Thursday, December 16, 2010
The March 2010 featured artist was painter and mixed media collage creator, Elizabeth St. Hilaire Nelson. Elizabeth makes her favorite images into paintings. From there, she layers them with papers, fabrics, feathers and anything else with texture, to create unique three-dimensional pieces. In addition to being an artist, Elizabeth maintains her own design firm, Nelson Creative, with her husband Doug. She lives with her husband and two children in central Florida.
Why do you create your art?
I have always been an artist. As I child I loved to paint and draw and excelled at it. I attended Syracuse University's School of Visual and Performing Arts and earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts there in 1990. I paint because it is who I am and always have been, it makes me happy to take a little time just for myself and to go to my creative place.
How did you get started?
I have always been an artist. As I child I loved to paint and draw and excelled at it. I attended Syracuse University's School of Visual and Performing Arts and earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts there in 1990.
What is your technique?
My technique is a figurative form of collage. I take bits of torn hand-made and hand-painted papers, glue them over an acrylic under-painting, to form a recognizable image. I call this "Paper Paintings" because from a distance my work very much resembles an impressionistic painting.
Where did you learn your technique?
My technique is something I evolved on my own. I was a talented painter and pastel artist, but there were many more talented people using those mediums here in Orlando. I wanted to find a way to set my work apart from everyone else's. I started adding paper in with my acrylic paintings as a pattern and texture in small areas. Eventually those areas became larger and larger until the paper overtook the paint entirely one day when I challenged myself to create an image without any paint. I liked the effect I got, I liked the fact that this piece "Looking in on Jane" (a portrait of my mother) won Best of Show at OVAL (Orlando Visual Artists League) and then again at the WCA (Women's Caucus for the Arts) Matriarchs and Madonnas exhibit. I knew I was onto something, and so I ran with it.
Over the years my technique has continued to evolve. I used to use art store purchased colored papers. I found out the hard way that these papers fade. So I started hand-painting all my own collage papers. I experimented with color, texture, pattern and paper weight. I learned how to create my own palette of acrylic painted paper–it would not fade and I could create all the colors in the rainbow!
I feel my work is better now that I have such a variety of colors and textures of paper to choose from. I also use related material in my collages. I try to tie in some of the collage material to the subject matter. Some of my cow collages have nursery rhymes in them, "How Now Brown Cow" is an example of this. Some of my roosters have "Hickety Pickety My Fine Hen" intertwined with the Starbucks bags and painted maps, old checks and book pages.
Where do you get your inspiration?
I often get my inspiration from my papers. I find a paper that I think looks fuzzy, and I might use it for a sheep. I find a paper that is lumpy and bumpy and turquoise, and I might use it for the crown of a peacock's head. I find a paper that looks like lace, and I might use it for the fringe on a ballet skirt. I hand-paint a paper that is vibrant, textured, golden yellow, and I might use it on a small finch sitting on a branch.
Other times I am inspired by my frame maker. Owen Tomlin makes frames from reclaimed barn wood in Kentucky. I like to paint images that will work with is amazing hand crafted frames, so I might do an entire series on barnyard animals or botannicals because I know they will look great hanging together as a group, all framed in Owen's frames.
How do you decide what to paint, draw and model?
I like to work in a series of images so that this question is answered for me for a few paintings at a time! I am lucky enough to be represented by several art galleries who will help me with suggestions of images that they feel would sell or would work with a show or theme they are promoting. I also have a big solo show in September at the Maitland Art Center which they have asked me to create pieces related to music. I will be showing 35-40 collages in this exhibition. That's helped me decide what to paint for a while!
How does it take you to get the average creation?
My process is multistep. After finding imagery that I am inspired by, I take photos and manipulate them in Photoshop on my computer until I achieve a composition I am happy with. I might take one cow out of a group or combine her/him with another cow from a different photo, add a barn and drastically raise (or lower) the horizon line behind them. Once I get this worked out on my computer, I print a color image and this is my reference. I then sketch onto primed wood panel. After sketching I do a quick acrylic underpainting in order to work out my values and my colors. When the underpainting is dry, I then start collaging my hand-painted and hand-made papers over the top of the acrylic painting. Keep in mind that the hand-painting of the papers also takes time and I create all my own papers in advance of the collaging process. When the collage is complete, I coat it with two layers of acrylic UV protective varnish and then I do my own framing.
The time it takes in the collage process depends on how it's going, some days things are really working for me and it's coming together quickly, other days nothing is working and I end up going over the same area a few times before I am happy with it. Some subject matter is more complex than others. Some subjects I am good at and have worked out the challenges with practice, so I can really do roosters very efficiently, but dogs are more of a challenge since I have only ever done two. Peacocks take a long time because of all the eyes and detail in the tail feathers.
I guess I'd have to say, it varies!
How did you get interested in creating art of cattle?
I grew up in rural New England; we always had cows and roosters and sheep on farms which we would pass driving from one small town to another. When I was a kid, my parents took us to a lot of petting farms in our area. We would go and get a homemade ice cream at a small dairy and visit the cows, or go for pork sausage at a small farm and visit the sheep. I guess this was good family fun when I was a kid, these images give me a sense of warmth and a sense of family even today. My sister was married last summer in Amherst, MA, my family decided to stay at a bed and breakfast on the outskirts of town for the weekend. On the property, they had roosters and chickens and a goat or two, a very nice way for me to give my Orlando kids a taste of my childhood!
Do you ever have goof ups or work you don't like?
I always have goof ups that I don't like, but the best thing about collage is that it's a very forgiving medium. I can ALWAYS go right back over the top of any area that I don't like, and make it totally different. This freedom is why I love my medium so much. Even if I change my mind, I can go in and change a color by adding a new piece of paper on top. The ability to fix my mistakes takes a lot of stress out of my work and gives me the freedom to experiment.
What would you like to do more of in the future?
In the future I'd like to do more portraits. I love doing people and I have gotten away from them for a while now. I have a whole series of swimmers in bathing caps that is really fun and colorful and I like it very much. I'd like to do a self portrait with birthday cards too.
What else do you do besides your art?
Besides my art, I am a self employed graphic artist. I spend my days working on layout and design of marketing materials for several clients. I also play the violin with the Maitland Symphony Orchestra, we rehearse once a week and I take violin lessons to help me keep up with the music. I enjoy exercise and I'm currently training for a triathlon and a half marathon. I have a family, my husband and two children, that also keep me busy. I volunteer at our elementary school to bring art to the students every month and I write the lesson plans for this program. I enjoy cooking and I make homemade dinner and breakfast for my family every day.
Lately I have been teaching collage workshops and I have found this to be very fulfilling! I never thought of myself as a teacher, but I enjoy sharing what I love with other artists and aspiring artists.
What advice do you have for aspiring artists?
I have a lot of advice for aspiring artists. I tell them to remember that art is a business, and so you cannot neglect the fact that you have to spend a serious amount of time marketing your own work. You have to get OUT of the studio and get in front of your computer and get out in front of people, network. I also stress how important it is to be reliable. You have to deliver the work when you said you would, you have to meet deadlines and bring work that is ready to hang, professional. You have to be reliable and be someone that galleries know they can count on to deliver. You have to be organized, keep a computer program of your inventory, your contacts, your mailing list, your galleries, and your work. Be prepared to sell yourself and your work, be organized and be original.