Artist of the Month: Elizabeth St. Hilaire Nelson
The Artwork of Elizabeth St. Hilaire Nelson: While most collage Artists work with bits of paper which are inherently ‘found’ objects, the meticulously torn papers used in the vibrantly colored collages of Elizabeth St. Hilaire Nelson are first hand-painted. Only then are they placed in position. Her works were featured recently at the Maitland Art Center where curator Richard Colvin said, “Elizabeth St. Hilaire Nelson’s artworks have a fresh quality that belies the way they are constructed.” A First Place Winner in The Artist’s Magazine (2010), Nelson also received a grant from United Arts of Central Florida (her 2nd) in the same year.
This versatile Artist also plays the violin with the Maitland Symphony Orchestra and works as a professional graphic designer. On Mother’s Day 2009 St. Hilaire Nelson completed her first sprint distance triathlon and ran her first half marathon in October 2010. Her newest goal – a full Olympic distance triathlon!
Nanny. 20x24, collage of hand-painted papers on panel, sold
Born and raised in New England, St. Hilaire Nelson has lived in Central Florida for the past 17 years. She holds a BFA in advertising design and is represented nationally by the Grand Bohemian Gallery. Her love of collage started with a box of small, sentimental pieces of her past, given to her from her father, who passed them down in a family tradition. She says, “I remember standing there, after my father left, looking at the hospital bill from my birth, my Mom’s nursing school graduation cards, and thinking what should I do with this? I decided to find a way to incorporate these papers and notes of my family’s past into something memorable and beautiful. Thus was born a “representational collage painting.” The piece was to become an award-winning portrait of her mother.
Her technique involves hand-painted, hand-made, and varied, textured, and patterned papers. Layering and weaving, pushing and pulling the colors, St. Hilaire Nelson highlights the extraordinary within the ordinary, focusing on intense colors combined with her inherent sense of design and composition. Blessed with a natural business sense as well as talent, St. Hilaire Nelson’s ‘paintings and designs’ may be found on gift items such as calendars, journals and giclée prints including international stores like Pier One Imports allowing this Artist to enjoy both the creativity – and the “business” of being an Artist in the 21st Century.
1. Tell us a little about yourself. Who were your first MAJOR influences?
I have always wanted to be an artist. I can remember the first painting I ever created at an easel, I was in kindergarten. Donning a trash bag smock and a big fat paint brush, I dipped into baby food jars of tempera paints and went to town. This piece is framed and hanging in my daughter's bedroom! I was majorly encouraged to pursue a career in art by my high school art teacher. If it were not for her constant encouragement, her bringing professional artists in to speak with us, and her never ending support, I would not be where I am today. She even photographed my entire portfolio in slide film for me to submit with college applications.
Wildflowers. 12x16, collage of hand-painted papers on panel, CURRENTLY FEATURED AS CANVAS REPRODUCTION IN PIER ONE IMPORTS
2. Please use your own words to describe your art...
My medium is unique; it's a combination of hand-painted, found, and hand-made papers. The work looks like an impressionist painting from a distance, but once the viewer is up close, it becomes clear that this work is collage. Viewers often comment, "It's a COLLAGE? It's not a painting? How do you do that?" "You paint the papers FIRST?" "That is so unique."
New England Girl. 20x24, collage of hand-painted papers on panel, available
3. When/What happened to first make you think of yourself as an artist?
In elementary school, our art teacher would hang "only the best" art in the hallway. My work was always in the hallway, and it was that honorable display that made me feel special, and like I could be an artist. Professionally, it was not until my work actually hung in public places and then in galleries, that I actually felt accomplished.
Moonstruck. 20x20, collage of hand-painted papers on panel
4. What inspires you NOW?
What inspires me is experimenting with my medium. I hand paint all my own collage papers and I’m always looking for unique papers to start with and unique ways to add texture and pattern to them through the application of paints. Recently I found a wonderful silicone sink liner in a flower pattern at Lowe’s that makes an AMAZING stamp! And I’ve experimented with painting sheets of mosaic tile and pressing them into rice paper. The techniques for painting paper are never ending, and the success of any collage is dependent on the papers I have to work with.
The Swan. 20x24, collage of hand-painted and hand-made papers on panel
5. Where is your favorite place to create art? What do you enjoy about the act of creating?
My favorite place is my studio, which is a small, free-standing building in my back yard. I have a full time job as a self-employed graphic artist from home, and I am a parent of middle school age kids. Being able to run out to my studio and apply a coat of varnish between loads of laundry is precious to me. I am out there late at night and very early on weekend mornings. The convenience of location is something that I could not live without!
Un Petit Coq. 20x24, collage of hand-painted papers on panel, available
6. Describe the “perfect” YOU collage. Have you achieved it yet?
It would be a HUGE peacock that I would not sell, but rather keep for myself. I love peacocks for their use in Art Nouveau – my favorite period in art history. My first tattoo was a peacock, and just recently I had that tattoo reworked into an even more amazing peacock. Richard Kessler, of the Grand Bohemian Hotel in Orlando, commissioned me to create a peacock for him that is 5-feet wide. This was the LARGEST collage I ever created, and I was worried about working that large, but the piece came out fantastic! Now I want to do one just for myself! I have done several peacock collages and sold every single one of them. As much as I miss not having one for myself, I guess that's a very good position to be in as an artist!
Peacock. 10x12, collage of hand-painted papers on panel
7. Painting takes a lot of creative energy. How do you “re-charge” your batteries?
I am a type-A personality so I don’t sit still much. Currently I am in San Francisco, and I worked on two 12x12 collages on my seat back tray table on the flight over. I do recharge my batteries and my mind through exercise and physical activity. Staying fit keeps my body and mind in good shape! Recently I competed in my first Olympic distance triathlon after several seasons of sprint distance races. I love the cross training of cycle, run, swim.
8. How can readers find and purchase your art?
Readers can find my art at PaperPaintings.com and can purchase through locations of Grand Bohemian Gallery nationwide grandbohemiangallery.com. My work is also licensed on gift items such as calendars, journals and canvas giclée prints. Currently you can find prints of my work in Pier One Imports and look for a 2012 Lang Calendar and puzzles at Barnes and Noble for the holidays.
Tortoise. 20x24, collage of hand-painted papers on panel, available
9. What’s your fondest hope for the future of your career?
My fondest hope for the future of my career is to be successful enough to "quit my day job" and support myself completely from sales of my fine art and the licensing of my art on consumer products.
Readers may see – and purchase – Ms. St. Hilaire Nelson’s work in these up-coming exhibitions:
Bok Tower Gardens, Lake Wales, FL, October 2011 - 20 new works of tropical and botanical themes – boktowergardens.org
Stone Soup Gallery in Key West, FL March 2012 - new works in a tropical theme -- stonesoupgallery.com
Thrasher Horne Center for the Arts in Orange Park, FL April, 2012 - this exhibit will feature 50 new works in a Noah's Ark theme -- thcenter.org
Readers may also view this video of Elizabeth St. Hilaire Nelson – and her work -- created by the Growing Bolder production company as seen recently on PBS stations:
Josh Garrick is the Florida Arts Editor for Wandering Educators.
All photos courtesy and copyright Elizabeth St. Hilaire Nelson