Cascadia Artist Spotlight: An Interview with painter Liz Gill Neilson
I’m writing to you here at the halfway point in our Kickstarter campaign, and to share the happy news– today, thanks to you, we broke the $14,000 mark! WOW! If you’ve already backed the project, thank you so much! I’m grateful for your belief in this project, and I’m so looking forward to sharing the finished album with you!
Meanwhile, I want to share with you another behind-the-scenes look at Cascadia’s creation. If you’ve looked at the banner of this website, you’re already familiar with“The Garden at Night,” the beautiful painting that will be on Cascadia’s cover. Today, I want to introduce you to the painting’s creator: Liz Gill Neilson.
I sat down for virtual tea with Liz to ask her about her artistic process and inspiration. Here’s what she said. Enjoy!
NV— Liz, after many years of loving your work, it’s a pleasure to have your beautiful painting, “The Garden As Night” become Cascadia’s album cover. In our Kickstarter campaign video, I’ve shared the story behind the music. Now I’d love for people to hear the story behind the painting. Can you tell us what inspired this work, and what your process was in creating it?
LGN— Actually, the concept for this painting started brewing around the same time we began hearing some of the songs you were writing for the album. I started thinking about two concepts in the same light. The first was how, in David Lynch’s audio book of Catching the Big Fish, he talks about some of his early experiments in painting, one of which was of “a garden at night”. For some reason that got stuck in my head, and for a while I was going out in the middle of the night to sit in our garden and draw and paint, to try and get this feeling he was talking about. I loved the sense of things semi-illuminated, and the suggestive shadows…also, the way that forms can be mis-interpreted in darkness, and become something totally different than what they really are. The second idea came from the idea of “one river, many wells,” which is a concept often used in comparative religion, and it may have been a conversation with you that got me thinking about this! Well, I thought an even better way of thinking it was “one well, many rivers,” in that all the good ideas are coming from the same source, somewhere at the center of things, and flowing out to different parts of the world. So, “The Garden at Night” is a culmination of those two ideas, coming together.
NV— I’d love to hear more about how you came to work with oil paints for this work. I know that in your artwork you’ve explored many media, including textiles and printmaking. What appeals to you about working with oils in particular?
LGN— I love oils because they are so multi-sensory; they feel good, they smell both good and bad(!), and they are really good at creating a sense of depth inside a picture. About a year before I started this painting, I took a weekend class on Old Master-style oil painting, and it totally changed the way I painted; I started using this technique called “indirect painting”, which is a process of using very thin, translucent layers of paint to build and build a depth and luminescence in the picture…oils are really the best medium for that effect, and this painting, “The Garden at Night”, is my best example of that technique. Using translucent layers of fabric is another way to do a similar thing, although it’s a very different sensory experience…they are definitely related.
NV— As a visual artist, what do you consider your “tools of the trade”? And please feel free to interpret this metaphorically as well as literally…
LGN— Nature is the big one. I always say, sometimes grudgingly, that all the really good ideas come from nature. This idea comes from practical experience. For example, when we lived in New York and I was working near Lincoln Center, I would usually be having a regular day, not feeling too inspired, and then I’d drag myself over to Central Park on my lunch break, and maybe take a sketchbook (or sometimes not, because when you don’t have anything to put an idea down, it becomes even more urgent, and desperate and abstracted!). I would just be walking around, looking around at the trees and everything, and inevitably, I would get an idea. Something I hadn’t been thinking about at all, or a solution to a problem I’d been thinking about. This would sometimes happen from looking at a book, or just walking down the street, but it would ALWAYS happen out in the park. Now that I live in Portland, we go out to hike in the Columbia Gorge, and the ideas are even bigger and weirder but any old nature will do. All that said, books in which you can look at other people’s art are another important tool for a painter. And, to be honest, now that I’m doing graphic design work most of the time…uh-oh…Pinterest Actually, I’m really glad you asked this question, because it reminds me to go to nature for inspiration for design as well, not just from other design.
NV— When and how did you first discover that you were destined to be a visual artist?
LGN— I was actually given an ultimatum! In college, I was studying both Visual Arts and Art History, and I really liked both, though I sometimes had to chuckle a little bit at the historians. Then one day, one of my painting professors pulled me aside and said “You have to choose…you can’t be one of them and one of us too, nobody can!” So I chose to be a practical artist! But I have a lot of respect for art historians too. Now that I’m a graphic designer, I use both sides of that coin every day, in conceptualizing / contextualizing / making my work.
NV— Do you have any words of wisdom for the young artist just setting out on his or her journey?
LGN— Find out who your artistic “family” is, by which I mean, other artists who inspire you, from the past and present, and who have trodden similar territory, and don’t be afraid to look to them when you’re lost. Also, always keep learning new techniques to broaden your range of expression. And, I hate to say it, but be a good business person. Treat your career in art just like any other career…make the creative space you need to keep the ideas flowing, but also remember to honor your career choice by learning the business skills it’s going to take to really make it work in the long run. Sometimes that means having two careers that run alongside each other. And, having a partner that’s willing to take that journey with you is pretty important too.
NV— Is there anything you would like people to know about Cascadia, or your involvement in the project?
LGN— Everyone, this is some of the most intelligent, deep soul-inspired music Noe has created yet, which is REALLY saying something, and it comes from a place of deep understanding, learning, mysticism, and true womanly, humanly experience. It’s going to be amazing! I’m so proud to be included…we’re all going to fall in love with Noe’s voice again, just like we always do. I love you Noe! To the hills!!!!
NV— Aw, gee . . .
Well, that’s it, everyone! Thanks for reading, and I hope you’ll take a minute to visit Liz’ own website, where you can see her paintings, prints, drawings, and design work.
Again, thank you for joining me on this journey. I’ll look forward to being in touch with you again for our next update.
In love and music,