elise phillips :: en plein air
Q: As a plein air painter, how do you read the landscape?
A: When painting en Plein Air, I explore new areas to really get a feel for the place. The sights, the sounds, the temperature all factor into my painting. I love heading to the coast in the summer, and prefer the Pennsylvania landscape in fall and winter. I find I return to favorite spots where the clouds, fields, and beach call to me. It’s as if these elements and places are a part of my soul and I can’t wait to capture those feelings on canvas.
Q: What necessities and comforts do you carry into the field?
A: Bug spray, suntan lotion, and water.
Q: What role does technology have in the field? For example, do you listen to the sounds of wind and water, or prefer music?
A: I do not like listening to music, or podcasts. I love hearing the sounds of the place I’m painting. Birds singing, rustling trees, waves breaking, seagulls calling, sailboat masts clanging.
Q: How does painting en plein air shift when you return to the studio? From no walls to four?
A: I carry back the true colors, atmosphere, and feelings. In the studio, I paint from reference photos and the sensory information I gathered while painting outside.
Q: Most of your work is divided into horizontal thirds, with at least one-third visually quiet. Can you talk about how you compose your paintings?
A: I love the one-third rule: one-third land with two-thirds sky, or vice versa.
Q: The subject of your work, combined with your painting style, reads like a highlight reel of treasured moments. Is this your intention?
A: I love capturing a sense of nostalgia. I love painting timeless pieces where it’s present day, but resonates with the past. My paintings, as a collection, are a journal of where I live and places I go.
Q: There’s an ease to your work; nothing to reconcile or hidden meaning to decipher. In our visually-demanding culture, there’s a luxury to relaxing in paintings like yours. Can you speak to this?
A: Yes, I find joy in the natural beauty that surrounds us. Be it the woods, a field, or the ocean. Escapes from the hectic technological and negative world we live in today.
Q: Because your work is tied to place, like Martha’s Vineyard, you have a built-in audience of admirers and collectors. Has this allowed you to also build community in these places?
A: When I visit a place I like to build a sense of community through my paintings. I am in awe of the beauty of the place and can’t wait to paint it to share with admirers and collectors who share the same visions as I do.
Q: I’m fascinated with what I’m calling Elise’s Secret Language of Brushstrokes: water = horizontal; clouds = vertical; foliage = multi-directional. Is this something you've developed over time?
A: I really work on my brushwork, and have definitely developed it from miles on the brush! I feel the sky, clouds, atmosphere comes down on you from above, hence the vertical brushwork. When it meets land and sea, the brushwork becomes horizontal. The foliage and people, for example, get the more lively every-which-way brushstrokes. This variety makes my paintings more alive.
Q: Can you speak to the relationship of land and sea in your work?
A: I love the Pennsylvania landscape where I have lived my whole life. I feel it’s soul in my soul and can’t help but see the beauty in it. It’s true, I gravitate to the coast when I’m not in Pennsylvania. My grandfather was a seascape painter and growing up we spent our summers at the shore in a house a few blocks from the ocean. Not suprising, seascapes were the first paintings I made. To this day I love painting the ocean, beaches, and towns near the water. They are part of my story.
Q: Even though your subject matter is without drama, or darkness, I wonder if there’s ever struggle with the process of creating a particular piece of work? If yes, what does the struggle look like, and how do you resolve it?
A: If there is a struggle with a piece (which is often!), I persevere until I have captured the feeling that I was after.
Q: Top Ten on your playlist, and which platform?
A: I listen to Pandora, or Apple Music. My favorite stations are anywhere from Acoustic Guitar to the Rolling Stones, depending on my mood.
Q: Which printed books, or magazines, are you currently reading, or like to have around?
A: I have lots and lots of art books! Wyeth, Sargent, Sorolla, Homer, Pennsylvania Impressionists, and so on.
Q: Artist, or piece of work, that’s resonated with you from childhood into the present?
A: When studying at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art, Winslow Homer’s painting, The Fox Hunt was hanging in the museum. To this day that painting does it for me!
Q: As a mid-career artist, what advice — from practical to poetic — can you share with emerging artists?
A: Just keep painting. Do what you love, love what you do!
Elise Phillips's work is on view at North Water Gallery in historic downtown Edgartown.