Elizabeth St. Hilaire Nelson made my heart race–well, her work did. I saw her work in Featuring magazine, and knew that I wanted to find out how she did her work. I took her workshop in Sedona and was so pleased with my results, I framed my work and hung it in my house. It’s the first time I’ve done that, and that’s saying a lot.
Elizabeth and I kept in touch after class, and I discovered she’s coming to Sedona again in November. You’ll want to take her class, she’s an amazing teacher–and mentor. She let me ask her a bunch of nosy questions, and I thought I’d share her answers:
1. Did you start out as a collage artist?
No I did not, I am a classically trained artist. I have a BFA from Syracuse University and my training was focused in realism and honing drawing skills
2. What were your first collages like?
My first collages included painting over the top of papers that were already glued down (now I paint all my papers first and never paint on top of them once they are glued on to the board) I also used to use purchased papers that were already colored and used them “out of the box” Nowadays I hand-paint all my own collage papers with acrylic.
3. When you change your technique, how does that happen?
My technique changed from purchased papers to hand painted papers due to an issue of fading, so out of necessity came a change that elevated my work to a much higher level.
My own painted papers are far more beautiful than anything I ever purchased in an art supply store. [Note: This is true. I've swapped papers with Elizabeth and her painted ones are richly colored and visual textures.] I used to frame my work under glass, but I found that this decreased the evidence of texture in my finished work, so I looked into varnishing instead. I used to paint over glued down papers, but in an attempt to loosen my grip on realism, I decided to challenge myself with the task of creating images ONLY from torn bits of paper and no brushwork.
My work has really “evolved” out of necessity and my constant desire to improve up on my process. I am always open to new ways to create papers and new solutions for collage. I often incorporate mixed media in the underpainting process that I leave to show through in the final collage. Mixing media is always a way to keep things fresh.
4. Who do you take classes from?
My influences for color work are Kimberly Kelly Santini and exceptionally loose colorful brushwork is Lisa Daria Kennedy.
My influence for whimsical collage work is Peter Clark. My influence for whimsical mixed media is Maria Pace Wynters
My favorite art history movement is Art Nouveau for the organic form and swirling lines, my favorite artist of all time is Gustav Klimt.
5. How do you know a piece is done (how to you keep from overworking?)
I know when a piece is done when it speaks to me, I cannot explain. When I am happy with the composition and balance, the color and the image, then I stop. It’s instinctual and something I’ve learned with practice. I overworked many a collage in the beginning. It’s terrible when you look at your work on the easel and say “Oh, I liked that a lot better yesterday.”
6. Do you paint papers for each piece, or do you spend a day painting papers in colors you like or know you will use?
I paint papers for inventory primarily, I spend a day playing with color and technique (If I am low on yellow, I paint yellows and all other colors that interest or appeal to me.) I tend to gravitate toward blues and purples and I have to remind myself to paint warm colors as well.
There are some exceptions to this. Upon preparing to collage flamingos, i realized that their salmon pink color was not something I did not have in my repertoire, and so I had to paint papers for them specifically. They are not really very pink.
7. How do you find the right paper to use?
I organize my papers in the studio in clear plastic bins, by color, I have a bin for each of nine colors, with some cross over. This helps me to work fast, not searching through a multi-colored pile, some papers are torn in half and put into more than one drawer. When I travel, I take gallon sized plastic bags of paper divided by color and put them into a tote bag with small containers of glue and a short handled brush.
8. How did you get into teaching?
I have taught collage workshops for the past five years all over the country. I started in Florida with a group who asked me to be their very FIRST instructor and it was my very FIRST time teaching. I was nervous, but my husband reminded me that I had been volunteering to teach kids art for years in the elementary school level.
My first collage workshop was a huge success, we hand painted papers with a variety of techniques, we did a basic apple to get the hang of creating volume with shading and following form. [Note: We did apples, too. They are harder than you would imagine]
Then the students moved on to a project of their choosing, and I was there to help them individually through the challenges of that project. We did a critique at the end where everyone can learn from each other. In my classes I tell a lot of personal stories and make people laugh. I realize that that an art retreat weekend is one part art and one part fun for most of the folks who come out to learn from me. I try to make collage accessible and less intimidating by creating a fun atmosphere for learning. I’ve been lucky enough to be referred to teach and have had so many good reviews on my class that I now have no shortage of teaching opportunities. I am fully booked for 2014 and that’s a good place to be.
My next class is in my FAVORITE place on the planet, Sedona, AZ at the wonderfully equipped Sedona Art Center. A visit to the Lark Art Gallery is a must on Friday night as they represent my more whimsical animal pieces and will have an opening reception, an opportunity to discuss my work and techniques up close and in person.
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Sedona is lovely in November, and the class is a treat to dig into your own creativity without distraction. For me, that’s the big plus of leaving home to take a class. No distractions. Ask Elizabeth about her hobby: she participates in triathlons.
—Quinn McDonald wishes she could be in Sedona in November. But, alas, she is teaching on that weekend.