Ellen Brenneman has created art nearly all her life and has worked as a full-time artist since 2012. She regularly works on one series per year and receives the most joy when painting the fiber and form of nature.
Carrie: Welcome to Artist Strong Ellen, when did you first realize you were an artist?
When I was in grade school my art teacher took me aside during class one day and commented on a drawing I had just completed. He told me that I had a natural talent and to always nurture it. He said that when I grew up I could be an artist. This memory holds a special meaning to me because as a child I knew nothing about labels or limitations. As children we believe we can be anything. Years later I drifted away from art for a while because I lost faith in my abilities but at that moment with my art teacher I really felt like I was an artist.
Carrie: How did you discover your artistic style?
Even though I have been painting for many years, I feel I’ve just begun to settle into my true artistic style while working on my current series, Power Animals of the Planet. I’m deeply connected to this body of work and it shows through my use of symbolism, choice of color and the way I handle my paint. I feel my style has evolved because I’ve never felt more passionate about my subjects than I feel about this series.
Carrie: If you had to choose three words to describe your art, what would they be?
Carrie: What does your workspace look like?
If you were to walk into my art studio you would find it filled with things that inspire me to create such as feathers, stones and photographs of places or people that bring me happiness. I’ve also begun collecting work from fellow artists that I admire.
My art table is usually congested with bottles of ink, acrylic paint and various brushes. There are ink splatters everywhere, even the walls.
Carrie: How do your interests outside of art fuel your artwork?
Several years ago I became interested in traditional yoga which gave me a greater understanding of my place in this world and whom I share it with. My artwork is heavily influenced by this philosophy. In addition, I have always loved the outdoors. To me, there is no greater source of inspiration than stepping outside and observing everything nature has to offer.
Carrie: How do you navigate the feelings of vulnerability that show up during the creative process?
For me, the best way to keep negative chatter to a minimum is to never lose sight of why I started creating in the first place.
In January 2015 I had major shoulder surgery. When I awoke, 3 fingers in my dominant hand had no feeling.. The thought of not being able to paint for months to come or never regaining the feeling in my fingers had me quite depressed. I knew that the only way to stay connected to my art was to begin painting with my non dominant hand while my shoulder recovered.
The paintbrush initially felt so awkward in my left hand and at that moment I’d never felt more vulnerable in my life, but once I started painting I couldn’t concentrate on anything other than the pure joy of the process itself. Before my surgery I focused a good deal of energy comparing myself to others, always striving to be ‘better’ instead of appreciating the skills I already had. The fear of permanently losing my ability to paint was the reminder I needed of why I started painting in the first place: for the the joy of it.
Carrie: How do you know when an artwork is finished?
I never consider a piece of artwork finished until it has been signed, and I never sign my work until it has been purchased and is ready to be shipped out. This is a habit I picked up from my years of working as a mixed-media artist when older pieces were reworked and/or recycled multiple times before being considered truly finished.
Carrie: What is one piece of advice you have for struggling creatives?
Allow social media to work for you, not against you. Use sites like Facebook and Instagram as tools to help you grow your business and connect with like-minded individuals, but don’t value your worth on the number of Likes and/or shares you receive. Paying too much attention to who is or isn’t paying attention to you is a sure fire way to kill your self confidence and dull your creative spirit.
Carrie: How has social media and the internet helped you as an artist?
Social media has been an amazing resource for me because it has allowed me to connect with unbelievably kind, supportive people. I receive the most interaction with those who follow me on Facebook, many of whom live thousands of miles away. Knowing that my art is reaching people all over the world is absolutely incredible to me.
Social media has also allowed me to develop deeply meaningful friendships with other artists both online and in person and I feel so fortunate to be connected to so many like-minded, talented people.
Carrie: What strategies would you suggest to artists for them to harness social media?
There are new social media sites popping up all of the time, and it’s easy to get caught up in the idea that it’s necessary to belong to and participate in as many as possible, but I feel it’s more important to commit oneself to two or three sites and use them regularly than to sign up for more than one can handle. Marketing and networking can be exhausting so be realistic and make sure that studio time comes first on your list of priorities.
Carrie: What is one creative resource you can’t live without?
I have two, actually. Wetcanvas.com is a wonderful resource for artists, both beginners and advanced. There you can find an infinite wealth of information and support from fellow creatives. Another wonderful website, Artfairinsiders.com was an invaluable resource to me when I made the decision to start participating in art fairs.
Carrie: Who/what inspires you?
I gain so much inspiration simply by walking in my backyard or hiking on a nearby trail, and when I’m lucky enough to visit one of our National Parks I nearly burst with inspiration. The wild outdoors inspires me more than anything and my work would certainly be stifled without it, particularly in my current series.
Carrie: How do you define Creativity?
Creativity is an ever-evolving unspoken language. It allows me to convey my thoughts and feelings without any explanation, and it has the power to evoke the same in others as well. Creativity truly a powerful form of communication.
“Creativity is an ever-evolving unspoken language.” (Click to Tweet)
BE COURAGEOUSLY CREATIVE: Have you tried making art with a non dominant hand? Try warming up with your art this week by drawing with your non dominant hand. Tell me in the comments below: how did it make you feel? What did you learn from the experience?
Additional Contact Info:
Lovely work Ellen. I have very little ability to do detail work in my left hand, so it would be very difficult for me to start using it instead of my right. I’ve had surgery on both shoulders (and a number of other places). So I’m familiar with limitations.
Linda, thank you for taking the time to read and for your comment. I hope your shoulders are doing much better now.
They’re more stable, but the missing cartilage won’t come back. I hope your shoulder is better 🙂
I have been doing a fun little series with my non dominant hand, #Inktober Wrong Handed Portraits, using the back of index cards and a 05 ink pen. My album is on my Facebook artist page, if you would like to check it out. I’ve been having fun with this portrait series. I also write one page in my morning journal with my non dominant hand. Somehow it makes me feel more balanced. This is beautiful work by Ellen. Thank you for sharing.
Cindy, what terrific ideas and I think it’s great that you challenge yourself by using your non dominant hand – it unleashes an entirely different style and one that, I feel, is more loose and expressive because there are no expectations. Thanks so much for reading 🙂
I have such great admiration for you Ellen, I tried drawing with my left hand and it didn’t take long before I felt like I had to deal with conflicting emotions. I felt impatient and fearful and quite uncomfortable. It’s a huge challenge and overwhelming for someone who does this for a living. You’re inspirational and you prove that it can be done. It’s just the process of overcoming the conflicting parts. You’re work is so beautiful and have a nice collection of your work that I am so proud to call my own. I wish you many great creations and ongoing growth. Xx
Wonderful talent, beautiful paintings! Your work inspires me to do more with my own creativity! Thank you
Linda I’m glad you enjoyed the interview Ellen inspires me too!