Lori's Studio

Thursday, May 21, 2015

A few days after my first Thinking Smaller post last fall, I received an email from Lori Elliott-Bartle, a local artist. Her intention was to inquire if I knew about the Artists’ Cooperative Gallery, a non-profit art gallery in Omaha. We kept in touch and a few weeks later, Lori and I were able to meet in her studio located in the Hot Shops Art Center during an open house. It was at this event that I learned more about Lori’s cold wax paintings. While in her studio, she handed me a magnifying glass and explained the layering process of her paintings. Since then, I'd been wanting to see more of her work so I inquired about visiting her studio again. During my visit, Lori was in the process of creating cold wax paintings and the wood and watercolor images for the current exhibit, Spreading Our Roots: A Community Art Celebration featuring the trees of Midtown.

We talked about a lot of subjects during my visit, but one of the most memorable things she shared was that she has always had a love of art since childhood. Once she reached high school, she made the decision to pursue music instead of art. I’m always fascinated with any stories about people finding or realizing their life passion and pursuing it, so I was all ears. She spent her days in journalism and public relations before taking a watercolor painting class in 2000 at the Joslyn Art Museum after her daughter was born. It was this class that made her realize she wanted to be an artist. She told me she took the class "on a whim.” I immediately smiled and told her that it wasn’t a whim, it was meant to be. I hope you enjoy a look inside her in studio and the Q&A section following the photos.

You’re greatly inspired by landscapes, especially prairie lands, what else do you currently draw inspiration from? All landscapes can inspire me with colors, shapes, textures, but I do find myself drawn to wide-open spaces and big skies. For many years, there was a wheat field across the street of my childhood home, and I find myself drawing upon the colors and shapes from that area. I often make a painting or a woodblock print based on vistas I’ve seen during travels, which I greatly enjoy. I participated in several painting workshops at Ghost Ranch in Abiquiu, New Mexico, where Georgia O’Keeffe spent many years, and I find the high desert and rocky terrain restorative. A sizable series of work came from those trips. I’ve also made pieces based on trips to the Gulf Coast of Texas, Italy, Norway and China. But I don’t have to go halfway around the world for inspiration — daily life and moments with family and friends offer inspiration, too. My children have been occasional subjects for me, and those paintings hang in our home, reminding me of their younger days. 

What advice would you give someone who wants to be an artist? One of the key messages in Artist INC, a workshop designed to help artists improve their entrepreneurial skills offered through Omaha Creative Institute, is to create multiple revenue streams. Very few artists make a living solely by selling the work they create in their studios. Teaching, whether in a school or university or by giving workshops, supports many artists. Accepting commissions and licensing the use of images can provide sources of revenue.

A recent visitor to my studio asked how much time I spent there and seemed surprised by my answer. I work every day, spending about 5 full days a week in the studio. Even when I’m not physically there, I’m working from home on aspects of my art business. She had thought that artists paint only when inspiration strikes. There’s a lot of work and preparation behind each completed image beyond the idea that sparked it. My advice is to work hard, be open to learning, network, apply to exhibits or residencies even if you don’t think you’re ready, and explore those multiple revenue streams.

You’ve been involved with many community art projects. What are some of your favorites? What projects are you currently involved with? “Play Me, I’m Yours” had artists embellishing pianos that were placed in public areas in the late summer of 2013. I play piano, so as a musician and painter, I found this project very rewarding. As I worked on the “Garden Party” piano in one of the large galleries on Hot Shops Art Center’s first floor, I would take a break to play a few pieces. Visitors would stop to ask about the project and see how it was progressing. It was gratifying to see the “Garden Party" piano at the top of the hill in Memorial Park. The launch ceremony included ballet dancers who had customized their costumes based on the colors and shapes of the flowering vines I’d painted. Students and teachers from the Omaha Conservatory of Music performed. I stopped by every few days, and each time had a conversation with someone that I probably wouldn’t have spoken to if I were simply walking through the park. Several times I came upon people playing the piano. Also, the project sparked a collaboration with storyteller Rita Paskowitz that has developed into friendship. To add another layer of interaction in addition to playing the piano, we asked visitors to write a word or phrase on paper leaves they attached to the back of the instrument. We hosted two story-telling/song-sharing sessions in the park. One of those sessions was near the end of the exhibit, and the piano had been badly damaged by a thunderstorm to the point it no longer could be played. I took my electric keyboard to the park and we shared stories about having to adapt to unexpected circumstances and we sang and danced. The pianos were auctioned to raise money for Omaha Creative Institute and were placed indoors. Mine went to the Sarpy County offices of Heartland Family Services. I received an email from the office manager who said it was fine that it couldn’t be played; her staff and clients enjoy it as a visual art piece.

More recently, I was one of the artists included in Midtown Crossing’s “Spreading our Roots: A Community Art Celebration Featuring the Trees of Midtown.” I printed images of Nebraska birds, added watercolor to each piece and then sealed them in wax before stringing up more than 100 in a linden tree at the northwestern edge of the park. My daughter and mother helped me hang the prints on a lovely spring morning on Mother’s Day weekend, so that will be a special memory. That exhibit will remain in place through the end of May.

And I have a leadership role at the Artists’ Cooperative Gallery and spend a good chunk of time helping to organize and promote activities there. Part of the gallery’s mission is outreach and education. We run an accessible, friendly place for people to see high-quality work made by regional artists. Right now we have an 8x8’ mash-up of VanGogh’s “Starry Night” and the Omaha skyline that we invite visitors to contribute to on weekend evenings. We have aprons at the ready, a range of acrylic paints, brushes and markers and encourage patrons to add their marks and colors to the piec

I saw multiple project in process when I visited. What do you enjoy doing the most? What you would like to try next? I like working on several things at once so I can put one aside and come back to it with fresh eyes. I’ve been painting with oils and making woodblock prints and expect to continue both. I’m interested in further exploring painting by mixing wax with oil colors and pigments. It’s an incredibly versatile medium and I feel as though I’m just beginning after starting about two years ago. I expect to combine sizes and shapes of paintings to create a larger installations and to more deeply explore abstraction.

I also am open to further collaborative projects. I’ve had such a rewarding experience working with Marcia Joffe-Bouska and Tom Quest on “Rivers, Roads, Remains,” the title of our signature collaborative piece and the show that runs in June at the Artists’ Cooperative Gallery. Collaborating forces us to stretch as artists, adapt to ideas as they bubble up, and share our visions while giving up some control.

I’d like to teach occasional workshops, which is another way to continue stretching and learning.

What’s it like having a studio in a local artisan hub like the Hot Shops Art Center? It’s great to walk into the building and see what is displayed in the first floor galleries before I climb up to the third floor. Most days, I work without a lot of socializing, but it’s great to know I can pop into another artist’s studio or have them come see me. It’s always interesting to see what people are working on and it’s great having a community of people who share a vocabulary and range of concerns.

Where can your art be viewed? Where is it sold? I welcome visitors to my studio at Hot Shops Art Center, 1301 Nicholas St. I’m there most weekdays and can easily arrange to be there other times by appointment. As a member of the Artists’ Cooperative Gallery, 405 S. 11th St., I always have several pieces displayed. In June, I’ll be one of three featured artists in “Rivers, Roads, Remains” there and will display 15-20 new paintings. Our opening reception is part of First Friday Old Market, 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. June 5. All are welcome

Lori also shares updates about current projects on her blog, Instagram and is active on Twitter @LoriElliottB


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