A monthly column that keeps its finger on the pulse of Forsyth’s artists and their inspiring stories
This month’s featured artist, Elizabeth Shanahan, finds sanctuary and divinity in the wildest of places, allowing each brushstroke to echo the inspirations and surroundings that only nature can provide. Her talent as a mixed media artist truly lies in turning familiar pieces of the world into a world all her own to share with her customers and students.
Elizabeth Shanahan | Abstract Mixed Media Artist
How would you describe your work?
I’m best known for my landscapes, which explore the relationship between God, humans, and the environment. I consider myself a neoimpressionist because I hope my paintings will inspire in the viewer the same sense of wonder and belonging I feel in a beautiful place.
What influences your art most?
Nature is easily my biggest inspiration. Any amount of time outside leaves me with dozens of ideas for new work, and the deep sense of peace I need to make it. I do find inspiration in other places though; my Fiorendo collection from 2019 was about my daughter and the ways we grew together in her first two years of life, and last year I made a series of still lifes depicting fruit and flowers in fun, bright colors, because I wanted to make something that would bring me and my collectors a sense of joy while everything felt so hard and scary. Right now I’m working on a series of small still lifes of things my daughter brings me from our yard, because it’s such a special, universal moment in childhood, the collection of small objects.
How have you evolved, personally, as an artist?
I think I’m a little unusual in that I’ve gone from creating abstract work to making work that’s much more representational, while others tend to go the other way as they get older. I think I felt a lot of pressure in art school to conform to a certain idea of what a contemporary artist should be. As I’ve grown up, I’ve gotten more confident and open to channeling the creative impulses that come to me.
Teaching students of different levels, what’s a common thread you see in your students?
In one-on-one lessons I’ve done, and in observing other students during school, the biggest commonality I see is a sense of personal aesthetic. Most artists have good taste themselves, and an idea about what they like and don’t like, and that’s what inspires the desire to make. Beginners, however, are often afraid to make marks, which leads to choppy, hesitant strokes. It’s important to remember that art making is a process of making and remaking. Experienced artists realize that whether you like your initial strokes or not, they’re going to be covered and recovered as you create your piece, so there’s no sense in being afraid.
You have your first group painting class coming up. Tell us about that!
I hadn’t thought about teaching before but when Mollie Bradford from The Little Chapel in Clemmons approached me about it, I thought, why not? The idea of giving that experience to someone else through this “Paint & Sip” class is exciting and I’m really looking forward to it. I don’t know whether it will become a regular part of my practice yet.
How do you carve out time to be creative?
Being an artist is a job and you have to treat it that way. Because it’s a less traditional format (nobody’s going to yell at you if you come in late), it’s really easy to let life get in the way, and I won’t pretend to you that I’ve never fallen prey to this! But I’ve found the best way to handle it is to set a calendar with deadlines, and then stick to it. Let people know when you’re releasing new work, and do it. It’s much harder to renege when people are expecting a release.
What are you working on that excites you right now?
I’m very excited about my Palette Collection! I’ll be releasing a series of photographs of my art palettes as prints. They’re so vibrant and textured, you’ll want to touch them to be sure the paint isn’t real! The combinations of colors are like little studies of the paintings they made, which is fun for me as I edit the photos and say to myself, oh, this was from the Shelter Collection or this was from when I was painting Alicia while we were filming Nella Luce this spring. I’m excited to see the response.
What is one piece of advice you’d like to share with fellow artists?
Don’t stop. Like making art, building a career is a process of trying, going back and trying again, and eventually, you’ll find the formula that works for you.
If you are interested in learning more about Elizabeth Shanahan, you can follow her on Instagram @elizabeth.shanahan, as well as find her work online at elizabethshanahan.com. Elizabeth also does art fairs and gallery shows, which you can keep up with on Instagram or by subscribing to her email list on her website.