Piper Adonya: Illustrator, Jewelry Maker, Painter, ArtPrize Winner, and Mom

By Devin DuMond | photography by Elyse Wild

It was one of those rare, unseasonably warm Michigan spring days when Piper Adonya and I sat down to talk about what it means to be a professional artist. 

“Nobody says a ‘real dentist,’ or a ‘real lawyer,’” she said. “Everything you see is a creative effort — everything around you was created and designed by an artist in their different and respective professions. We are wearing art; we are sitting on art; it is literally everywhere. To not appreciate it would be to not appreciate our environment.”

Adonya’s interest in art began when she was just eight years old. She vividly recalls the first time she saw “The Little Mermaid” — she would pause the movie to recreate each scene, frame by frame. It was then that she decided her future would be in the arts. She has continued to develop characters, costumes and designs rooted in her early love for visual storytelling.

Along her creative journey, she noticed a lack of women depicted in influential roles. She wanted to see more women of color and other cultures represented in art and animation. She remarked about how in recent years, this seems to have improved, but there’s still more progress to be made.

Her art is rich with cultural influences from around the world. She draws inspiration from Asia, Africa and indigenous peoples of North and South America, using pattern, color and fashion to express these cultures. 

“Color alone can tell a story,” she stated while describing her creative process. “I think about what I want the viewer to experience and feel. The first initial sketch holds so much energy — raw and beautiful, full of passion. It carries the energy.”


Her sketches are often created digitally, which gives her the creative freedom to play with color right from the start. She regularly posts these initial sketches on her social media and embraces the “messy” side of creative work. 

Part of being a professional artist for Adonya is to exceed the expectations of her clients. Her philosophy is to “give them what they ask for, but also more than they hoped for.” When examining her body of work, this work ethic and passion are evident. Whether a portrait, design or illustration, all of her work is thoughtfully executed and full of life, color, and energy

This energy can be seen in her contribution to “Rad American Women A-Z” a recently launched public art project in which female artists painted historically significant women on electrical boxes across downtown Grand Rapids. Her portrait of Yuri Kochiyama, which can be found in front of The B.O.B. in downtown Grand Rapids, is a beautifully balanced explosion of color and pattern. The blend of her unique drawing style with a pattern derived from traditional Japanese fabrics result in a dynamic and compelling portrait.

“One thing I love about art is that it has the ability to woo the viewer before they realize that they are being challenged by her,” she said. “I call art ‘Her.’”

Adonya draws from her personal life for inspiration. In typical mom fashion, she lights up when talking about her two children, Nya (13) and Judah (11). 

“They love to draw and take over my studio,” she laughed. 

Followers of her social media accounts get to know her kiddos as they take center stage in her ongoing online comic, “Slice of Life.” Here we see snippets of their lives with anecdotes from the pair as they negotiate vegetables, screentime and being siblings. The comics are as funny as they are relatable, done in her cool, expressive style — a combination of quick linework, texture and muted color palettes. 

Listed among her professional accomplishments, you will find an ArtPrize award for best installation and venue from her involvement with Cultura Collective in 2016. Her resume keeps growing from there with several award nominations — including one from the 2018 BEAT Awards for Outstanding Trailblazing Female — children’s books she has illustrated, collaborative animation projects and her own artistic pursuits. 

When asked what she hopes to accomplish with her art, Adonya answered, “I would love for people to walk away with an experience … to inspire people to create. Even people who think they are not creative can create.”

You can find more about Piper online at piperadonya.com or by following her on Instagram at @piperadonya.

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