Billings artist Jodi Lightner is looking out the window of her second-floor downtown studio at businesses on First Avenue and the South Hills beyond.

The combination of natural elements, light and the urban cityscape feels appropriate as those are common themes in Lightner’s artwork. Her large wall pieces feature ink or paint on Mylar, resembling an architect’s blueprint with a Rorschach inkblot on top.

“It’s a manifestation of a blueprint gone awry,” Lightner said.

Since arriving in Billings six years ago to teach painting, drawing and printmaking at Montana State University Billings, Lightner's reputation as an inspired educator and innovative artist continues to grow. She and her colleagues at MSUB have re-energized the art department with new approaches to all disciplines, YAM senior curator Bob Durden said.

In addition to teaching full time, Lightner has also been strengthening her own work, which is rooted in Modernism.

“Her work has truly evolved since she arrived in Billings, and it has gotten stronger and stronger as she has honed her artistic concerns,” Durden said.

Lightner’s ink on Mylar work, “Obscured Compliance,” will be part of the Art Auction 50 on March 3 at the Yellowstone Art Museum. It’s been a thrill for Lightner having it hang in the YAM next to Pablo Picasso’s linoleum print, "Portrait d'Homme à la Fraise, Variation d'après El Greco."

Lightner and the other 130 artists involved in the YAM auction donate a portion of the proceeds of the sale of their work to the YAM. 

Fascinated with cultures, Lightner has been to China three times, including a stint through in 2013 when she taught art at Xuchang University. She has also traveled and studied in Europe. The drastic differences between Asian and American cultures intrigued and inspired Lightner who often uses pagoda roofs in her artwork.

“I see architecture as defining how we move through space, defining our identities,” Lightner said. “I love the idea of intimate spaces verses public spaces.”

Her interest in blueprints and architectural designs began as a kid growing up in Kansas. She and her older sister loved going to the state fair and seeing the display of RVs that often included the blueprints of their floor plans.

"My students will tell you I love perspective and I love lines," Lightner said.

She uses Mylar because it is an architectural drawing tool. Durden said he admires Lightner’s bold use of Mylar because it is so unforgiving.

“Once a mark is laid down, it cannot be removed,” Durden said. “She uses this to her advantage, honoring the materials and their properties, suggesting that accidental marks are as important as those that are intended. This creates an underlying structure that is bold, intentional, and spontaneous all at the same time.”

Particularly interesting are Lightner’s cutout works because it shows the precision and meticulousness of her craftsmanship, Durden said.

In her studio space at Billings Open Studio, Lightner has dozens of partially completed works, some hanging on the walls and others lying flat on her workspace.

“I really just live with the piece,” Lightner said. “I consider whether it needs color or cutouts.”

She likes building mystery into her artwork, something where you have to look into the layers of paint or ink or Mylar to find something interesting.

Working big, creating pieces that are three to five feet tall, allows Lightner to build more elements into a piece. Lightner is a featured artist in the upcoming “Montana Triennial,” which is being organized by the Yellowstone Art Museum and will go up later this year.

In addition to drawings and cutouts, Lightner has done a series of paintings. She has also worked with Billings poet Dave Caserio on a project pairing words with visual art.

"I keep myself entertained with all kinds of things," Lightner said.

While she enjoys the challenge and inspiration she gets from working with her art students, Lightner said she is grateful for weekends when she can concentrate 100 percent on creating art.

"Art is my passion and focus in life, it's how I understand and see the world. Art is a language and architecture is the way I express it," Lightner said.