Life of art Ozaukee Press

Successful artist Paula DeStefanis began many of her abstract works with a diary entry. Often the theme of the picture follows its writing.

Only she knows the words.

DeStefanis writes his thoughts on the blank canvases in pencil and then paints them.

“No one sees him,” she said.

But DeStefanis remembers what he writes about what he paints.

The co-founder of the North Shore Academy of the Arts, who opened the Arts Mill in Grafton, often allows her mood and what happens in her life at some point to influence her work.

In a dark period of her life, she became interested in abstract paintings, starting with black and brown and other dark colors.

Now DeStefanis is in a happier place and uses brighter colors.

But paintings are far from her only environment. DeStefanis can make a variety of works from his extensive experience in a variety of arts, which includes vocational training on the East Coast and trips to Europe.

DeStefanis is a first-generation American whose parents are from Italy.

Art and music were common in her home. Her mother is an opera singer, and her father, who holds a doctorate in political science from the University of Rome, is a co-owner of a construction company.

She grew up in eastern Milwaukee and attended Homestead High School, which had a strong ceramics program.

DeStefanis wanted to be an artist for as long as he could remember, and he never hesitated.

“There was no other vision for me,” she said.

DeStefanis had extensive experience in painting and painting, but he wanted to be a potter. At the time, however, the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design did not have a ceramics program, believing it to be just a craft.

DeStefanis specializes in commercial illustration and graphic design with a focus on the fine arts – studying old-fashioned placement techniques. The computer was introduced to her curriculum in the final semester of college in 1985. The degree offered sustainable living skills after graduation, instead of becoming one of those proverbially starving artists.

She has always wanted to study on the East Coast and received a master’s degree in fine arts from the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.

She returned to Wisconsin to be close to her family, and “then I did every other art work you could do,” she said.

DeStefanis made an illustration and graphic design by hand, showcases, frames, gallery directing, a silk screen that was placed on the purse and created patterns for needle designs.

“I think all these things helped me become a good gallery director,” she said.

DeStefanis and Sherry Mabri founded the NSAA in 2000, which offers rental space and training for all types of art, including performance, literature, dance for all ages.

DeStefanis founded the Arts Mill in 2011, providing work space for artists on the second floor and a gallery on the third. The first floor is a cafe and brewery, which DeStefanis said is ideal because it attracts people who can explore the art.

The Arts Mill attracts artists from all over Ozauki County to West Alice and Kevascum.

The high ceilings of the building, the natural light and the soothing sounds of the Milwaukee River make it attractive to creative people.

“It’s perfect,” DeStefanis said. “There is a good mood here. Artists say you feel like you’re making art when you’re here. “

From time to time, artists gather to discuss their work. They are required to spend 12 hours a week in their space and discuss works by fellow artists with clients if the artist is not there.

The goal, DeStefanis said, is to make sales for artists, most of whom practice their craft to make a living.

It’s also special, she said, for clients to watch artists create their work. Everyone can attend the show and see the final products, but most do not have the opportunity to work live.

DeStefanis does her magic in a corner with a window, but that may not be her biggest contribution. She manages the exhibits on the third floor and gives private art lessons.

“I often say that I have created more artists than I have art,” she said.

Two of them may be her sons. One is an art designer in Austin, Texas, and the other is studying design at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

But DeStefanis has created many works of art in different styles: figurative work, landscapes and still lifes. It turns Goodwill bowls into unique pieces.

“I think it’s an intrigue to be an artist,” she said of trying new types. “You’re curious.”

Some of her acrylic paintings are woven into geometric shapes – hints of her graphic design – with a texture influenced by European architecture.

The time required to make each piece varies and she works on multiple projects at once. DeStefanis has a specific technique to perfect them.

“A big part of making art is looking at your artwork,” she said. “I sit with my art for a long time between layers.”

She knows when a piece is ready.

“It’s definitely an emotional reaction,” she said. “You just know.”

She said she prefers to paint large pieces and, like any artist, finds the painting process therapeutic.

“I don’t need a therapist,” she joked.

While her focus is now abstract, DeStefanis will make any style she is commissioned for. She is working on a piece for the local fire department that includes axes and fire, and she is working with students on a mural at Woodview Elementary School in Grafton.

“I have no problem working with a client to make them happy,” she said.

What makes her happy is that she creates art and travels, especially to Europe.

“I don’t want to be an artist here,” she said. “I want to go where my art can take me.”

In 2012, he took her to a show in London. DeStefanis was disappointed that she did not sell a single piece, but made up for it by meeting the man who would become her future husband, photographer Adrian Spinks.

As a result, DeStefanis lives part-time in England and Siederburg.

She also runs her own Etsy store, which has wearable parts. In between drawing, teaching and managing the non-profit Arts Mill, including its accounting part, “I work all day,” DeStefanis said.

She is grateful. The Arts Mill survived the pandemic – DeStefanis said she had spoken to a number of galleries that did not – and she continues to pursue her international fantasy, which has come true at least once.

Traveling through Cornwall, England, she sold a painting in Grafton to someone living in Virginia.

“I want to be anywhere in the world and sell a painting to everyone everywhere,” DeStefanis said.

For more information, visit

Leave a Comment