I met Dianne Jean Erickson several years ago. I was drawn not only to her work as an artist, but to her enthusiasm for life and learning. Dianne, a member of International Encaustic Artists, is a prolific artist, a passionately creative spirit, and a truly inspirational individual who, after having raised her children determinedly pursued a career as an artist. I talked with Dianne in her home just outside of Portland, a home in which she spends her days in a light filled studio overlooking the whimsical garden she has created at the edge of a woods. In addition to multiple showings of her work over the balance of the year, Dianne is on the Board of Directors of The Geezer Gallery, and exhibits her work at Art On Broadway Gallery in Beaverton, OR.
Could you tell me a little bit about yourself?
Though I was born in Portland, I spent the majority of my life – thirty-five years – in Palo Alto, California where I owned a graphic design business. After I retired my husband Patrick Wilson and I moved to Jacksonville, Oregon where I returned to college and finished my BFA in studio arts with a major in sculpture. I have two sons, three grandchildren, one great-grandchild and one step-grandchild. I have a dynasty!
Were you a creative child?
My father was a draftsman for GE and a watercolorist. As a child I wanted to be an artist too, in fact, one of my first memories is that of sitting at my grandmother’s table where she handed me a napkin with a pattern on it which I immediately filled in with colors. In junior high and high school – instead of listening to the teachers – I would draw the images of fellow students, and I was always completing art class projects for my friends. I had two career goals when I was a teenager, one to be an artist and the other to be a model. I did some modeling, but when I realized I needed to earn money, I pursued a career in graphic design.
I didn’t actively pursue my interests as an artist until after I had raised my family and separated from my second marriage – (the one that gave me anxiety attacks). I had children and horses to care for, worked full time and had little time to explore my artistic interests. In 1997, I decided that I was going to be the best artist I could be. From that point on, I did art in every spare moment and corner of my life.
What does having a physical space to be an artist mean?
When I first decided to work seriously as an artist, I worked in my kitchen on the kitchen table. At the time – since I’d raised my family and wasn’t living with anyone – I could just leave my work out. I then met my husband Patrick and along with Patrick came a garage for doing art. After we moved to southern Oregon, I worked in a large upstairs bonus room.
It’s important for a creative person to have a space where you can leave your work out and not have to clean up to accommodate others. It doesn’t have to be a big space; in fact a confined space can drive your art in creativity in new directions. Sometimes artists feel they have to have such a large space and so many materials and tools that they limit their creative process – which can become an excuse really – “I can’t because I don’t have…” This becomes a reason not to do art. Often working within restrictions leads to great art.
What do you do when you need inspiration?
When I need inspiration I generally read art magazines and books. I also like to – especially when I’m doing figurative work – walk around and notice people and their facial expressions. There something about the human face and figure that fascinates me.
When you’re not painting what do you like to do?
When I’m not painting I like to garden, which is why I paint more in the fall, winter, and early spring. In the summer it’s a little harder for me to be inside painting. My love of gardening doesn’t directly play out in my work except perhaps when I’m doing monotypes. My monotypes are non-objective, and based in colors and shapes – sometimes garden-like.
You’ve done a lot of kinds of creative things over the course of your life. Can you look back and talk about how age has impacted your art?
When you first start out in any creative endeavor, there are vast realms you haven’t explored and you don’t necessarily have a direct line, a path to what you want to do. I still often explore a wide range of subjects, media, and styles, perhaps because I started in earnest later in life. As I’ve gotten older I have started to hone in on what is really important to me. As an artist progresses and ages, we become confident with technical skills and this confidence makes us have to think less about mechanics and enables us to focus more on the subject matter and what to portray through the work. Eventually we learn that we must do our art, must write, play, dance – however we create – everyday. We’ve got to put in those 10,000 hours.
Is there a consistent emotion you feel when you create?
Excitement, anticipation, exasperation, a bit of madness, hesitation, and satisfaction all come into play. When I first start a painting I feel everything is possible, and then as I throw in ‘this’…as I ‘head over there,’ the more I have to decide what I’m going to keep, where I’m going to narrow my work, and what to throw away. Then, as I finish up, I become mindful of the final details, holding back perhaps and making certain not to go too far; all the time realizing I can always start over.
Do you ever have days in your personal life that feel bad, or day in which you have great emotion that impacts your creative process?
The negative experiences in my personal life don’t carry over into my painting consciously, but rather escaping to the studio is the path I take in leaving those feelings behind and becoming very much a part of the current moment. This presence in the moment particularly occurs when I’m doing monotypes, because they are created so fast and require such immediate concentration, “the other things in my life get pushed to the back.” My art becomes an escape into another place and time.
Do you ever paint into the night?
I used to, but now I get up. I have coffee. I look at emails and at Facebook. I then eat a little breakfast, have another cup of coffee and then I go to the studio and work from 3 – 5 hours. Late at night I read and/or work on my website.
What are you reading right now?
I’ve just finished Real Artists Don’t Starve, and excellent book by Jeff Goins, and The Magician’s Assistant by Ann Patchette, loved it! I like reading non-fiction, specifically about the lives of artists, and a good murder mystery now and then.
Do you mind if people know how old you are and has your work changed in relationship to your age?
No, I’m seventy-four and so glad I made it thus far in good health.
The only major shift in recent years has been in working with encaustic medium, and the significant time I can devote to creating. My shift towards encaustic occurred after I took two encaustic workshops and though I liked the process of the medium a great deal, I was hesitant that in working with heat guns and torches I’d burn down my studio. After my third workshop I thought “oh to heck with it,” and I started using a heat gun, eventually deciding that I could trust myself with a torch without burning my house to the ground.
What’s been the hardest thing about being an artist?
Having the time to dedicate myself to being an artist, but that was before I retired. Since I retired it has been much easier but I still have to say “no” to a lot of things, like shopping, answering the phone, meeting friends, going out socially – especially if I have an exhibit coming up. It’s important if you’re going to be a serious artist, to look at it as your job and if you are doing a great many other things, that job is not going to get done.
In addition to painting what other ways have you explored your creativity?
I was a hair stylist and that was very creative. I was a graphic designer for quite a number of years and I sold rural real estate in Jacksonville, OR. I still contribute my graphic design skills through volunteering at non-profits. I show my work at Art On Broadway Gallery and am on the Board of The Geezer Gallery, to which I also contribute my graphic design skills as well as exhibit.
What are you the most grateful for?
My health, my husband Patrick who has been a great partner and supporter of my art, my relationships with my kids, and my grandchildren. And of course, my dog and cat who have unconditional love for me.
What other artists have influenced your work?
Marlene Dumas because of her looseness of style and subject matter.
Susan Rothenberg because of her intuitiveness and use of dirty whites.
Kiki Smith because of the sheer variety of the artwork she creates.
Hung Lui who paints from historical photographs and who creates a very drippy feel.
And Alice Neel who went her own way when it wasn’t popular.
How do you see yourself in the future, any thoughts about directions of your art?
I was thinking about this last night. I am the most excited when I begin something new. I am just finishing up the work for two shows; Paintings that will run August through September in Southern Oregon, and the other, monotypes that will be on exhibit Oct – November. I try a variety of new ways of working and experiment with new skills and mediums before I start a series. It’s actually the best time when every idea is open to exploration. I’m actually thinking of 3-D wall sculpture, but who knows…
Do have some thoughts you’d like to share for new artists?
Work every day or as much as you can to get those ‘beginning things’ out of the way, get the technology down to the extent that you can more easily explore your creativity.
Experiment with a lot of styles and mediums so you can decide what calls to you. Eventually find those one or two things that really appeal to your expressions of creativity.
Do a lot of work so that the larger experience helps you decide what to keep and what to discard.
Try out the styles of others but make it your own. This is an important component of discovering your own unique style.
Don’t necessarily go with the crowd. Find your unique voice.
Above all, enjoy the process, be fearless, and create something you love, whether it is through subject or medium.
Dianne Jean Erickson, September 2017
Artist statement and work can be found be clicking here.
Dianne’s webpage and contact information can be found by clicking here.