a painting evolves

A few years ago, I began a piece on a large, horizontal format.  It seemed appropriate for conveying the sweep of prairie grasses that has been a constant theme in my work for several years. And I wanted a challenge to work much larger- the result was this piece- 

Prairie Lights, 28 x 62 oil on canvas 2013 © Nanci Erskine - SOLD
Prairie Lights, 28 x 62 oil on canvas 2013
© Nanci Erskine – SOLD

I liked being able to create an entire immersive world that could really pull the viewer through a landscape.
And after finishing this one, I embarked on another. But I wanted to move into a more unconventional idea about the color of the environment.

As always, when starting a large format painting, it’s exhilarating to make great loose swipes of thinned out paint, (I often just use a rag to wipe the paint around) to mark the territory and masses of the subject. There’s a lot of energy and not much editing in this stage… it felt wild and dense and someone looking at it might have said it was finished.

early ver. Bunch-Spring

But here’s the issue that comes up in most of my painting.  Creating a picture of something is not the same as having had the experience of living with and questioning and going deeper with a subject than just a surface image.  One of the reasons I need to paint is to have that conversation. The challenge becomes keeping a fresh eye on something that you revisit over and over again- seeing possibility over time, solving technical questions, aiming for a result that doesn’t always reveal itself easily.

I had this one on the wall for a good year, while I was happily side tracked into working on pastel drawings of grasslands nocturnal and otherwise.   The painting was patiently waiting until I had the committed mindset and time to jump back in, uninterrupted.  What I was looking for was more nuance in the color, in the layers of space, more definition of the shaft of the grasses, in their edges, and how they overlapped each other.  So, after a few more weeks, the painting ended up here…

Bunch- Spring, 32x60 oil © 2016 Nanci Erskine
Bunch- Spring, 32×60 oil © 2016 Nanci Erskine

Still gestural, still dense, but now playing with entering and exiting, a play of violet and blue with the dark cool green, and the air around and between the grasses becoming much more defined and intricate.
I don’t dislike the first stage, but the history I have with the finished one means more to me.  And that’s why I paint.
p.s. it’s hanging on my stairwell wall if you come through on the studio tour- June 25 and 26th. More on that subject soon.


be nimble….

“tree/house”, 18×28, charcoal ©Nanci Erskine

Recently, I was interviewed for a program called “Support Local Culture” at the local community run radio station. They’ve been talking to arts folks as part of a program sponsored by Noosa yogurt.

(By the way- this is incredible yogurt, made by a dairy that happens to deliver a half gallon of milk right to our porch every week! ) 

anyhoo- here’s the link.  Lots of thoughts condensed into about 5 minutes


in the full-length interview we touched on several obvious topics- how did you become an artist, what inspires you, yada yada.

But one of the points I really wanted to make was that as a long time practitioner,  there are trends I’ve seen come and go- changes in the economy, changes in the way people see and buy art, various schemes that have been tried by organizations in my city.

There have been several times in my life when I was associated with ‘artist groups’  They often morph into support groups or built-in cheering sections rather than a way to really look at our situation and motivations, or critically look at the work being done.  The sad thing is- the pattern of devolving into a whining mass of self-pitying humanity is all too common.

It’s the same refrain I heard 30 years ago- “no one appreciates us/me” or some variation on that theme.

So…what if a mythical ‘Creative District”, or some government sponsored Arts Council doesn’t come to your rescue..

I say- be nimble.  Do whatever you gotta do to keep it going.

Don’t wait for approval, validation or the calvary.

Looking for Something to do at the End of June?

Please Join me in my studio for this year’s

Fort Collins Studio Tourstudiotourlogo

1507 Welch St., Fort Collins  80524

Friday, Saturday and Sunday  

June 26  4-9pm,  June 27 10-5,  and June 28 11-4

(stop by the Fort Collins Lincoln Center to see the preview exhibition – June 5 – 27)    

Grasslands Night, 9.5x14, pastel, 2015
Grasslands Nocturne 9.5×14, pastel, 2015
"Winter Field" II, 18x18, oil on canvas, 2015  ©Nanci Erskine  $700
“Winter Field II”, 18×18, oil on canvas. in Preview exhibit at the Fort Collins Lincoln Center

•lots of smaller oils
•works on paper matted and  ready for framing
•a batch of 2016 linocut calendars  with new images hand printed for  each month
•a limited selection of my remaining larger drawings
•other surprises…and of course lovely snacks!

12 months of lino prints on 2016 calendars

 You can see more work via the menu at top of this blog.  This is the only public event I do each year, so I hope you will come by for a visit. Special studio tour discounts on my paintings!

Grasslands Nocturne 4, 10x14, pastel, 2015
Grasslands Nocturne 4, 10×14, pastel, 2015
Grasslands #13, 10×8 oil on canvas 2015
“Grasslands #14”, 8×10, oil on canvas, 2015 ©Nanci Erskine

Download a Fort Collins Studio Tour guide HERE

Hope Sprouts

"Sprout" oil on canvas 10x8
“Sprout” oil on canvas 10×8

Resolution-makers are flocking to the local fitness centers
with hopeful expressions, flushed cheeks, new workout clothes, and perhaps personal trainers for an extra dose of motivation….

Getting out of a rut- whether physical, personal, or artistic – is challenging.  Maybe you just finished a large body of work, and are stuck wondering what’s next? Maybe family or health issues have pulled you away.  The time thieves are everywhere.
There’s nothing like the calendar revealing a new year to prompt list-making, plan-concocting and reflecting. And creating hope for what’s to come.

Around here, I’ve been paying sales tax, sending out work, cleaning and rearranging the studio, using lino cuts from leftover calendars and turning them into greeting cards.  Now on to the paintings that have been patiently hanging, waiting for my more undivided attention.

There are good reasons to step away from your work for a time: just to look at it objectively, make mental notes, to conjure up new ideas about it, sometimes very fleeting thoughts that you had better write down or they vaporize.

Working on your own in a studio with just your work and little else to keep you company implies a sense of hope. That if you keep showing up it will yield something. Hope that you will continue to be challenged, to see the work deepen and grow, hope that you will have the opportunity to show it to others, or that some of it will find a forever home and enrich someone else’s daily life.

Something that also engenders hope is the arrival of a seed catalog.
With another fresh inch of snow on the ground, imagining veggies and flowers in the yard is indeed an act of optimism.
Plus the descriptions make you believe anything is possible!
“if you want a radish the size of a watermelon…” “produces 5 different kinds of peaches on one tree!”… ”astounding foot-long flowers”… “one of the greatest roses ever introduced” “you can’t believe how sweet this plant is”…”blooms from June until frost”…”virtually thornless, incredibly fragrant, shade tolerant, disease resistant……”

The color pictures show you the end result, not the years it may take to get there in some cases. The descriptions don’t describe the accumulation of time and of patience it will take to get that final result.

Kind of like paintings.
You see the digital image, but how can you possibly see the layers of possibilities and fumbling and insights that took place over time? The scraping and repainting? The false starts and then the soaring momentum when things are finally falling into place…

Perhaps I will begin to think of my sprouting paintings in the glowing, optimistic terms that bring such hope is the gardening realm –  “An astounding environment” …”the best grass ever painted”…”color that sings”… “incredibly rich and thought provoking”- then make myself work towards making those things happen.

Hope is a good framework on which to hang motivation.

(p.s. some of my discounted 2015 linocut calendars are still available, HERE  if you go for the luddite approach to managing your daily events)

……what’s with all this hand-wringing?

…. you caught me….pondering my local arts scene … my place (or lack of it) within said art scene…how exhibiting has changed over the years, and, as a footnote, whether physical art galleries are still relevant as a venue for me.  (answer to last question- perhaps not.)

imagesI am not sure why there is this recent expectation that anyone self-identified as an ‘artist’ is entitled to or should expect to make a living in their chosen hometown doing just that. Perhaps it’s an outgrowth of the whole business model of being an “artist”; you make a business plan, type out a budget and projections, and “voila!”  Not much consideration about the quality of the work or what it means or how well it is conceived.

I’m actually waiting for the flashmob of local accountants, (or fill in your choice of profession here- ) demanding more coverage in the local news, whining about how no one appreciates them and supports them,  wondering how we can re-make our town into a destination for people seeking accountants….  ok- this gets silly in a hurry … but hopefully you can see the point here.

What is taking place here?  What actually constitutes “support?”  Does it mean being paid by a local non-profit to sit on street corners “performing” to drive business to downtown restaurants and shops? Does it mean the artists paying a local public venue good money for the privilege of showing work to a local audience? (we used to call this a ‘vanity’ gallery – and it’s about $100 a day for the privilege.)

It should be simple enough.  You do something that people value and want, you find an audience.  Otherwise- look elsewhere in addition to your local friends and admirers.  Lots of elsewheres.  Sure, other factors are often critical- meeting the right people at the right time, having a partner who brings in the income so you can be in the studio or workshop, being willing to go wherever and do whatever it takes to find more opportunities.

A couple decades back, after grad school, the norm was teaching and gallery representation. Galleries were more relevant because they were the way to find an audience pre-internet.  The validation of gallery representation was a mark of professional status, giving you something to work towards- having a solo show every two years.  It was affirming to have people working in those galleries that believed in you and your work. Those lines on the resume added up to solidify serious intent. This is still true, but not the only truth.

Last year, one of my former gallerists, the lovely Francince Seders, retired and closed her Seattle space.  She had a long run – over 40 years – and carried work from some serious heavyweights. She championed regional Northwest artists, had a very special relationship to those she exhibited, and operated with the highest level of integrity. But she too lamented the changes she saw… more online / less in-person. A gallery in CA that briefly carried my work went out of business, (not before I made sure I was paid though)  and another in Ashland, OR, with beautifully designed shows, had an owner who retired end of last year, and the gallery was up for sale.  All this just goes to show how things are constantly evolving according to factors that are not always in the control of the painter, or even the gallery owner. So do we wring our hands?

Perhaps this is bound to happen.  It speaks to the labor, expense and dedication (on both the part of artists and gallerists) involved in making a go of it through hard times and the challenge of continuing to work through your own aging process. In my own small city, I’ve seen lots of venues come and go during 20+ years- not too surprising given the demographics of the area. Some were fairly provincial in scope or ambition to begin with- but sadly the few attempts at local contemporary commercial spaces, have had an average life span of about 2 years. Now, more then ever, if artists want to get their work out to the public, they have to be nimble, have lots of outlets, new venues.  Even if they do have a gallery, they are likely expected to do some promotional lifting.

Plus, the internet has totally changed this equation.  There is a lot more “inventory” to deal with. Anyone and everyone can call them selves a “professional”- and perhaps start selling their work.  Buyers don’t have to be educated in the visual arts to know what they like, and can afford.  Which means that there is a multiplicity of things that make me cringe, but also make me swoon – in a good way mind you. All this is mind-boggling democratic.  It’s all a giant soup of choice, and the world keeps spinning.

Many people can’t easily travel to galleries, or are too busy or intimidated. Most folks probably feel they can’t afford the prices. Lots of people seem to think the Arts are a value to society.  (insert your favorite study here) But there is a lot of competition for the brief attention span and limited time of said appreciators. And what does it mean to be an appreciator?  What does it mean to participate? How will all these struggling arts organizations keep cultivating an audience?

I would think that creative/maker people should be among the most flexible among us, but what I’ve witnessed lately is that when the subsidy rug is pulled out from under them, they get very panicky, and wonder if the sky is falling.   But when we demand support, are willing to give our work away, think someone else is going to save us, and cling to old models and institutions, we seem a bit desperate…. and no one is attracted to desperation.

So, my modest proposal….just go back to the work.  All the rest is noise.  Just do the work that makes your soul complete, and if you must, make a living in some other way along side of it. Share what you do freely.  Keep seeking out those connections and supporters.  If times get better, or you connect with the right people or patrons or project, great.  You will hopefully at least have made some contribution to the timeless creative conversation.





Everybody into the pool! (the art of not being all-consumingly productive all the time)

that’s my dad and me filling up the old pool in the back yard-

I was reminded there is such a thing as the “academic calendar” upon spotting the occasional U-haul trucks loaded with belongings making an appearance in downtown streets.

I used to live by it, whether in tune with my daughter’s school activities and vacations, or dealing with my own academic life.  Waiting for summer, so I would finally have more time for my own studio work.  (Hah! you’d think that would be the case, but if you’re an academic mommy, it just means your own kids are out of school, so you are pulled differently away from your work, not necessarily less so.) I also remember the sinking feeling when department meetings started up again…..”no… not yet!””

All those years are far behind me now. And I tend to get more studio work accomplished during the fall/winter/spring months. Times when there are fewer outdoor distractions, when I don’t mind hunkering down in the basement under the lights.IMG_0017

Summer is a different story. After the studio tour wrapped up,  3 cubic yards of great top soil/compost was dumped in the driveway.  We’ve been trying to cut down on lawn area and use more of the front yard for growing veggies and perennials and flowers.  So, many shovels and wheelbarrow loads later, it’s all distributed and also stored in the garage in two trash cans.  Then there’s the recent load of stripstone that I loaded into the back of my station wagon to edge the flagstone patio and the garden beds in back.  I also enjoy the daily picking, dead-heading, occasional weed pulling, and watering.

There’s been time spent reading, gathering my thoughts, finishing up a few smaller paintings, weeding out things in the studio, swimming at the pool around the corner, bike rides, hikes….. and just enjoying sitting on the deck, watching the clouds and storms roll in, appreciating the birds and other critters that scamper through the hedge, and ….. well, you get the picture.

pastel- from my Oregon days-  9x12
pastel- from my Oregon days- 1984 -9×12…… it seems I’ve always been a gardener

It’s not that I’m a total slacker though, there are a few shows coming up this fall that are getting contributions from me – “Aria” a small group exhibit at Artworks in Loveland, CO;  “Contemporary Colorado” a juried show at the newly reopened Curfmann Gallery at Colorado State University;  “Must Love Art”  a combination exhibit/and marriage celebration of two friends.. and the on-going posting of new works on two art marketing websites.

I am also determined to finally get my hands into some solar plate print-making.

But this is also the time to sit. To look at the sky, to marvel at the lovely birds that come  close by for a drink or meal, to read a good book in the shade. Simple stuff.  Not resume builders or the kinds of things that prompt you to moan about how “busy” you are, when asked.

The real gift of summer.