Elissa Nesheim is a professional watercolor artist living and working in Northern California. Inspired by long drives across the hills and prairies of her first home, South Dakota, her watercolor landscapes are an impression, a feeling of the natural world. As a lover of drawing and owls, her work includes watercolor illustration featuring owl characters doing different things such as yoga, hanging at coffee shops and going on adventures.
Carrie: Elissa when did you first begin to see yourself as an “Artist?”
I saw myself as an artist at University during my first art classes. Working with other art students, visiting artists and professors engaged me in artistic conversation and reflection. I really felt like I was an artist when I became an art major.
Carrie: How would you describe your art?
My watercolor landscapes are my interpretation of the world, what I see and what I want to portray. Sometimes it is very site specific, but more often I choose to use images of place as inspiration and then let the painting take me for the ride.
My work is moving back to a more abstracted place, where I started in college. I am also incorporating collage elements to give volume and texture.
Carrie: When did you realize watercolor was your medium of choice?
During my very first class! Crazy I know, but I really have loved it ever since. During my senior year, when I should’ve taken oil painting, I did independent studies in watercolor collage because I was pregnant with my son. The department didn’t want me breathing in the fumes and really, I just wanted to paint in watercolor.
Carrie: I love your collage explorations I spotted recently on Instagram! Tell us more about those investigations.
My collages are an exploration I started in college and wanted to revisit. With these pieces I want to take apart something I’ve created, an abstract landscape and push it, make it even more abstracted. I live in a farming community that is being overtaken by housing developments, all the these little houses crammed next to one another.
Prior to these houses, there were these rolling meadows with wildlife and beautiful trees. The landscape gets smoothed and smashed and reshaped to plop down all these houses. I want to explore reshaping the landscape in a painting, making it more wild, more inviting, saturated with color and lines. Perhaps it invites people to take a second look at the world around them.
Carrie: What does your workspace look like?
My workspace is a large upstairs bedroom in my house. I have 3 large flat surfaces for painting watercolors, all at standing height and a big window that looks up at the Black Oak covered hills. I like to use my desktop as a mixing palette because it’s a slick white surface, also it makes great photos.
I store most of my watercolor paper in my flat file and then I have rolls of watercolor paper for larger pieces. Generally the space is brimming with different piles of projects and ideas.
Carrie: How do you move from idea to finished artwork? Can you describe your process a bit to us?
Lately, I start with a set of colors and then find the landscape after the initial washes. These colors are inspired by the time of year, stones from the beach or just a feeling. I also begin from a photograph of a specific place or a mash up of 2-3 photographs. There are a series of washes in different layers, sometimes speckles of stars, drying in between and then there are final details at the end.
Carrie: When do you decide a work is finished?
There is a balance to the painting that comes forward when it’s finished. It’s like talking to a friend about a passionate soul-bound goal. I talk to my painting with my brush, our language is watercolor paint, paper, canvas. Our conversations are happy, elated, passionate, frenetic, worried. Sometimes they move slowly and I have to take a break and come back to finish. Many of my collectors say my work gives off a certain feeling that they want in their home or life. The painting speaks to them as well.
Carrie: What do you do when you feel stuck?
I usually take a break from what I am working on when I get that stuck feeling. Some paintings never come back out, others are only put away for an hour. Watercolor looks so different wet to dry, it is easy to become annoyed with the muddiness of your work when you are in the middle of things. This is why I am always working on more than one painting at a time. I move from landscapes to owls when I need to feel child-like whimsy.
Carrie: What is one creative resource you can’t live without?
I absolutely love the internet for blogs, interviews, and artist spotlights. Instagram is lovely for gaining color inspiration from photographs, interior designers and landscape photographers.
Carrie: Who/what inspires you?
I am constantly inspired by the world around me, the landscape across the globe, the vastness of the universe and other creators. So many painters living and deceased inspire me, but it’s really their passion for the craft of creating along with the work they produce. I love going to museums and seeing the work in person and really immerse in that feeling they want to convey.
Carrie: How do you define Creativity?
Creativity is to gather your own personhood, the light that shines inside you, open up a little hole to let just a tiny bit out onto paper, page, canvas, idea, truth, spoken word and show it to another person. Everyone’s light is a mirror and the light is reflected, over and over, making the world lighter and brighter.
Be Creatively Courageous: Tell me one way your art makes the world “lighter and brighter.” 🙂
Additional Contact Info:
@ElissaNesheim on Instagram