The Midsters Podcast

4. Becoming an Artist with Ellen Howard

June 08, 2022 Ellen Howard, artist Season 1 Episode 4
The Midsters Podcast
4. Becoming an Artist with Ellen Howard
Show Notes Transcript

How many of us dream of becoming an artist? Can it be now...at midlife?  In this episode,  we interview Ellen Howard (@ellenhowardart) a California-based studio and Plein Air artist about her journey to becoming an artist and what her advice is to anyone wanting to become an artist.
Check out Ellen's art and sign up for her newsletter at: ellenhowardart.com

Ellen is represented by Rieser Fine Art in Carmel and Holton Studio Gallery in Berkely, CA

Click to see Tish's interview of Ellen painting in Pescadero, CA.

This week's obsessions:
Tish: going home again...Buffalo, NY
Ellen: farro, a high protein grain


Ellen Gustafson:

Welcome to the Midsters podcast. We are three college friends exploring the unlimited possibilities for women at midlife. Hi, I'm Ellen. Tish how're you doing?

Tish Woods:

I'm doing good. It's been quite the week hasn't at all. What a week this time of year. It just seems like things are coming at us like, ping, ping ping every day, graduation birthday, Mother's Day, right. And I know that in my hometown for a wedding, an amazing wedding, and I have a graduation coming up tomorrow. So exciting.

Ellen Gustafson:

Your youngest of your four children. Liam is graduating tomorrow, right? It's getting real now. You are Oh post an empty nester for real close. I'm so close, low, so close. Well, I know being back in your hometown must have been bittersweet, right?

Tish Woods:

It was definitely a hard time for Buffalo, with the recent shootings there. But just watching my hometown kind of gather together and stay strong and support each other. That was also amazing, too. So sometimes out of those tragedies, you see people really step up and do amazing things. So yeah, so that was great as well. I am so exciting.

Ellen Gustafson:

We have an amazing guest today. A Midsters friend, artist, Ellen Howard. She's here to share her journey from finance when she was younger and marketing, from to motherhood to becoming one of the premier plein air artists in California. And actually in the world. She's just based in California. And I know some of you and some of our listeners might be asking what a plein air artist is. She's so much more than that. But we know we'll answer your question in the episode. And to know, Ellen is part of our Midsters tribe that we talk about all the time. I have known her for almost 30 years. And Tish, I think you've known her for quite a while as well.

Tish Woods:

I feel like I've known her for 30 years, because I've heard the name by being able to have the privilege of spending time with her has been more recent. But I have been so excited about this interview, because she's exactly the kind of person we're talking about, we say, to make an exceptional life. So I'm very excited to get into that. I want to know what happens first in our episodes, the obsessions. I do I do. Why don't you go first on your obsession this week. My obsession is about going home again, you know, going back to your hometown and playing tourist. And that's definitely what I did. And it was amazing. So my hometown is Buffalo, New York. And it was so fun because I went back and my oldest friend, my dearest friend, Judy, it was her son getting married and went and spent time with her. And I dragged her all over the place taking pictures and just acting the tourist. So much has gone on in Buffalo. And I'm so excited about it. And I decided when I was there that I'm going back soon, I'm going back next month, and I want to do a whole episode about the 10 reasons. Everybody needs to go and visit Buffalo New York, because it really is an amazing town. And yes, my number one reason is the super cuteness of the Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen, he is just I like to refer to him as the John Travolta football. He's worth people. When you just see him and he smiles. You have to smile back. I thought it was the wings. I thought it was people go for the wings, right that too. But right now, it's the super cute Josh so well, but I want to do a whole episode that talks about the food, the art, the theater music. Buffalo has, you know, Niagara Falls and the canals and the lake and there's so much happening in the ethnic neighborhoods, and I actually plan on blowing your minds about how fantastic buffalo is. But that's for another episode. That's right. My obsession was going home again.

Ellen Gustafson:

I love that obsession and my dad is from was from Buffalo. So buffalo does hold a spot near and dear to my heart. So I'm not sure you have to convince me too hard on that. But well, my obsession is way over in a different area. And it is something called Faro. And it is a grain that another one of our Midster Friends Kathy from college turned me on to and I just find myself making this again and again and again. Tish I think when you visited I was serving up the Faro.

Tish Woods:

You were serving up the faro in one of our healthy meals.

Ellen Gustafson:

one of our healthy meals that we put Probably mixed with some wine. But Faro is super high protein, really high fiber. It's a whole grain and I'm always looking for something to like throw in a salad to add a little bulk but my specialty is Faro, on arugula with fried eggs and a little drizzle of olive oil and salt and pepper. Nah, just got the so good. I'll put that.

Tish Woods:

Do you make it with like a rice cooker?

Ellen Gustafson:

Yes, I make it in my rice cooker. But you can just make it in a in any old pot. And you know it's sold where rice and couscous and all of that is it doesn't need to be fancy. It's inexpensive. And I think we're always looking for a little something new right to kind of mix it up.

Tish Woods:

I challenge our listeners to kind of switch out your maybe something you'd have done with rice for low Faro. And give it a try because it was awesome.

Ellen Gustafson:

All right, well, let's get to the main event here. I just want to tell our listeners a little bit more about our guest. Ellen is an amazing artist. She's also a studio artist, so a fine artist and a studio artist. She's a teacher. She's an art curator, and she's serving as the vice president and co chair for the California art club. And I think that's a really big honor. I'd like to add mentor to other artists as well to that impressive list that that I just gave you about Ellen. For the past 10 years, she's been involved in the Northern California art community. And she's being shown at some of the most exclusive galleries in California on the East Coast. The Rieser gallery in Carmel has her work as well as Houghton in Berkeley. She's also a blogger and a frequent contributor to outdoor painter and fine art connoisseur some preeminent publication. So without further ado, Alan Howard. Welcome, Ellen.

Ellen Howard:

Hi, thank you so much for having me here. I'm very excited to talk to you. Well, Alan, yeah.

Tish Woods:

Tell us a little bit about your journey. So out of college, you went into the world of finance, right?

Ellen Howard:

Yes, I started finance. I guess I started like a lot of people wanting to make money or make a living good living, even though I really had a big interest in art at the time. But I started in Boston and finance and then moved to California. And I had a great career. I really enjoyed it. I did marketing service for some venture capital companies, and client service. And then I got married and had some kids and stayed home for a little while. But I found all my volunteering activities in my school in the schools of my kids were around art. So I ran the art and auction programs for my kids schools for about seven years. And then I worked part time at Notre Dame College during the summer as a exhibitions coordinator. But it wasn't until actually a friend of mine, I was going through breast cancer. And she asked me to take a class with her that I decided to actually pursue it. And I guess it was just something that just welled up in me because as soon as I had the brush in my hand, I knew that's what I was supposed to be doing. So that's kind of how it started for me.

Tish Woods:

What what a leap though, to go from, you know, staying home with the kids and thinking, Okay, it's time for me to go back. And the comfort zone, I think more traditional way women would have just gone back into what they were comfortable with. But that brave leap to go and follow a passion that you had. Tell me about that decision?

Ellen Howard:

Yeah, itwas hard because it was such a different industry of with finance, you know, you had your set is very structured, and art was anything but being structured. And actually it was a much more vulnerable type of career to choose. Not that finance wasn't challenging. It definitely was but people see what you create, it's kind of it comes out of you. So it's it's you're showing your vulnerability with your creativity. And so that was hard at first because you're being judged a little bit about what you're creating. So that that was a really hard thing. And also, it takes a lot of effort and a lot of skill and you have it's more of a roller coaster, you don't always grow straight up. It's kind of you have these plateaus, and then when you're kind of in a downward so it takes a lot to kind of get up and move forward with your art. And sometimes you work for many years without really seeing outward success as far as getting into shows or people buying your work. So it takes a long time to build your craft and build your name. So you have to be very patient with it.

Ellen Gustafson:

And scary like you said and vulnerable to really be putting yourself out there. I don't know this about you and I should did you take painting classes earlier in your life or was This something you know, that you had dabbled in prior? Or was it really just picking up that brush that time?

Ellen Howard:

No, I never did it as a child. I, my grandfather was a cartoonist. So I always admired him doing little cartoons. And my mother kind of dabbled in watercolor. And I guess I was always afraid to try it myself. I didn't think I could do it. And it was just kind of, I guess, this deep passion, knowing that it's something that I should do. And but with practice over time, and just, it's something you always grow with, and can learn more about that. I just, I guess it's something I've always just wanted to do. So I just continued with it.

Tish Woods:

So how did you get through those times where you talk about, you know, it maybe leveled off plateaued? Or went down a little bit? What kept you moving forward? What inspired you during those, you know, harder times where you're not getting that feedback that you're looking for?

Ellen Howard:

I would take more classes. So I had a really good teacher, I had several really good teachers, actually, I started in classes at the College of San Mateo. Jim Smith was phenomenal. I started some drawing classes and pastels. And then things like, I think doors keep opening opening for you, if you're meant to be on the right track, have faith that those doors are open, he introduced me to his wife who was a plein air painter, I started taking classes with her, she brought in this painter from Atlanta bill. And I said, Okay, I'll take his workshop. And then I continued to take workshops with him, you know, kind of twice a year, I would take a workshop. So every six months, I kind of put myself in a position where, you know, I would get inspired by somebody who knew more than I did. And I would travel I think making friends with other artists and painting with them, you get just by standing next to somebody, you get a little tip or they say, Oh, that's a good painting. And that will kind of fill you up a little bit more to keep going on it. But you have to find those those ways. And I a big part of my career too is volunteering, you know, volunteering to curate shows or volunteering to be a co chair. So you're constantly meeting more people. And I think that's what helps you get through those kinds of valleys of doubting yourself. You know?

Ellen Gustafson:

Yeah, really building that community of support and champions for for you and for your art. You know, can you tell us a little bit about plein air I know, maybe I even didn't pronounce it right. But just for our listeners, what is it and what drew you to that specific medium?

Ellen Howard:

Plein Air is fantastic. So it's a French word, which means painting and the open air. So basically artists that are painting plein air are actually setting up on location. So you're setting up on the ocean shore or by a mountain or whatever inspires you. So the beauty of painting plein air is that you're actually physically there, you're you know, if it's a breezy day, you're feeling those sensations, you're seeing the waves crash, you're actually seeing the colors, the movement of the way. And so you can't replicate that from a photo photo distorts the image quite a bit. So I was recently just in New Mexico, and the light was changing on these beautiful red rocks. And I wasn't if I had the photo, I would not have seen all the small temperature changes from the really inks in the light to the kind of deeper reds as it goes down the surface of the mountain to the shadows of the purple, you just can't see that from a photo. So most artists that are they're doing landscape in particular, they will go out plein air and what they call a field style study or color study. So they'll go out just to see the actual colors. And then they will use their photo reference in the studio to create a larger piece so that they get the colors correct. So that's kind of but I love plein air because it's I love being outside, really freeing to be outside and seeing all the colors change and to experience the day than being like in a small room. But it's challenging because you have to capture the light the light just and it only stays for a couple hours. The way you're you're seeing your photo,

Ellen Gustafson:

Tisha and I went out on site with you in at Pescadero, California and watched her set up and to do a sketch and to watch her mixed colors and to have a painting kind of come together really before our eyes and the thing I noticed too about it is the physicality of bringing your easel and your canvases and your palette that you had pre mixed and really the whole process of your creative Paying was just fascinating for the two of us to really understand.

Ellen Howard:

Yeah, there's a lot to actually materials management, that's a whole thing to make sure that you are set up correctly. I think beginners sometimes have a hard time with that. And to be honest, that took me a long time, it was a lot of trial and error, kind of buying the wrong stuff in the beginning, asking other artists for advice, advice on what kind of equipment and then you start toning, you know, paring it down to what you need. But yeah, that's it's a big challenge, because you really do need to be portable, and you'd have a backpack. And most plein air artists are hiking up mountains to get that view. Yeah, you're not standing by your car. Most of the time, you're really actively involved with the environment that you're in. Beautiful.

Tish Woods:

One of the things that I noticed when we went out to watch you because, you know, we drove out Highway One in California, and you're painting on the cliffs with the ocean. But the tides change and the wind changes, and there's all the chat and you just kept rolling with it. That was really fascinating to me to watch how, even though your scenery was moving, it was like painting a moving target. You know, creating the essence of it watching that was amazing for me.

Ellen Howard:

Yeah, I love being outside. I mean, I don't mind the wind. It's as long as it's not so much that's gonna blow your easel over. But I think for me, that's part of the experience, like hearing the ocean having the wind, just that whole experience makes me a better creative artist be there?

Tish Woods:

How did you choose plein air?

Ellen Howard:

It was really from the teacher that I was taking drawing classes from his wife was teaching plein air classes. And so I mean, a lot of things have been like just trying something new, being brave enough to try something new. And I'm like, I'm like, Okay, I'll try it. And she was just such a passionate teacher and she was big into color. I think that's how I really started being my work is more colorful from her. Just loving just the process. You know, her excitement builds my excitement, and just using a lot of different colors. And then as you start learning more and seeing more variations in the nature, your work just starts getting better and better. So you know, I can see from when I started out with her, I probably use color a little bit too much to now where I am, you know, many years later, I can see the small nuances of color changes and whether something's cooler or warmer. So it's been a great tool and a love of mine. So I really appreciate it.

Ellen Gustafson:

You know, I know that about you. You love the water. It's also on your website, you have a really nice write up about how, how big of a part water has played in your life and the ocean in particular. And I think any opportunity for you that I've known being outside hiking, walking, swimming, so it really seems like a good marriage with the plein air style.

Unknown:

I grew up on the Jersey Shore with my grandparents and I think that's where my love of the ocean swimming came from. And I know that when I go even if I'm not at the ocean, like I paint that Yosemite I'm always looking for a little bit of a stream or a river coming through my scene that always grabs me the most. And yeah, I there's something very magical for me being by water marshlands and stuff. I enjoy.

Tish Woods:

Maybe one of your biggest influences or inspirations.

Unknown:

Well, when I started out I love the Russian artists because they had so much color. Sergey bond guard, I love his work. They are very juicy, vibrant brushstrokes. And then as I became more of a plein air artist, I look to the early California artists like Edgar Payne he does beautiful work some of the historical people and then actually I've been very blessed to have friends that are phenomenal artists. My friend Kim lordy air is a nationally known plein air STL artist. So I look at her work. I looked at Bill Davidson's were Michael Obermeyer as Paul Crowder, like there's a lot of nationally known California artists that have really inspired me to have my work get better. So just looking at more people like that. And then, you know, the French Impressionists to like I went to Germany, and I saw Monet's work. I went to all these like five museums in Paris that I went to I've loved that. And Renoir, Degas all those all those artists have gone to all their shows in a bit expired by them also,

Tish Woods:

You must look at their work differently? Because of the type of art you do being out in nature and painting. You must look different to you when you're when you're seeing I mean, we're seeing all these amazing colors. What say from like, a Monet, do you use or bring any of that into your work?

Ellen Howard:

Yeah, I you know, his color sense was in acing, but his later work was really interesting because he was losing his eyesight. And it got to be much looser, and his strokes and a lot more mark making or he would use a lot of instruments kind of to gestural strokes. And so I've tried to get looser, it's interesting, you need to start off with that sense of drawing skill. But then as you progress, it's trying to express yourself more abstractly. So the viewer, you're not drawing everything. So the viewer can kind of close the gaps and see what the subject matter is. So I do look to his work, too. And the color combinations, and then the looseness that he's gotten in his work that really inspire me and my work too. And it's hard, it's hard, it's hard to be loose, you want to you want to finish each shape or structure that you're doing, and not like, break a line or, you know, loosely defined something.

Tish Woods:

So I know what I've noticed following you on social media at @ellenhowardart is when you go to paint, you go in groups.

Ellen Howard:

Well, we do I do by myself, but a lot of times we do go in groups, it's fun to be with other artists and see what they're doing. And you know, also as a woman, you do need to be safe, also. So it's nice to have a partner. And you know, it's even nice, like if the wind picks up, can you hold my easel, or grab a paintbrush, or doesn't blow over? You know, there's a lot of funny things that happen. It can be lonely, you're in your studio by yourself. It's not like it when you're in a company, you have like a lot of camaraderie with your fellow co workers. For artists, a lot of the work is done alone, you're in you know. And so, plein air for whatever reason, has typically been with a friend or in a group. And so it's kind of our time as artists to come together and share with each other. And that's our community here. So I really enjoyed that.

Ellen Gustafson:

So it's a nice mix between solitary and social. I know you have a studio and there are people around, you know, in the studio aspect too. But I also have noticed that on social media, it always seems to be fun. Whether you're giving a demo up in Mendocino or you're painting down at Point Lobos the most beautiful state park I think in America, it seems like people come by as well to talk to you as the artist, right. And I think that seems to be really engaging.

Unknown:

Yeah, it's already super fun. And it's very freeing, you know, there's something about being outside. And then also being with other artists, because we slow down a lot, we see things differently. And it's fun to be with other artists, like I'll be looking at one scene a bit, only to see the cloud over dinner, the sunset, like we just see things differently. And, and that's it's just pure joy being up there. And then having people come up to you while you're doing your, your work is just phenomenal. You know, they are excited, what are you doing? How are you mixing that? Is it oil is it you know, I work in oils primarily, but they are always asking questions. And, you know, that looks like fun to do. And it is fun. You know, it can be frustrating when you when something's not coming out the way you want. But generally it's if you just calm yourself down. It's a very meditative experience. It's a very calming experience. And it feels good to create something beautiful for everybody or, you know, so I appreciate being an artist having the opportunity to have this in my life.

Ellen Gustafson:

And your your wonderful. I want to switch gears a tiny little bit and talk about the business side of art because I think we have some listeners, you know, that are probably at home dreaming of doing exactly what you're doing owl and and really leaning into their art. I know you have a marketing background, and I think you're very an astute marketer with your newsletter and other things. But what can you tell us about the business side of being an artist?

Unknown:

Well the business side is hard because you're your own single owner of company, you're on your own company. And so you you are the brand so you're kind of creating yourself as a brand. And so it's important to be on social media. I'm on Facebook, and I'm on Instagram, and people want to see your process. I think one of the things that a lot of artists have been doing is like, kind of slow motion painting videos so people see their process but people want to see you know what activities that you're involved in. And I do write a monthly newsletter, which I think is very helpful and I actually started it out kind of by for my Sell, I generally like to keep me in line as far as like, what am I doing each month? You know, what am I producing? What am I learning each month, and it's kind of spiraled into a big following, which has been great. But I can also show, you know, when I started this, I think I started my newsletter about four years ago, you know, I had a small amount of people following me now I have a really big audience. But I post my work so so each month, I'm like, what, what have I done of quality that I feel that I can put out there, and then what have I learned, so each month is like the art of something. So this month will be the art of perspective in finding new ways of artists seeing something different, or teaching. So I want to also educate people in the art community. And then I also promote other artists through my newsletter to I feel like, you know, building an art community is part of my passion. But you do have to keep learning and putting yourself out there. So you know, being part of social media entering competitions, if you're just starting, I'd recommend starting out locally, you know, starting out fighting local art organizations, applying to those seeing if you get in and then you know, if you're starting to win some awards, then go to look for National Art associations and become members there. Meet people in those associations, start entering competitions for that. So there's, you know, there's a way to start and build your career that way too.

Tish Woods:

What advice would you give to our listeners, other ministers out there, that who might be dreaming about becoming an artist or having a career in art? What would be your one big first step for you to tell them to kind of get them on their journey?

Unknown:

Honestly, don't be afraid. Just start. You know, don't be afraid to start, take one class, buy one pencil, get a sketchbook sit in a coffee shop, sketch, a coffee cup, you know, sketch of a figure, like you'll be drawn to certain things like some people really love drawing people, some people, animals or landscape. But just start, you know, just that one step forward. And you know, the doors start opening, you start meeting more people, you start learning about more classes, more groups, and it just builds on your excitement. You know, and you could even find a partner that would want to go plein air painting with you, you know, you know, email, go to the web and research artists that you admire, email them and ask them for advice or ask them you know, how to get started or what materials you know, they should use. But it's a very fun adventure. And, you know, just begin. Have a great time.

Tish Woods:

That's great advice. Thank you so much.

Ellen Gustafson:

Yes, and I hear these words, open heart. Be brave, just start. And these are all really, really great words of wisdom Ellen for Midsters, who I think many, many people dream of doing what you're doing. I just wanted to say thank you so much for being with us today. You really are an inspiration to us and to our listeners. I want our listeners to know that we're going to be posting a video that Tish took with Ellen plein air painting so our listeners can see the process in beautiful Pescadero California. You can see her set up her sketching and the whole process. I also want to give a shout out to her website Ellen Howard art.com and Tisha and I are going to pick a few of the works. We love of Ellen's the most and put them up on our Facebook page. And just to let everyone know, again, minsters drops every Wednesday. Remember to listen to our episodes like us, ask us questions, subscribe and follow. We just want to say thanks for being with us. See you Midsters. Till next time, till next week,