We had the good fortune of connecting with Sonja Beck and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Sonja, how do you think about risk?
Familiarity & routine bring many of us comfort, however growth & beautiful changes occur when we try our hand at something new. The learning curve can dampen our spirits, but if we continue working & push through it, the sense of accomplishment is incomparable. And who knows, perhaps the trajectory of our lives can change by simply taking one small chance.
I don’t consider myself a big risk taker – I’ve never jumped out of planes or gone deep sea diving or climbed Mt. Everest – but, looking back on my life thus far, I have been able to have some incredible adventures because I followed the urgings of my heart & took small risks.
I wanted to go abroad as an exchange student, so applied. I experienced a summer in Brazil that was truly unforgettable & am still in contact with many of the friends I made while there.
I wanted to dance professionally after years of intense classical training in Houston. Was it risky moving around from contract to contract? (there’s not much security in that lifestyle) Yes, but I had every faith that I could figure things out as I went. I strove to be the best I could be & was eventually invited to partner with a world champion at the time.
A chance encounter at a grocery store led me to take a leap of faith that any mother would have advised against. I gave my phone number to someone who introduced himself & was interested in going on a date. I trusted my gut & took the chance. We have been married for 24 years & have two amazing sons.
Before our children were born, we wanted to build a house in Appalachia, so we bought property there, moved, & began construction. We had never built a house before! Was it bold? Yes, but we did our homework & read as much as we could (YouTube did not exist at the time!), felt the excitement of the dream, & put that energy to good use. So much hard labor went into that beloved project that lasted for years, but I cannot describe the pride we both felt in doing the work, enjoying the fruits of our labor, & now, in cherishing those memories! All because we took risk.
I always enjoyed drawing as a child & wound up gravitating to the arts in college, but I stayed in my comfort zone with graphite pencils & charcoal. I was familiar with them. I knew how to smudge, erase, & blend. I knew how they behaved & felt that I had some control because I understood these mediums. It wasn’t until a couple decades after I graduated from Southwestern University that I thought about drawing with color. That one small step, although not risky by some standards, felt gutsy & different. And paint? Well, that medium was completely new to me, but the world it has opened for me is exciting & full of possibilities! I am still fairly new at it, but drawing for years taught me volumes & prepared me for painting. I will continue to take chances & be open to new opportunities as they arise. I envision working on large scale, colorful murals someday in the near future, bringing art outdoors for all to enjoy. I will always keep in mind that in order to sail the ocean, we must leave the dock!
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
Utilizing a bold, contemporary style full of color & life, dynamic angles, & layers of tonal variations, I work primarily with acrylics on canvas to spread my love of people & music with the world. During my professional dance career, prior to raising my two sons, I experienced many moments of shared joy & powerful collective connections through different genres of music, no matter the country or language.
Living on the outskirts of Nashville since 2007 has provided me the opportunity to interact with many world-renowned musicians who allow me to study their hands, instruments, & techniques. In my music-themed pieces, I strive to convey the soulful messages on canvas that they express in their songs. A lifetime of drawing with charcoal & graphite taught lessons in relation to composition, perspective, & values which has served as a launchpad for me, as I have only really been painting since 2016. In my artwork, I choose to focus on creating images everyone can relate to, leading my audience to shift their attention to the brighter notes & more positive aspects of humanity.
After participating in several classy, tame, organized events, I realized that my loud style would be better suited for restaurants, bars, studios, buildings, & music festivals. I wanted my art to be enjoyed by & accessible to ALL. I am so excited that Shoutout Miami wants to share my story with the world! I am honored that Urban Grub, a super cool eatery on 12th Ave. So. in Nashville houses many of my original paintings (making space for more paints to spill out at home where I create). And I am thrilled that I have been the selected artist for Clearwater Jazz Holiday, held in Clearwater, FL, for 2020 & 2021!
I have always drawn since I was a child, but, it was a joyful moment at a lakehouse when my youngest boy plucked a turtle out of the water & shouted with joy, that urged me to start drawing in color. I drew his turtle with greens & yellows & loved the detail of his precious hands holding the creature. My son was amazed that I could draw then proceeded to ask me if I would paint an underwater mural in his room. I was hesitant, as I’d never had a painting class & wasn’t really comfortable with working in color yet. But it was just paint. We planned it out to include a 5’ shark, a couple of sea turtles, a glow-in-the-dark jelly fish, a lion fish, & an eel. After he & I applied the blues, greens, & purples to create the water, I really dove in & started enjoying the therapeutic process of painting. Pictures of his mural led to requests to paint interior murals for friends. Because I was still transporting kids here & there, prepping & cooking healthy meals for my family, teaching fitness classes at various gyms, taking care of our animals & yard, etc., I did not have room in my life to pursue it. I needed to find a way to paint without adding stress to my already very busy life. Instead, I decided to set up my easel in the kitchen & work on canvas as life allowed.
What to paint? My husband suggested I choose a theme. I love children, nature, music, our planet , people….What do I want to convey? Joy, life, color! What message do I want to communicate? We all have our struggles, but I did not want to dwell on dark issues. I wanted my art to celebrate life, uplift others, & inspire many! Most of my neighbors are skilled & talented musicians who were willing to let me study their hands & instruments. Music adds depth & color to life, & movement to music was really my first “language”, being a dancer. Everything aligned beautifully with my outlook on life & it was just a natural fit to begin painting a music series.
I just kept creating when I could. Once I had developed a recognizable style & I had several paintings, I participated in a few local events. From these experiences, & from talking with other artists willing to share their advice, I was encouraged & learned that everyone’s journey is unique. We never really arrive at any final destination labeled “Success.” The beauty is in the journey itself. Through the struggles we learn what path we want to be on & what to do differently. Our accomplishments are sweeter & more appreciated because of these challenges. We just keep moving forward, one small step at a time. It is easy & safe to cling to the familiar, but the growth that comes from bravely stepping out of our comfort zone brings immeasurable joy.
I am blessed to be living a colorful life & am enjoying the process of becoming a professional artist, as I reinvent myself in this new chapter. Art & music speak to people differently, but I hope to share beauty, color, & a positive perspective with my work. If people’s hearts are touched, their loads lightened, & smiles bubble up, then I have succeeded!
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
If a close friend were to visit, I would prepare a lot of food ahead of time because I love to cook & enjoy making my guests feel welcome with homemade, healthy food. Barring any allergies, tomato basil soup, rosemary focaccia, dark chocolate hummus with fresh strawberries for dipping, pineapple mango salsa, cucumber salad with cucs from the garden, & coconut-lime chicken over quinoa would all be on the menu. We might sit in the shade amidst my potted plants on the front porch swing, sipping hard kombucha, catching up & mapping out our plans for the week.
I would most definitely suggest a morning of kayaking on the Harpeth River, specifically The Narrows of the Harpeth because the 3 hour loop makes it easy to put in & take out. We’d smell the sweetness of the Mimosa trees as we float the current, watch the blue herons take off to look for fish, see the turtles sunning themselves, hear the hawks overhead, escape the bustle of everyday life, feel the sunshine & wind on our skin, & connect with each other & the nature around us.
After coming home to clean up, we’d head to the Fillin’ Station, our local bar & grill, for a hard cider or beer & the best burgers in middle Tennessee. We would relax on the outdoor patio & hear amazing, talented friends & neighbors, who also happen to be professional musicians, create magic with their voices & instruments.
At some point during the week, we’d drive down the Natchez Trace Parkway to include a hike to Jackson Falls, a beautiful place regardless of the time of year. Amber Falls Winery is nearby, so we would sample & taste their flavorful wines, purchasing some to bring home along with gifts for family & friends from their shop.
A must would be renting scooters to zip around Centennial Park, seeing The Parthenon, & grabbing an Italian ice. We would head downtown to visit the National Museum of African American Music & the Swipe Right Art Gallery. We’d catch John Stone, & his son, Jax, performing at Kid Rock’s Big Ass Honky Tonk Rock N’ Roll Steakhouse, which would be a ton of fun since we have known them for years & consider them dear friends. To retreat from the rowdy crowd on Broadway, we would tour the Glen Campbell Museum that just opened last year & is so tastefully done.
Cheekwood Botanical Gardens would be on our list to tour. The history of the place runs deep, the variety of plants are simply stunning, the artistic arrangement of everything is beautiful, & they always have amazing art! We could head to Urban Grub so I could shamelessly show off my own artwork on display & treat my guest to an Old Fashioned, some seared tuna, & smoked gouda chipotle grits. We might be able to burn off the calories later in the evening at El Mariachi with some Latin line dancing or at Nashville Ballroom & Co.
I would make sure to buy tickets to experience a concert at City Winery, a tour & tasting of Pickers Vodka, & a night at Brentwood Skate Center. I’m not much of a shopper, but Cool Springs is just south of Nashville & has anything anyone could ever need or want.
My visitor might go home exhausted or exhilarated, but I’d make sure to hit these highlights & make some wonderful memories together!
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
I am deeply grateful to my loving, generous parents, John & Sandy Peterson, for their dedication & support in my pursuit & passion of the performing arts in my youth, fostering my love of music & movement. I am eternally thankful for the gift they provided in allowing me to work towards a degree in Studio Art & for their patience throughout the decades while I raised my two sons, now finally returning to the arts & discovering my love of color.
My life partner, Dwayne Becknell, has been incredibly instrumental in my success as an artist, as he never doubted my abilities & continually & lovingly pushed me out of my comfort zone, always having my back, whilst wearing out his own setting up my shows.
I thank my sons, Logan & Vance, for giving me honest, immediate feedback on each project, providing new perspectives, for modeling their hands for me many times, & for learning to cook for themselves when I was busy painting.
Who knew that a few hours spent recovering from surgery, learning to paint with my sweet friend, Julie Tucker, would turn the key & get the engine started? And that an afternoon with Luci Dickinson, being encouraged to draw in color for the first time, would get me going down a path I would later fully embrace & actively pursue? A huge shoutout to these wonderful women!
I must thank all of my friends & neighbors who have supported & encouraged me, buying my artwork, coming out to my shows, commissioning drawings & cheering me on. Yenny LeDoux, thank you for the recommendation & for all the love & support. Brenda Boyd, you have been essential in organizing my website, designing my business cards, & prompting me to post progress when I have immersed myself in a project. There are so many more beautiful souls who have encouraged me along the way & inspired me to continue. I am utterly grateful to all of you!