Celebrating 20 years making art in Colorado…me, a cat, and a non-profit.

Image 3.5 x 3.5, ink, pastel, acrylic, pencil. If you fill out a short survey at any studio tour location, you might win this little gem. A monotype, w/ mixed media, by yours truly. I have 8 more all unique, framed and ready to go that will be on my wall if you visit my studio.
Image 3.5 x 3.5, ink, pastel, acrylic, pencil, matted and framed.
If you fill out a short survey at any studio tour location, you might win this little gem. A monotype, w/ mixed media, by yours truly.
I have 8 more all unique, framed and ready to go that will be on my wall if you visit my studio.

So- this is the longest I have ever lived anywhere in my life.  20 years!!

I still remember our frantic 3 day trip out here, looking high and low for a house to rent or buy for our impending move from Maryland.

Last month, I helped a local land trust celebrate their 20-year anniversary of working on land conservation in Northern Colorado.  And I’ve been thinking about my own history as well.  Having a helper in the studio scanning slides that go back more than 20 years ago; preparing for the annual two day studio tour, and contemplating what treasures I still have hidden away in drawers and paintings racks must have set off some sort of nostalgic chain reaction in my brain.

At the same time, I’ve been realizing many artist-types I know in town are up to 20 years younger than me. Woah!  and because of this, there’s a dissonance between what I want to accomplish now in my career  and what other artists do.  It’s just that we are at different intersections, looking at different destinations on the map.

I came here with my family, after bouncing around the country for a few years.  First, finishing grad school in Iowa, heading out to Washington state for an informal residency at a former professor’s house, then teaching at colleges in Kentucky, Virginia, and near Washington, DC….. I got an offer to head west, and another round of packing and moving ensued.
I ended up teaching full time in the drawing area of Colorado State for 6 years, and then decided that tenure did not call to me, so I quit. Yeah I know, !!!??? throwing long term security down the tubes?  But in a rather soul-crushing environment, I’m convinced my work would have suffered.  (I did go back for a few terms of part time teaching, because that was the part I did miss.)

When I quit teaching full time, it was great weight off.  I had more time to paint finally. I think it was a great time for my work, and career. There was a quirky little space behind a used furniture store that was my studio.  I exhibited in several commercial galleries and universities, was selling work regularly, did visiting artists gigs, won competitive arts fellowships, even tried my hand at the Cherry Creek Arts festival.

But…while I wasn’t looking, some things were shifting.
First- dot.com bubble bursting, (bad news if your primary gallery is in Seattle) then galleries began closing, recession-induced malaise began creeping in.
Previous to this, I had not been interested much in having anything to do with the local public art walks, open studios, etc.  That changed a bit when I rented a space in a (then) vibrant art space, and suddenly had access to other local artists and people walking through the building every First Friday. I began selling my own work. Over time, I ended gallery affiliations, and began a process of re-tooling.
Now, I’m happily “self-representing” my work, learning and using new skills. I try to find good homes, whether public or private, for what I create.  I ponder having too many pieces of art work lingering around when I check out. I don’t care about gallery representation. I paint what interests me, but don’t have to churn out an arbitrary number of pieces each year to ship off to an unknown future.

If I get old enough, I may put a sign out by the curb…..”free art to good homes”, or have a really colorful bonfire, or put them up on the walls of a skilled nursing facility.   The work will have already served its purpose, which is taking me on my own visual journey.

Oh yeah.  The cat?  Our 20 year-old Lily, who hangs in there, despite kidney disease and 6 years of daily infusions to keep her functioning.  Together, we make adjustments, we have set-backs, we take naps in the sun, and we poke around in the dirt.

Come see us June 2 and 23rd during the free Fort Collins studio tour, and help us celebrate 20 years of being here.

Brick by Brick… Am I easily distracted or do I just have lots of good ideas simultaneously?

bricksI’ve been working in my home studio for about 2 years now- and enjoy several things about it.
•No rent.
•More space.
•Obviously closer to home-  I can go work anytime- for hours or 15 critical minutes.
•I can do the studio tour more easily.
•Everything is stored in one location.
•I have separate work areas set up for painting, drawing, printmaking, and desk work.
ah….. it’s the last one that might be a mixed blessing.

Desk area Ever the multi-tasker. Listening to a lecture by Daniel Ariely while reworking some monotypes with various media.
Desk area
Ever the multi-tasker. Listening to a lecture by Daniel Ariely about Irrational behavior while reworking some monotypes with various media.
Drawing Wall Lots of pending ideas, and a couple pastels up on the wall.  Finally using that black paper that's been in  my flat file for years.
Drawing Wall
Lots of pending ideas, and a couple pastels up on the wall. Finally using that black paper that’s been in my flat file for years.
Painting Wall Warpping up the large grey one, and several 8x10's coming along.
Painting Wall
Wrapping up the large grey one, and several 8×10’s coming along.

Because when I have several ways to work, of course I have several things going on at once. And they all interest me. And they are all mere steps away from each other.
uh oh
but over the years of working this way, I have become used to this  – everything eventually gets done… even if they all stagger towards the finish line at different speeds.  Being able to trust this is important. The author Daniel Pink says he believes in the simple action of showing up- working brick by brick-  how showing up every day becomes a cumulative effect.
SO… perhaps waiting for inspiration is lame-  we’ve oversold it (part of the mystique of the ‘artiste’?) and been undersold the PRACTICE
Or as Dave Hickey so aptly put it- “A frenzied, vague, emotional response just means your hand is moving in a pleasantly abandoned fashion.”  This is art as therapy.

The hand and eye working in response to how you think and feel about something  (idea/subject) takes more time and effort.

Being able to live with ambiguity and incompleteness- knowing that all the little incremental steps do add up to work that is resolved and also has a deeper history. That’s a tougher task.

brick by brick  –  that’s just the way I roll.  If you keep adding enough bricks- pretty soon you've built something substantial!

it’s all about the frame

(Keeping with my political themes.... )

For those of us who paint on canvas,  and then exhibit the work, there’s always a question that needs to be resolved somehow,  after all the fireworks and angsty sessions with a brush in hand.  How to frame or present the work.

I’ve noticed more and more painters going towards working on wood panels that are 1-2 inches deep, and then not framing pieces.   The painting becomes more of an object or three dimensional presence and you can have a nice clean, contemporary looking wooden border around where it meets the wall or in some cases continue the image around the edges.  I’ve done this with some deeper canvases, and if they are large enough it’s fine.

I used to even miter/ build my own 1/2″ x 2″ strip frames.  OK for larger paintings.

But now I’m working on a series of smaller 8×10 paintings that are not deep, and need some context around them to establish more of a presence on a wall.   So……. how to frame them?

I tried one of my first grass paintings in a plein air frame I had on hand.

During the last decade, I’ve seen small works that are framed with a large wide wood frame, sometimes rather gaudy and gold,  and you get the feeling that the frame is sucking all the life out of the painting.  Too much, too obvious, too baroque…..  On the other hand,  they need something!

  I briefly thought about how I could paint or continue the work out onto the frame, (think Howard Hodgkin)

or carve designs into them

… hmm not my skill set, actually.

And being somewhat short on time, I had to decide on a solution that wouldn’t break the bank and look good on all the pieces.  (When I work on a series, I tend towards exploring the same idea, but using different color combinations, because each creates such a unique environment.)

I decided on these from Jerry’s Artarama.

I’ve used them before, but now they come in an all black version .  They’re called floater frames, because the painting sits down in the frame, but has a space around, so you can actually see a bit of the sides. I hit them with an extra coat of black satin spray paint, and we’re good to go.

Nice if your image wraps around.   

8×10 oil 2012 ©Nanci Erskine

This solution allows me to keep the cost of the paintings within a very reasonable range, and if someone has another idea later, they can go for it.

So, how do you frame it?

Memories of Fireflies

“Encounter” – detail

Yes.  This has been a very hot summer so far. But I can always take some comfort in the fact that it never feels really sticky on top of that.  I have lived in locations that were way more humid than this… Maryland, Virginia, Kentucky, Iowa (I am wondering how I managed to sweat it out in a third floor studio in grad school) … going back to my childhood in Pennsylvania.      One of the magical events of my childhood mid summers, each night, was the appearance of fireflies.  I can still recall them, dancing above the damp grass.  In more recent years, while on a teaching trip to Italy, there was a field,  filled with blinking lights in flight,  that we came upon while walking through the streets of town to get gelato.

Enchanting is the best description.

“Moonflower” – detail
“Midsummer Night Vine” – detail

We don’t see them in Colorado, except in rare sightings. So, recently, when hanging up a selection of my vine series of paintings- I was struck by how in several of them, I’d included some hint of blinking, glowing entities.  In one painting, I thought of them as embers, in another I definitely had in mind the fireflies of my youth or enchanted scenes from Shakespeare.

In another, they might have been little moths or floating petals.

But the upshot of all this, is a recognition of my attraction to things that are on the edge of nocturnal.  When the light releases its hold on the earth.

The newer series that seems to be literally developing from the ground up – grasses, weeds, little hidden pockets of darkness,  is almost asking for some little glimmers of light…..some enchantment.

I’m thinking fireflies

New Work – Sprouting up

My strategy in this year has been to back off the unnecessary and clear my head….decide if I wanted to keep painting, decide how I would go about that, decide what really intrigued me enough to make work about it.  The Creative Capital workshop seemed to help propel me past my earlier funk, and gave me the courage to just do what mattered to me.  The result has been more drawings, and the beginning of an exploration of things that evoke the quality of being grounded AND tangled…in fact, they are about grass and reeds and such things.    Here are a few of the smaller pieces, hanging on the wall in the “done” section- yay!