She became interested in art at a young age, watching her grandfather and father create art with cut glass and stained glass. “I saw creative work being done,” she remembers. One day, while in elementary school, Denise Willing-Booher was reading the comics and on a whim decided to draw “Dennis the Menace.” “And, I did!” she exclaims. “I amazed myself. I just kept doing it. It is a God-given talent, I believe.”
Willing-Booher grew up in Mundy Township and attended Ainsworth High School (now Carman-Ainsworth). “I had a great art teacher there,” she shares, adding that she was also editor of the school’s yearbook. She took art classes at Mott Community College and attended University of Michigan-Flint. She then transferred to the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, graduating from the School of Arts with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree.
When Willing-Booher finished college, it was during the recession and she ended up working as a waitress. The artist decided to visit a couple of her friends in New Jersey and took her portfolio with her. She also visited friends in Texas and Chicago, sleeping on their couches and spending days knocking on doors with her portfolio in search of work in her chosen field. She finally got a job in New York City creating ads for Rolls Royce.
Not enjoying the long daily commute to the city, she worked for three years in New Jersey as a graphic designer and illustrator. “I discovered I was quite marketable because I could do design and drawings and illustrations,” she remembers. She then married her husband Bob Booher, and the couple moved to his hometown of Flint in 1984. Her family owned a business in Flint, the former Willing Glass Company.
“I want you to stop and feel the wonder I feel when I see a sunrise. Connect with the soul of the person I have painted. Our lives are so fast-paced. We walk past everything without seeing it. See the unseen. I strive to convey raw beauty and emotion in my painting through an up-close perspective with composition and light.”
Willing-Booher then started her own art studio doing a lot of graphic and design work for hospitals and businesses, winning them many awards. “I had a ton of work in Flint,” the artist shares, including the former Flint Osteopathic Hospital, Genesys and McLaren Hospitals and General Motors, to name just a few. She was asked by the Greater Flint Art Council to do a solo exhibit about people working in the Flint area. “This got me more into fine arts,” she remembers.
Willing-Booher has worked with a variety of mediums but especially enjoys watercolors. “It’s a bit magical,” she shares. “You mix it and never know exactly what you are going to get. I love the uncertainty of it – just letting it work on its own.”
For the last several years, the artist has spent a lot of time painting, teaching and exhibiting her work. A past president of the Michigan Water Color Society, she recently stepped down as president of the National Water Color Society to immediate past president, which was a considerable undertaking. “I learned a lot in the process,” she admits.
During her career, Willing-Booher has had solo exhibits at the Flint Institute of Arts, Greater Flint Arts Council, Flint Public Library and many others. Her work is currently displayed at Cause & Affect Gallery in Fenton. She has also done two-man and juried exhibitions and commissioned works. The artist is currently planning and preparing for a solo exhibition next year.
Willing-Booher loves painting portraits, landscapes and wildlife. She particularly enjoys Plein Air (outdoor) painting. It has been said that Plein Air allows an artist “to capture the emotional and sensory dimensions of a particular landscape at a particular moment in time.”
Willing-Booher also teaches classes offered through Fenton Community Parks & Recreation, Quick Sketch Water Color and Plein Air classes for kids and adults. “I have done this for many years,” she adds. “It is so inspirational to teach kids from age six to fifteen. I give them the tools and the freedom to feel confident. It is amazing to watch their talent blossom.”
Now living with her husband in Fenton, Willing-Booher hopes to continue following her passion. “My goal is to show the beauty and the humanity of the world. I hope my paintings inspire and touch the souls of the people who see them.”
Photos provided by Denise Willing-Booher