With one more planet to go, Greenbelt cut paper artist, Sherill Anne Gross, is on a mission to finish creating all our solar system’s planets in time for an art exhibit at Yuri’s Night – an annual worldwide party named after Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin for being the first person to journey into outer space.
Sherill is putting paper to her own idea of Miss Universe, a pageant where all nine planets strut around seeing who’s going to win. Yes, nine. She includes our recent cosmic outcast in the mix because “Pluto is still a planet in my opinion,” she said.
Sherill’s latest art extravaganza of bright purple, goldenrod and psychedelic colored planets donning legs worthy of Lloyds of London, exemplifies her art and personality. “I love color. I go bright myself,” she explained, motioning toward her streaked atomic red hair.
A glance at the hundreds of colors flashing from the cut paper art lining her studio walls, backs her up. From her last year’s Yuri’s Night sensation, a lizard-green skinned space girl decked out in bra and panties, down to her orange macaroni tubes, a cranberry red pirate and a lime green pretzel salted in turquoise, Sherill is about color.
Her artistic venture started back at Florida State University, where she focused on 2D design and electronic imaging. When she took a printmaking class in her sophomore year, Sherill’s perspective changed. In graphic design and computer generated art, “You don’t get dirty. You don’t sweat,” she said. But printmaking was hands-on and messy. Sherill came away with ink smeared on her – and loved it.
And there was another perk, Sherill said, “I completely hold printmaking responsible for why I do paperwork.”
After graduation, she found herself with a multitude of colored paper but no presses. “I had no way to do a print, but I had paper,” she said. So she started turning the colors into shapes and creations, setting off on a path of discovery that would eventually define her artistry.
Sherill cut paper during her off hours and worked by day for an advertising agency, then as a contractor for NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, until she eventually became her own boss. Today, Sherill works as a freelance graphic designer, and her cut paper artwork is also bringing in an income.
“I have something inside of me, something in my mind I need to get out,” Sherill explained. "That's why I create."
In 2007, Sherill began one of her greatest creation experiences, a one-a-day art blitz, in conjunction with starting a blog. She started off the first day with a peacock and the hope that it would bring her prosperity and good luck throughout the year. Three hundred and sixty five days later, she glued the finishing touches on a confetti and party blowout piece titled “New Year.”
Thus ended a year filled with a fantasia of creatures, flowers and imagination, where each week day, she cut and pasted together a colored paper piece under the self-imposed deadline of finishing by 11:59 p.m.
There had been some snags along the way. Sherill took time out to help her father during an illness, undergo hand surgery herself and recover from a few colds. It’s not that she couldn’t have toughed out a fever or two, but Sherill explained, “sneezing and coughing is just not a good idea when wielding a knife.”
The interruptions weren’t all set backs, some were steps forward. She took a paper cutting break to marry her long-time partner, James McDonald, who Sherill has been a fan of since her early college days when she had gone to see his band, Eastern Standard Time (EST), play on tour.
Despite delays, sickness and her wedding, as 2007 came to a close, Sherill had 209 finished pieces of artwork to show for it. She also had worked out issues in her technique. Using her first day’s peacock as an example of her learning curve, Sherill said, “When I look back at what I can do now, it’s like I can blow that thing out of the water.”
Her blog had also grown much larger than its slim beginning had prognosticated. “For the first few months the only person who checked my blog was my husband and my sister,” Sherill said. But her following started to grow and she was getting a couple of hundred views a day after that, with 672 being her largest viewership to-date.
Although her current works often take more than a day, Sherill feels good about her one-a-day art quest, not just for what she accomplished, but also because of the affordability it made possible. Since her pieces were completed relatively fast, she sells the framed and matted originals for $75. And she offers archival digital prints of the sold masters for $25. “The whole idea was art should be for everybody,” she said.
With one art venture behind her, Sherill set out on another. In 2008, she moved her studio to the and became an Artist in Residence. It was a step up from her old office, located in her GHI townhome. That space was so small, James and she called it “the coffin.”
Running a window-unit air conditioner or a fan in “the coffin” had been unthinkable. “You can’t run a fan when you’re working with little pieces of paper,” Sherill explained.
In 2006, she was working with red paper dots that she had painstakingly cut out with her knife. Sherill said she sneezed and lost half the project, “They were gone. We were finding them for years – little red dots. They were everywhere."
Not only is her paper safe in the new studio, but Sherill also enjoys the creative energy she gets from her fellow artists in residence, Tom Baker and Russ Little, who share room 303 with her. “We’re all big with color and big personalities,” she said.