I wrote about Erin Hanson's work in a recent email. It was a popular one. She's a remarkable landscape artist based in California. Her work has a distinct style she calls "Open Impressionism". I'm pleased to have her answer a few questions about her life, philosophy, and work.
Q: I understand you are deeply inspired by van Gogh. Do you have any less known Impressionist inspirations?
I love the Canadian impressionists The Group of Seven. I have also been inspired by Japanese brush paintings (which I often emulated in college), and some of my other favorite artists are Georgia O’Keeffe, Edgar Payne, and Andrew Wyeth.
I get my daily inspiration directly from nature, however. The beauty of an early dawn illuminating a National Park, quiet and calm in the off-season, is one of my favorite inspirations. I also love painting California wine country and rugged coastal landscapes. I am inspired by the shifting light and colors during the golden hours, the abstract shapes of unique tree formations, and glorious skies bursting with color. Impressionism is a great style to capture the feeling I get when I am out of doors: the loose brush strokes, impasto paint application, and vibrant colors perfectly express my love for landscapes.
Q: Which current (living) artists inspire you?
Are you familiar with Jim Lee? He is an amazing comic book artist (Batman, for example.) His pictures have such motion and sense of just coming alive, like he just painted it on the spur of the moment, and it came out perfectly. I got into comic book drawing when I was in college, and I like to think that my style of Open Impressionism carries on some of that sense of immediacy, clean lines, and strong compositions.
Q: What is your preferred medium? Do you experiment with others?
I only paint in oils right now. Of course when I was younger I practiced with any medium I could get my hands on: pen and ink, charcoal, watercolor, watercolor pencils, pastels, oil pastels, and acrylics. When I was a teenager, I worked nights and weekends at a mural studio, and we created giant 40-ft acrylic paintings that were hung in restaurants and casinos around the world.
My favorite medium has always been oil, however. In fact, I began painting in oils when I was 8 years old. I love carrying on the tradition of the early impressionists and other masters by using the medium of oil. There is something very satisfying about the texture, smell and hues of organic oil paint.
Q: Your landscapes are wonderful. Have you done any portrait or still life painting?
I have painted many portraits and still lifes, but my main focus has always been landscapes. My love for hiking, backpacking, and rock climbing keeps me outside in beautiful locations, and I find more inspiration in the natural world than anywhere else.
Here is a link showing a series of floral still lifes I did a few years back, for a Mother’s Day exhibition I had in my gallery:
Q: Do you have a preferred brand of paint and brushes?
Winsor and Newton Artist Oils and Blockx are two of my favorite brands of oil, and I use a variety of brushes to capture different textures.
Q: Do you have any advice for aspiring artists?
I always tell aspiring artists that the best way to create your own style of painting and learn how to overcome the barriers in painting is very simple: create (and finish!) one painting every week. These do not need to be large paintings, but the act of actually finishing one painting a week (yes, 50 paintings per year) will teach you more about painting that you could ever learn from an instructor. You should aim to complete a few hundred paintings before you start to worry about what your “style” is.
My second piece of advice is: do lots of art festivals. This is how artists learn how to sell and market their paintings. I believe there is a market for any style and subject matter; it is just a matter of connecting up with art lovers who are looking for that type of art. Doing lots of art festivals will make you into a competent businessperson, as well as an accomplished artist, and you will be able to start making a full time living as an artist.
Q: Do you have any business advice for those looking to go professional?
I have put together a series of articles I have written to help artists figure out how to make a living as a professional artist. You have to learn all sorts of aspects of running a business, like designing a website, creating promo pieces, book publishing, financial planning, print making, framing, promotion and marketing, etc. If you are willing to learn and eager to work hard, I am sure you will be able to make a living as an artist.
Q: What is your favorite art book?
Composition of Outdoor Painting by Edgar Payne. This beautifully written book contains everything an artist needs to improve their skill and create their own style of painting.
Q: What do you enjoy outside of painting?
I love to listen to audio books (which I always do while painting), and I love hiking and exploring National Parks. I have a daughter who is 20-months old, so of course I spend a lot of my free time with her. She loves to draw and paint too, and she holds a pen just like an adult and creates little detailed squiggles. It is the cutest thing in the world when she wants to paint on her easel right next to me while I paint.
Q: Do you ever feel trapped in your own success? (i.e. The need to paint in the same style you are known for.)
Luckily, I am fortunate to paint in a style of painting that is uniquely my own creation. I love to paint in Open Impressionism: the bold, loose brush strokes are expressive and alive. Since I have always painted the way I want to paint (and not the way I thought someone else wanted me to paint), I have never lost the joy in creation. I always push myself to become better and better, capturing new effects of light and striving to make my paintings more evocative and emotional.
Some More of Her Work
Thanks for Reading!
A huge thanks to Erin for taking the time to do this interview. I always find it pleasing to see an artist creating good work and doing well.
Feel free to share with friends. If you want more painting tips, check out my Painting Academy course.
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