop my skills as an artist,” Lori says. “I made 100 paintings for 100 people who had an influence in my life and held a gallery show where I gave them all away.” An independent Australian filmmaker learned about her project on social media, flew to the US and filmed a short documentary about it called “Gratitude Grows.” The film would eventually be seen by Oprah Winfrey’s producers, and it aired on a SuperSoul Sunday episode in 2016.
“This gratitude project became the foundation for my art business and put me on the path to developing the kind of art I want to make in the world,” Lori says, “art filled with love and kindness.” She launched greeting card and stationery product lines and today her work can be found in 175 gift shops, boutiques and wellness centers across the country.
Lori and her husband Joe Mangicaro made their way from New York to Asheville in 2015. “We wanted to live in a place with natural beauty and lots of hiking, biking and outdoor living,” she says. In 2018, she opened a studio at Riverview Station in the River Arts District. The space is divided into areas for creating, for retail, for packaging and for shipping and handling. “My floor is painted sunshine yellow and almost everyone who walks into the room mentions what a bright and happy place it is to visit,” she says.
When she’s ready to create, she meditates in front of a blank canvas. “I start with gratitude for the time and space to create,” she says. “I make an intention that the art I create carries a message of hope and unity, love and compassion. As I meditate, I always get some sort of vision in images and words, and then I start painting or drawing on the canvas.” Her media include acrylic paint, paper, inks, gouache and water- soluble pastels applied to wood panels and canvas. “I believe I do my best creative work when I allow the artistic vision to come through me instead of trying to figure it out in detail in my mind,” she says.
Hiking trips, both home and abroad, have inspired her pieces. “From the time I was a child, my inspiration came from nature and it still does,” Lori says. “Since we are often hiking in the Blue Ridge Mountains, many of my paintings have flowers from our region. I particularly love the early spring flowers—like trilliums—that are so filled with hope and new beginnings.”
Lori Portka – Happiness Through Art is located at #230 Riverview Station in the River Arts District. To learn more and find a link to “Gratitude Grows,” visit LoriPortka.com, or find her on Facebook and Instagram @LoriPortkaArt. Lori’s art may also be found at Kress Emporium, Asheville Emporium and Malaprops Bookstore and Café. Join Lori and fellow artist Suzanne Armstrong for their Art of Joy party during Second Saturday on May 11.