Artist and actor Shawna Franks finds her passion in drawing visual interpretations of songs

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Photo Courtesy of Shawna Franks

Shawna Franks is an Evanston and Chicago artist who creates visual interpretations of songs.

Emily Kim, Reporter

After listening to a song, Shawna Franks starts by drawing a skeletal structure with black ink, the movement of her hand reflecting the sounds she hears. She then repeats the same motion over and over to get the depth she wants.

Each of Franks’ pieces features her visual interpretations of songs, many of which are personally requested by her customers.

An Evanston and Chicago artist, Franks is also an actor and public speaking coach. Her work focuses on translating sound into movement on the page. People have purchased illustrations from her business, Song + Paper, as wall art, gifts and even tattoos, Franks said.

Franks said she tries to connect with the song’s importance to each person as she draws. 

“When I am drawing it, I feel like I’m tapping into what that person feels about the song,” she said.

She and her sisters grew up drawing, Franks said, describing her mother as “very creative.” 

Franks studied theater at DePaul University and then began her acting career. She acted in a play called “Killer Joe” that took her around the world, including performing in the west end of London, which features a thriving theatre culture. 

Deborah Siegel, the coordinator of the HumanitiesX fellowship program at DePaul, has known Franks for almost ten years. Siegel and Franks lived in the same apartment building and coached TEDx speakers together. 

Siegel became interested in Franks’ art after she shared her website for Song + Paper. 

“I’ve never heard of anyone who’d done anything like that,” Siegel said of Franks’ song drawings. “It felt like this was completely out of the box.”

She’s always known Franks to be an intensely creative person, she added.

Siegel commissioned one of Frank’s pieces as an anniversary gift for her husband, based on a Spanish guitar song called “Tamacun,” by Rodrigo y Gabriela. The commissioned piece made for a deeply personal gift, she said.

“Shawna is unlike anyone I know, and she always surprises me with the way she brings her creativity into the world,” Siegel said. “She is incredibly talented in ways that, I think, speak both to people’s heads and hearts.”

Visual artist and theater practitioner Dado Gyure first met Franks when she saw her onstage in “Killer Joe.” Gyure said Franks shared some of her artwork through Zoom, along with her creative process of listening to music and drawing. 

Gyure commissioned Franks to draw “Fleurette Africaine” by Duke Ellington. She said she thinks about Franks and the song every time she sees the piece. 

“I just love it. I hung it in my house, and it’s cool,” Gyure said. “Someone with the kind of sensitivity Shawna has is really special. It’s a gift. It’s someone else interpreting something through a very unique lens.” 

Gyure, a professor at Purdue University, teaches non-representational art. Her students’ current assignment is to choose a song and draw a non-representational piece with graphite — an assignment Gyure says is largely inspired by Franks.

Franks’ art provides an example of how to slow down and be creative even among all the distractions in society today, Gyure said.

“It’s hard because we are in a very face-to-face culture, very one-on-one culture with our phones, especially TikTok,” Gyure said. “Everything is manicured, groomed and tidy.” 

Franks said art allows her to feel connected to herself.

She experiences similar feelings from both drawing and acting, she added. 

“When I start drawing a song, I get into a place where I don’t plan anything,” Franks said. “It feels very intuitive.” 

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