I grew up in the Midwest. The neighborhood seemed ordinary, but for certain eccentricities which have taken root, migrating into my work.
The trees for instance. Never have I seen such an odd grouping: mulberry, paw paw, Osage orange, catalpa, hickory, elm, chestnut. Also uncharacteristically, one street ended in a small forest, dark with little trickling streams. And mid-block was a shady park, dense with trees, which attracted a community of albino squirrels.
Inner figures were generated here. By the Buddha-like little boy who ran laughing down streets completely naked. He still fascinates me, popping up from time to time in paintings and dreams. And an older couple, snowy haired, with turquoise eyes.
What were they doing there, and who sent them? As close to devas as you could get, they ignored all protocol, astounding everyone by turning their half acre back yard into a paradise of fruit trees, berry bushes, bee hives, and growing corn. They kept pet raccoons and rescued baby squirrels who rode in their pockets as they gardened or went to church. Their presence is mystical in my life, presiding over me still.
Driving on the Sun
Tea with Butterfly
Angel of The Marigold
Green bean necklace
I currently live on the southernmost tip of the Oregon coast, a conjunction point of two rivers which tumble to the sea. The Siskiyou National Forest (home to bobcat, beaver, marten, elk, otter, fox, redwoods, pine, myrtle) with its pools, waterfalls, and rivers, edges the town. I’ve lived all over the U.S.; this feels like home.
In what ways does your environment influence your work? The sense of scale is prehistoric. Redwood and fir trees tower over you; you are miniaturized. There’s an awareness of moisture (as all winter there is driving rain splashing and pounding overhead as you sleep), you are a participant in the continuum of weather. And the rocks, boulders which rise out if the sea forming small islands, or beaches full of minerals- agates, quartz bundled with serpentine or tinted pale pink by iron, rhodolite, jadeite. The patterns and colors of these stones create a perpetual field of stimulation. I used to paint very dry, putting down pigment then rapidly adding water.
Now the opposite is true. I load my brush with water, enjoying the sight of pigments suspended and moving towards resolution.
What is the best part about being an artist?
Art materials, clearly the best part! Could there be anything more delectable?
Papers which seize paint or never absorb it, translucent or opaque, smooth or with a grainy tooth that alchemizes certain pigments. Eyelash thin brushes or giants of nylon or sable.Scribblely pens, lunar ink, sacred pencils you must locate to start anything at all!
And the pigments, ground from gemstones: turquoise, sunstone, amethyst (to name a few). Also the soft pleasant old cotton clothes worn while working .
What is the worst ?
The black crow of doubt which perches in your head, cawing and pecking whatever you do to bits!
Bearing the Honey
What inspires you?
Innocence in children and adults, in animals and in plants. Costumes, great cinematography and lighting in films! Also ambiguity, a smooth surface, lots going on underneath, fascinated by this in portraits, even landscapes. Dreams, their imagery and things said in them, Oh, and humor… Unfortunately it’s mine, so not everyone may laugh…
Between the leaves
Are there some rituals you follow in your creative process and/or special tools you use for your work ?
1. I find the ‘sacred’ pencil and eraser!
2. I often do not clean my work table, sometimes leaving palettes unwashed, so I won’t lose mysterious colors left on them from other paintings.
3. Set out reference material, as much as I can find that may help with the painting.
4. Take one last long walk either on the beach or in the woods to get everything in place in my head.
How closely do you follow your original idea in the process of making a piece?
It varies. With Storybook Afternoon, I went with the initial layout of the drawing but then did dozens of small versions of the characters on separate sheets, until I found the ones I wanted to paint into the final piece. In portraits or with faces I go with the initial drawing but let whatever comes out emerge, sometimes a lot of pain will demand expression.
A Bab- Y- God
I’m interested in expressing emotion- even unpleasant emotion at times. And like finding the face or form or action which somehow conveys the particular emotions.
a nourishing life
the ladybug mother
How does the internet affect your work?
Love the animal photos on it! But can get too dazzled and overwhelmed by imagery,then must avoid it at all costs.
How do you get through artist’s blocks? It’s hard! For me it has to do with perceptions and emotions; changing them is not simple. The best hope is just to start drawing again, start falling in love with the referenced object I am rendering: a face, an animal, a plant…it helps!
What would you tell the younger you just starting out as an artist?
Take as many dance classes as possible.
What are your vices? Watching dark, gritty European detective series. Carrying away too many rocks from the beach. Rushing into the kitchen to whip up small custom batches of honey ice cream when stuck in a painting.
What is the last wild animal you saw? An Osprey diving into the ocean after a fish.
What kind of pets do you have?
The kind who are divine muses! A short haired exotic Persian cat and a black and white shih-tzu.
At the peal of the Bells
kitten in a quilt
Try to have a nice birthday !
How do you balance your personal life with your life as an artist?
There is no balance!
three face studies
Do you typically work on one piece at a time or have several going at once?
More often than not one piece at a time. I’m an all or nothing type.
Photos by David Coffin
Cards of Ellen’s work are available here http://www.redbubble.com/people/ellencoffin
The prettiest leaves always fall on your birthday!