WHEATFIELD -- Photographer Lisa Langer recalls taking one look at the original watercolor of a night scene in front of the Riviera Theatre painted by Jody Ziehm and saying, "That's a prize-winner."
Langer is owner of Pencil In The River Studio at 82 Main St., North Tonawanda, a high-end digital imaging studio that also counts among its clients renowned artist Philip Burke.
"I have a lot of watercolors come through my studio, but this one was really different," said Langer, who has been shooting Ziehm's works for reproductions for about eight years. "She maintained so much color in the shadows that it has a lot of life to it. It has a certain glow to it."
Langer's prediction proved right, as Ziehm went on to collect a Best of Show award at the Lewiston Art Festival for the painting this past summer, as well as a first-place ribbon at the Allentown Art Festival and a second-place ribbon at the Art on the Riverwalk show in Tonawanda.
"Jody Ziehm joins the illustrious group of artists who have taken Best of Show at the Lewiston Art Festival," said Irene Rykaszewski, executive director of the Lewiston Council on the Arts. "The competition is fierce when the artists come from across the country, and we are proud to have an artist of her caliber in our show."
The scene unfolded for Ziehm as she left a painting class she teaches in North Tonawanda and saw a yellow 1955 Chevy parked in front of the Riviera Theatre for a premiere. Camera in hand, she took a number of photos from which to paint, to aid her memory of the scene.
Ziehm believes part of the picture's allure is that "it looks like an oil painting, because of the dark, rich colors."
While watercolors often evoke ideas of lighter fare, Ziehm coaxes a number of qualities from her paintings usually reserved for other mediums.
"I had done acrylics for a while, but have been doing watercolors exclusively for about 20 years now," she said. "Watercolors move on their own, they're more unpredictable. Just by adding water, they move, but with oils, for example, you have to push the paint with a brush."
Noted for her large, vibrant paintings, Ziehm's colorful creations hug the walls and lean against furniture of the well-lit living room-turned art studio and gallery in her suburban Wheatfield home.
While many know Ziehm for the florals she produces -- many inspired by her own beautiful gardens -- she has explored a number of different subjects and styles of watercolor.
A large, sepia-toned painting hangs on her studio wall of a Key West marketplace, while two terrific "poured paint" creations have found homes on the brightly painted walls of her dining room (floral) and family room (sailboats).
"Poured paint is when you do your drawing, wet the paper, mix up your paints in little cups and then pour the paint on," she explained. "It's layer upon layer, and the areas that remain dry are left white. It's a layering process that takes about an hour between each layer to dry.
"It's overlapping and abstract, and that's why I like it," she said. "The first time I tried it, I entered it in the Lewiston contest and won first place."
While Ziehm is friendly and warmly enthusiastic, she never comes across as boastful in describing her paintings. She seems genuinely happy to share the discoveries that come with each creation, offering a glimpse of the artist as teacher.
She teaches the majority of the year, taking summers off to display and sell her artwork at a handful of Western New York shows, including the Clothesline Festival in Rochester and the Waterfront Art Festival in Canandaigua, as well as Allentown and Lewiston.
"I'm teaching four classes a week right now, three at Partners in Art in North Tonawanda and a class at the Amherst Museum," she said. "I also teach workshops. I taught an eight-day workshop in Chautauqua last month."
She's also setting up a February workshop for Islamorada in the Florida Keys.
"Jody has a very high level of professionalism, a high level of integrity, and I love that about her," Langer said. "She is as you see her -- there is no pretentiousness. And I've watched her teach. Her students just love her. My studio is right above where she teaches, and I'll hear a chime of laughter hitting the floor up here and I know it's Jody's class. They are absolutely having a ball."
"Expressing yourself through painting is the best part," Ziehm said. "I tell my students, 'You don't have to have a perfect painting, the technique will come. It's all about the feeling you have when you're doing it.'
"I paint instinctively and intuitively. I never thought about it, I just did it," she said. "I have always loved art. I just had to do it."
A 1975 graduate of North Tonawanda High School, Ziehm said her community education instructor Sid Montague (now retired and living in Utah) served as an inspiration.
While marriage and raising three children and a career in hairstyling intervened, Ziehm stayed the course, explaining, "I painted after I put the kids to bed at 9:30 at night until 2 in the morning. It was just something I had to do."
Now she paints year-round, preferring the early morning hours of uninterrupted time at her art table, with the sun slanting in through bay windows and music softly playing in the background.
Her children are grown and have careers of their own now, she has three grandchildren, and her husband, Dave, "encourages me in every way," helping frame the works she mats herself and helping man her booth at shows.
Her prices for originals range from about $65 for small paintings to $1,700 for large creations.
"I like to paint first thing in the morning with my pajamas on and a cup of tea -- I've ruined more pairs of pajamas with paint," she said with a laugh. "I don't even look at the work to do in the kitchen until I've painted for a couple of hours, and then I'll spend the afternoons with the business stuff -- that takes a lot of time. Then, sometimes, I'll get back to painting in the evening when there's no distractions."
Ziehm's work can be viewed in the Mansion on Delaware in Buffalo and Kittinger's Gallery in Williamsville and soon will be displayed at Barton Hill Hotel in Lewiston and Finger Lakes Gallery and Frame in Canandaigua.
Her work also may be viewed on her Web site, www.jodyziehm.com. She holds an open house by invitation at her Danielle Drive home/gallery Dec. 6-7 and can be reached at 731-4856.