When did you begin drawing and painting?
I began drawing very young, probably as soon as I could hold a pencil. My parents encouraged creativity to the fullest extent. I have two sisters, one older and one younger, and the three of us were always making something together. We were usually found spread out at the kitchen table with paper and piles of crayons. We would come up with funny characters to make each other laugh. I think my art today allows me to stay connected to this part of me….the little girl at the kitchen table giggling about her drawings.
Do you prefer one to the other?
I love and need them both and because I always have a few projects going at once it’s nice to bounce back and forth between the two. I love the simplicity of drawing with a graphite pencil. When I draw I don’t have to think about color and there is immediacy to translating my ideas to paper in black and white. I also enjoy the methodical process and planning of my drawings. Painting can be more liberating in that the paint itself is more forgiving and allows me to give up some control. I can let the colors of the paints and the shapes on the canvas direct me and there’s definitely more of an evolution that has to happen in my paintings as compared to my drawings. I love both processes equally!
What is your favorite animal to paint?
It goes without saying that my favorite animal to paint is the wolf. Wolves have always captivated me. When I was young I would look at pictures of wolves and draw them constantly. My best friend and I were always pretending to be wolves, running through the woods and howling. It makes me laugh thinking about it. I sort of gave up painting wolves as I grew up in high school and early college. In a way it feels like I was maybe trying to push away a part of myself in order to ‘grow up’ and take art seriously, maybe taking myself a little too seriously. Like most art students I was focused heavily on rendering the human figure and painting and drawing from life. My work in school was highly academic and a breakthrough happened for me during a critique to apply for the BFA Painting & Drawing program my sophomore year at SUNY New Paltz. I stood up with all my figure studies and still lives and my professors commended me on technique and artistic abilities and then they gave me a big fat “HOWEVER” and went on to say that my work was boring and that I needed to figure out what made painting fun for me. In short, I started painting wolves again and stepped into my own wonderland in oils. I was reconnected with a part of my inner child that was buried beneath uncertainty. I think that allowing myself to reestablish this connection helped me in all aspects of my life.
Do the animals symbolize different qualities to you?
They definitely do. I think the big friendly wolf creature that I paint symbolizes a wildness or freedom that can easily get shut out in our modern hectic lives but watches over us and begs us to nurture it. For me this wildness lies in the necessity to stay connected to my inner child and to nature.
The little footed house that I paint symbolizes the comforts of the modern world and what we’ve come to call home. So when they interact together on the canvas they represent what home is for me (and for many people I believe)…a balance between the beauty and wildness of the natural world and the comforts of modernity. I also believe that our natural world should be revered and respected so there is definitely a nod to this in my subject matter. If we cherish Mother Nature she will take care of us.
Have you ever encountered a wolf in person?
I have not encountered a wolf in person. I have seen fox and coyotes up close in the wild. They are equally beautiful and enchanting. The closest encounter I had was with a coyote while thru hiking the Vermont Long Trail with my husband, Zak, and our dog, Balu. One morning while Zak finished packing up at the shelter I hopped on the trail early to get a head start with Balu. Although we usually let Balu walk without a leash (he’s very good at staying close) something in my gut told me to leash him up. I clipped the leash and continued up the path and suddenly a large coyote crossed the path just 15 feet in front of us. He paused and stared and then darted off into the woods. I think Balu was just as stunned as I was.
I also think I encounter a little bit of wolf spirit in Balu every day. One of my greatest joys is walking with my dog, off leash, in the wild. It’s easy to see the pleasure he feels when he’s free to nose the leaves and sprint down the path. It’s as if something comes over him and he can be his true doggy self and reconnect with his roots.
Are there any creatures that you do not like?
I don’t like bedbugs very much! Or ticks! All in all, I appreciate all creatures for their uniqueness and roll in helping the world go round.
Your artwork is very whimsical. Are you drawn to whimsy in other areas of your life?
Of course! I love all things that spark the imagination in a whimsical way….music, movies, road trips, laughter, the things I collect to decorate my own home, time spent with my husband and dog, simple walks in the woods…I can find whimsy in all these things.
What led you in this direction?
In terms of the direction of being an artist it’s just something I have always possessed and it’s the one thing I can do really well. So a path towards art school seemed the best path for me. After college I didn’t really know what to do with myself and like many artists I picked up a fulltime job completely unrelated to my art degree…I was cleaning rooms at a high end hotel in New Paltz and making bank (believe it or not). Six months after I graduated and full swing into the busy summer season at my housekeeping gig I fell into a depression having not picked up a pencil or paintbrush since my thesis show. Exhaustion left me with no energy to muster up creativity. After much deliberation my husband, who was also working with me at this same job, and I walked out of the job in the middle of a busy Sunday and drove over to High Falls to jump in the river and come up with a plan. That’s where we dreamt up the idea of selling my work at art and craft shows. We booked our first show, made a little cash and the business has continued growing ever since.
In terms of the direction my work has taken, that happened in college after that fateful critique I described earlier. The decision to paint what I want to paint opened up a whole new world as seen through my mind’s eye. I like pictures that tell a story. I like pictures that make you happy. I like silliness. So naturally the world I create in my paintings and drawings is a happy and silly one. It’s a world that is growing in my imagination and I hope that I can write and illustrate some books about it sometime in the near future.
Who are your favorite artists?
A few of my favorite artists and illustrators are Marc Chagall, Edward Gorey, Barbara Cooney, Maxfield Parrish, Beatrix Potter, Don Wood and Martin Ramirez.
What is the most unexpected thing that has come from your art? (travels, conversations, projects, etc.)
I think the most unexpected thing that has come from my art is that it is providing for me. Even though I always knew that I needed to keep art in my life and even though I took a path that lead me to art school I don’t know that I ever truly believed I could be a working artist. I am continuously amazed by and appreciative of the people who fall in love with my work and show their support. It means so much to know that my work inspires people, captivates them, charms them and often times makes them laugh out loud. Sometimes I make a drawing that is so ridiculous (take the drawing of two bunnies playing a French horn with the ‘wrong end’ of the horn blower for example) that I think, “there is no way anyone is going to buy this one” and to my shock and delight it sells at it’s debut show and the prints become best sellers. That’s the most unexpected thing to me….that there are some wonderful, beautiful and incredible people out there who make a connection with my big friendly wolves or French horn farting bunnies. And the most unexpected thing of all is that they love them enough to add them to their own art collections, which allows me to sustain and grow as an artist. A lot of these people have become friends over the years and I look forward to seeing them as I travel the art show circuit. I am forever grateful to the people who make my life as an artist possible.
What do you like to do when you are not painting?
I enjoy daily walks with my dog, Balu. We walk or jog everyday before heading upstairs to the studio. My little family of three (Zak, Balu and me) love taking trips. We take trips to visit with family or trips to go to art shows or hiking and camping trips. My husband and I enjoy a good project. Right now we are doing a camper van conversion, which entails building out the interior of our Ram Promaster van to include a queen size bed, tiny kitchen with sink and stove top burner, cabinets for storage, and even a shower. This van, who we lovingly named Blanche, is our ultimate road trip adventure mobile and also my mobile hotel room and art show hauler. Right now the Blanche project is taking up most of our free time as we plan, scheme and make weekly trips to Home Depot. I also like to cook, usually with the music turned up loud. I enjoy vegging out to Netflix… usually something in the comedy genre. Weirdly, I like cleaning my house with music blasting and accompanied by frequent dance breaks. I also love just good old-fashion daydreaming with a doggy by my side…and the music mellow.
See more of Elaine’s artwork here: www.elainethompsonart.com