PEORIA — Artist Laura Lein-Svencner’s first art lessons happened while sitting on a porch swing in Wisconsin.

With coloring book and crayons in-hand, 4-year-old Lein-Svencner listened as her grandfather describe the natural world around them.

“He taught me to look at everything and break it down to its simplest form, and once you see that, you build it back up as a drawing,” said Lein-Svencner during a recent phone interview from her home in Darien, Ill. “It was always about observing, looking at shapes and colors.”

Today, Lein-Svencner uses those skills to build collages from paper, a medium she took up in earnest when her youngest children, twins, were 4 years old. She set up a card table and filled shoe boxes with different types of paper, creating a space where she could work whenever she had a free moment.

“I’m self-taught. I never got a degree in art, but I took a lot of art classes in high school — jewelry making, ceramics, and printmaking,” said Lein-Svencner. “It was something that kind of evolved.”

Over the last 24 years, Lein-Svencner’s collages have won awards and been published in magazines. She’s also written several books on the art form and founded the Midwest Collage Society, which exhibits throughout the Midwest.

Lein-Svencner will exhibit her work during “Inner Most-Outer Expressions” at the Contemporary Art Center of Peoria Sept. 13 through Oct. 18. She will also teach a collage workshop from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Sept. 15 at the CAC.

Lein-Svencner teaches a lot, and she enjoys it.

“To me it’s almost as exciting as creating a piece of artwork, breaking down the steps so that people can learn it,” she said. Students in Lein-Svencner's classes learn various techniques, including how to coat paper with liquid adhesive so it can be easily adhered with a tack iron. She also shows students how to alter found papers through painting and stamping. After relating the basic techniques, Lein-Svencner sets her students free to explore and create.

The artist's own creative process includes observation. Walks through the woods near her home often yield new ideas. For a recent series called "Painted Ponies," Lein-Svencner took riding lessons. The series, which will be displayed at the CAC, addresses the need for action against climate change. Native Americans, who had great respect for the natural environment, went into battle on painted ponies.

"These painted ponies are female horses going into war to get a grip of what we need to do, and I think that’s to a find more nurturing, motherly approach to our environment," said Lein-Svencner.

Many of the artist's works are large. Collage can be done on many different surfaces, including boards and canvas. She’s even collaged a skateboard.

“I will be bringing a good variety of my work so people can see the span of what I can do with the paper,” she said.

Lein-Svencner's creativity doesn't end with her artwork — she's also creative about marketing her work. She doesn’t limit herself to selling only original work because her designs reproduce beautifully. A few years ago she was approached by Dolcezza-Simply Art, a Canadian company that makes clothing decorated with original artwork. See some of the designs at www.dolcezza.ca.

“They come into Chicago all the time and have a spring and fall fashion show,” she said. “I had to sign over the rights of how they use the print — it’s not just one piece, they put multiple pieces together — but it’s kind of cool to see their artistic design.”

Leslie Renken can be reached at 686-3250 or lrenken@pjstar.com. Follow her on Twitter.com/LeslieRenken, and subscribe to her on Facebook.com/leslie.renken.