Piece by piece, layer by layer, an image emerges on the canvas.

Coaxed by Benicia artist Chris Meade, sheets of paper become precise bits that are transformed into windows and water and skyscrapers and more.

“I blend the edges of the paper to make the end result look more like a painting. You can do that even with cut edges,” says Chris, who primarily creates collages using paper, silk and sometimes acrylic paint.

Throughout most of her life, Chris channeled her creativity into writing or music. The transformation to visual artist came about eight years ago, while she was undergoing treatment for cancer. She found it difficult to sit and play her heirloom grand piano.

“Because of chemotherapy, your body changes. It wasn’t comfortable for me to play the piano,” she says.

Making collages takes her mind off cancer and chemotherapy.

“When I’m making art, I’m not focusing on things that are going on with me. I’m totally, totally drawn into doing the art. Most of the time the piece is drawing itself and I’m just the facilitator.” She has chemotherapy every three weeks, and her cancer is stable.

Chris creates most of her work in her downtown Benicia dining room, a bright space with two windows, and her supplies tidily stored in bins, canisters and racks. She also shares a studio above Arts Benicia in the old Arsenal.

She is a member of Arts Benicia and served on its board before she became an artist. She recently was invited to join ArtDivas, a collaborative group of women artists from Solano County. She also paints weekly with a plein air group.

Chris, 72, lived in Minnesota before moving to Modesto at age 12. She and her late husband raised their blended family of seven children in the Central Valley. She lived in Suisun Valley and Vallejo before moving to Benicia in 2007.

What inspires you when you’re creating a piece? I’m inspired by lots of things. I like saturated colors, but I don’t have one single inspiration. My work is not repetitive, though you do see a lot of Asian themes.

Anything can be an inspiration if it’s new. That’s the challenge, to do something new.

What have you found challenging with your art? Art is like a puzzle. You have to figure out what you want and how to get that.

Art is three percent talent and the rest is problem solving.  I like to challenge myself.

How long does it take to create one of your pieces? A two by two foot piece could take three months to complete. Others, larger pieces, can take much longer. I’ve spent 10 to 11 months on some. I usually work on two or three things at a time.

This one (holding up a piece showing a Manhattan skyline and streets at night) was a challenge. I was really brain dead at the end of that three months. It required a lot of structure because it had to be realistic enough so you could abstract it and still know what it is. It required way more thought to fine-tune it. All those pieces were pinned on a canvas with quilting pins at one point. It had to be precise.

Why do you work on multiple pieces at one time? When you work on things for a while, you kind of run out of steam. So I put it away and work on other pieces.

It’s the same thing with the piano. You can play and play a piece and don’t seem to get better, but you take a break from it and let your subconscious work on it. After that break, things have a way of working out.

What appeals to you about working with groups of artists like the ArtDivas? Visual artists are a good group of people. They like to share their art experience. …

The women in ArtDivas provide camaraderie, but also a challenge. We work on the same theme, and that’s the challenge.

I also paint with a group of 10 women who are plein air artists.  We go out every week.

They asked me to join and I thought, “This will be a stretch for me.” A lot of them use watercolor but I use acrylic, which dries so quickly that you have to use extenders so you can work with it outdoors. So that’s one of the challenges when I go out with that group.

Did your work with Arts Benicia influence you becoming a visual artist?  No, it didn’t. I’d been involved with art for a long time before that. I’d been on the board of Advocates for Art; I’d chaired auctions for the group. I don’t think they are around anymore. 

I’d been the executive director with Fairfield Visual Arts Association; it’s now the Fairfield-Suisun City Visual Arts Association.

I hosted house concerts and art shows when we lived in Suisun Valley. I come from an artistic background. Both of my parents were opera singers. Art has always been part of my life.

Where has your work been displayed? It’s been displayed at the Arts Benicia gallery, Umpqua Bank, Lawler House in Suisun, Fairfield Visual Arts Association in their gallery in the Fairfield mall, and during Open Studios. It’s been in the live auction for Arts Benicia for the past four or five years.

Do you have formal art training? I didn’t when I started. After I started, I took classes to Napa Junior College. I went two days a week for six or seven months. And I’ve taken many different workshops over the years. 

What do you do to relax and recharge?  I like to stay busy.  If I need to sit down, I sit down and read (motioning to a stack of art books on her sofa).

When I’m finished with a piece and I’m happy with it, I’m recharged.

What’s next for you? My Norwegian cousins are coming to visit in July!  They’ll be here nine days and we’ve got all kinds of things planned.

I don’t plan deeply into the future. I go day-to-day—especially living with cancer. My focus is the same as it’s always been, which is on my art, on my family and on my friends.