The Heroine’s Journey of Petra Zehner

Petra Zehner is an East West German illustrator and writer based in Paris, France.

What do I love most about my work?

I currently spend almost more time running Paris Collage Collective – a collage community I founded – than creating my own art. It’s a lot of admin and organisational work, but I do love the daily exchanges with likeminded and passionate people. It’s both inspiring and rewarding.

What is my idea of happiness?

To be able to do things that have meaning and that I enjoy. It’s not the feelgood do what you love follow your dreams mantra that’s been thrown around everywhere. That’s not possible for a lot of people, for practical reasons. But managing to find something that you truly enjoy doing, even if it wasn’t your first choice, and that has an impact on the world around you, rather than do work just to pay your bills, that’s happiness for me. Also, messy hair and dirty feet at the end of a long day on the beach.

What is my greatest fear?

Developing a terminal disease and being told how much time I have left to live.

What is the trait that I most deplore in myself?

I tend to both procrastinate and overthink. Or overthink and procrastinate. It’s manageable though.

Which living persons in my profession do I most admire?

I do several things, so this question is hard to answer. Besides, there are so many inspiring people out there, it would strike me as unfair (and impossible) to name only one (or even ten).

What is my greatest extravagance?

Sleep. I could spend half my life in bed. I have the craziest dreams and therefore almost a second, alternative life while asleep.

On what occasion would I lie?

Real lies, to protect the people I love. Lies by omission, to avoid unnecessary pain.

What is the thing that I dislike the most in my work?

The fact that, economically speaking, it’s not valued. Some artists make a very good living of course, but for the rest it’s a constant struggle. I would prefer to spend more time creating, and less time networking, self-marketing, or explaining why I can’t do everything for free.

When and where was I the happiest in my work?

Right now, right where I am.

If I could, what would I change about myself?

There are quite a few little things I’ve been trying to change, unsuccessfully, for years, but asked like this, I wouldn’t want to wave a magic wand to make it happen instantly. As annoying and frustrating as the process is, it’s the process that matters. Besides, I’m actually mostly ok with who I am, annoying habits, flaws and idiosyncrasies included. That said, I would tone down my introverted side a little if I could.

What is my greatest achievement in my work?

I founded Paris Collage Collective – an international collage community – a few years ago, without, for once, giving it too much thought, and I’m very happy with what it has turned into. It’s a great community of very supportive and positive people, and has been a real lifesaver during the last year of Covid-induced mayhem.

Where would I most like to live?

I already lived in quite a lot of places, and put in a lot of work and effort to adapt. So, without a very, very good reason, I think I’ll stay put for now. But I would love to have the opportunity to spend maybe half of the year working elsewhere. My favourite places for that would be Rome, Athens, Buenos Aires and/or Bangkok.

What is my most treasured possession?

My iPad. Not for its monetary value, and pretty much any brand of tablet would do, but because it’s my window to the world, mobile, holds my quite extensive Kindle library, and allows me access to unlimited knowledge, ideas and inspiration.

What is my most marked characteristic?

I’m what they call a highly sensitive extroverted introvert. I love interacting with people but can only handle them in small numbers and with lots of breaks in between to digest the sensory overload I inevitably receive every time, and to recharge. I sometimes wish I was just plain old introverted, happy to spend my days alone at home, but my extroverted side makes that impossible.

What is the most inspirational location in my city?

I live in Paris, which is inspirational wherever you go. My personal favourite for creative input is the MEP, the Maison Européenne de la Photographie.

What is my favourite place to eat and drink in my city?

Anywhere along the Quais de la Seine, the banks of the Seine. Either a picnic with friends, or a pizza or

tapas and drinks on one of the many péniches.

What books influenced my life and how?

Tove Jansson’s Fair Play, A Winter Book, and The Summer Book, for showing me what life as a female artist can be like.

You Only Die Once. What music would I listen to on my last day?

Grunge, the music I listened to as a teenager.

Who is my hero or heroine in fiction?

Ronja the Robber’s Daughter by Astrid Lindgren

Who are my heroes and heroines in real life?

Regular people who just do their thing without blowing their own trumpet.

Which movie would I recommend to see once in a lifetime?

The Lives of Others, by Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck

What role play stories in my life and work?

Humans are storytelling animals. We constantly tell and retell our life story. In our heads or to others. I like the fact that there is no one story. Everything is just a subjective interpretation of already subjective experiences, and changes depending on the time of day or the person we are talking to. Which means everything is relative and doesn’t need to be taken too seriously. I like to keep this in mind when life, or work, gets too crazy.

Who is my greatest fan, sponsor, partner in crime?

My partner.

Which people or companies would I like to work with in 2021?

Denise Boomkens from – I love the community she created for women over 40

Jamie Beck from – an American photographer based in the south of France. I think we are diametrically opposed in a lot of things, but I love her work and would like to get to know and work with her.

What project, in 2021, am I looking forward to work on?

I am involved in a number of print projects, both contributing to a couple of books done by other people, and publishing a few catalogues and books myself. After a year of living almost exclusively online, I am happy to work on something tangible.

Where can you see me or my work in 2021?

Reliably only on the web at and on Instagram at – everything else is not guaranteed to happen in 2021.

Also, during a number of workshops and meetups of Paris Collage Collective.

What do the words “Passion Never Retires” mean to me?

It’s a bit of a cliché. Passion changes, and while it may not retire, it can die. It unfortunately happens too often, and I’m not one for blaming the people to whom it happens. Life can beat a lot out of you. With a little luck and a lot of work, you may recover. Or you may not. Therefore, I’d say “Be grateful for the passion you have, nurture and protect it. Don’t take it for granted!”

Which creative heroines should Peter invite to tell their story?

Annton Beate Schmidt, a super talented painter from Berlin

Celine Schroeder, a super talented Dutch artist

Julia Volonts, a super generous art therapist

How can you contact me?

Via my website or by email at

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