Book, upcoming film highlight South Sound artist’s emotional journey

Emotion fills Colleen Black’s art studio.

Paintings and sculptures dangle from all corners of the small room, attached to a garage at her family’s Midland home.

Behind her collection of artwork is a story of struggle, serendipity and a little “magic,” she says.

In the beginning, Black painted by the book; she didn’t want to miss any details, she said, down to a person’s fingerprints. Eventually, she learned the rules so well that she knew how to break them.

Now, Black’s emotions elevate her art.

“It’s the fastest, most efficient way to explain how I’m feeling,” she says.

Black is the author of the book “Behind The Black: A Fearless Venture Into the Darkest Corners of the Creative Mind in Search of Light.” It’s about art, life and spirituality, told through her personal experiences as a professional artist and recovering alcoholic.

She’s also one of the subjects of the film “Sensitive,” a documentary still in production by San Francisco-based The GlobalTouch Group. It details the findings of Dr. Elaine Aron, a psychologist who discovered the innate trait of high sensitivity and authored the book “The Highly Sensitive Person.” A kickstarter.com campaign fully funded the project in September.

A highly sensitive person, or HSP, is naturally overstimulated by crowds, noise and experiences that evoke emotion. About 1 in 5 people are highly sensitive, according to findings outlined on the film’s website.

Black considers herself a HSP, and she says it shows in her art.

As a child, she couldn’t watch her mother kill a fly without crying. Today, she chokes up when an ambulance races by.

In 1998, when she was commissioned to create sculptures for retired Gen. Colin Powell and seven Congressional Medal of Honor recipients, Black felt a strong connection to their stories of valor.

“There were tears the whole way through,” she says. “You’re inside of each moment.”

Some of her other work can be found in galleries around the country and aboard international cruise lines. She studied art in Italy and under a renowned artist in Ohio, and traveled around the globe for ice carving competitions and live painting demonstrations — including one in Las Vegas featuring a Playboy cover model.

She even designs handbags.

Black says all of her art, no matter the medium, tells a story.

“There’s always been a huge level of emotion in my work,” she says.

Her mother, Leanne Black, told The News Tribune that her daughter has always been emotional and creative.

When Colleen Black was 10, she sat in her aunt’s art class and painted for four straight hours without a snack or a bathroom break. After that, her parents kept her art supplies stocked.

When she was a teenager, her mother listened in awe as she described the details of her vulnerable painting of faces depicting the internal desire for serenity in a world tormented by war and natural disasters.

“There was so much wisdom,” Leanne Black says. “She just blew me away.”

Despite the catharsis that her art provided, Colleen Black struggled with an emotional roller coaster that resulted in alcohol addiction.

“I’ve lived a pretty crazy life,” she says.

While living in downtown Pittsburgh in 2010, Black said she went on a drinking binge that led her family to “rescue her” and bring her back to live with them in Washington state.

She was grateful for their compassion, and said being drunk inhibited her creativity.

“(Art is) 100 times better than getting drunk,” she says.

In the beginning, many people told her not to worry so much about conveying feelings in her artwork; people just want pretty pictures for their walls, they said.

“That’s not why I do art,” Black says. “I do it straight from my soul.”

That passion is what brought the “Sensitive” production crew back to her. She had previously worked with them on a film about her life.

“They already knew that I’m really sensitive,” she says. “If there’s a scale from one to 10, I’d be an 11.”

She’s pleased that the film will shed light on a topic that most people don’t know about. She said many highly sensitive people are misunderstood, especially men, and helping show the positive side of the trait could help those dealing with their emotions.

“Your heart fills up so much,” she says, adding that she’s fortunate to have an artistic outlet. “I always had somewhere to put it.”

Black says she also has a deep love for people, so when she’s working alone in her studio, she misses interacting with others. When she’s working with live models, she said, she builds a bond with them that is conveyed in each individual painting.

“I don’t think there’s been anyone I haven’t fallen in love with,” she says.

Black sees the same sensitivity and creativity in her 13-year-old daughter Mikayla and 6-year-old daughter Angela, who sat on the floor of the studio Thursday drawing pictures and explaining their meanings.

She doesn’t worry about those feelings weighing down her daughters, just as she embraces her own emotional identity.

“Nothing’s gonna get me down,” she says, adding that after all she’s accomplished and the challenges she’s faced, “I’m not stopping now.”