On a snowy afternoon in Michigan last winter, Glencoe resident Jill Pam found herself stranded at home with only a few magazines and craft supplies, like a hole punch and glue, to pass the time. So, being the creative she was born to be, she starting using the hole punch to create an assortment of dots. She then painstakingly reconstructed the tiny pieces into a portrait of Pop Icon Lady Gaga, dubbing the process “hole punch art.”
“I know it is a cliché, but I like to think I turned lemons into lemonade,” says Pam. “This unexpected time to myself gave me the freedom to settle in and access art in a new way, which completely changed the way I look at things. It is a good lesson for all of us.”
Pam says art has always been “in her blood,” and she grew up with parents who instilled a love of culture in their children, regularly taking them to museums and the theater. Perhaps it was then that Pam was first exposed to impressionism and the work of her favorite pop artists, like painter Chuck Close, visual artist Andy Warhol, and Chicago-based Nancy Rosen, the artist behind “Frankie” from Grace and Frankie on Netflix.
Pam transitioned from the Fiddlestick markers and doodling of her youth to playing with ceramics and stained glass at overnight camp, then studying painting, sculpture, and drawing in school before eventually evolving to the hole punch art medium she invented. Throughout her myriad evolutions, Pam has always been rooted in a love for creativity and growth.
“Impressionism had a major impact on me when I was young and throughout my years in school,” says Pam. “It taught me about natural light and still helps me today when creating my hole punch art. I have always been an experiential learner versus a textbook one. And I have always had an attraction to paper.”
Now Pam finds inspiration in both popular culture—sorting through dozens and dozens of magazines to find a mix of textures and patterns—and in her commissions, asking clients to share multiple photos so she can select the one that will best come to life on the page. Her process, she says, is akin to a jigsaw puzzle, and each hole is punched and placed with consideration.
Now Pam has created portraits of notable names ranging from Michelle Obama and Bruce Springsteen to Prince and Ben Platt, which Pam made as a gift for her niece’s 21st birthday. Recently, she started selling affordable reprints that fit in standard frames and is working on a way to photoshop the images so clients can custom order a background color to fit their needs if, say, Prince’s purple will not.
“I love the Ben Platt piece,” says Pam. “It took me months and months and was the first project I made for someone else. But I love them all for different reasons. I’m surprised by the response to the Happy Buddha, which is definitely my most recognized portrait. It seems to impact people, which I attribute to the vibrant colors.”
In much the same way, Pam has turned to art as a refuge during rough times. During the COVID-19 outbreak this spring, she created a print of the Grateful Dead’s Jerry Garcia and donated the proceeds from her reprints to two different nonprofit organizations.
And to support the fight for racial equality, Pam made a custom Black Lives Matter piece with hues of black, brown, purple, green, blue, orange, yellow, and white. “Each shade carries equal importance to the one next to, in front of or behind, and they are placed side by side to create one piece,” explains Pam.
Reprint proceeds benefit Imagine Englewood If, an organization with the mission to strengthen and empower the greater Englewood community through teaching local youth and their families healthy living, environmental awareness, and positive communication skills.
Recently, Pam’s son brought her a portrait of Marsha P. Johnson, a black transgender woman who was a central figure in the gay liberation movement and asked Pam to create a portrait. She says the piece is “in the works” and proceeds will likely benefit the LGBTQ community.
“Marsha was a colorful woman, so I have enjoyed making a large-scale, smiley piece,” says Pam. “I have felt really helpless with the unrest in our world and wanted to help people in underserved communities in whatever small way I could. It feels more important right now to give than to sell or promote.”
To stay relaxed while hole punching, Pam listens to podcasts like Armchair Expert with Dax Shepard, Brené Brown’s Unlocking Us, and Conan O’Brien Needs a Friend when Pam herself needs a laugh.
“I need structure in my day,” says Pam. “I start with yoga and have been spending more and more time in our yard and vegetable garden, taking the dog to the dog park now that it has reopened, going on walks, binging TV shows, and hosting barbecues and games with my family.”
Of course, as winter approaches, we can only hope for another snow day to inspire the next evolution of Pam’s art.
For more information, visit jillpamart.com.