Alaskan Artist - Elise Tomlinson
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11/15/2007: "Should We "Paint What We Know"?"

Awhile ago a collector sold a few of my paintings because she wanted to be surrounded by images that were more representative of her hopes and dreams (of a man and possibly children) and the images of solitary women were not the best way to visualize that desired future.

At the time I was hurt and disappointed in her decision even though I could sort of understand it.

Then a couple weekends ago I decided to take down the three Hedwig and the Angry Inch paintings that had been hanging in my bedroom for a similar reason. They are images of the intense pain born out of unrequited love. I used to identify with these images so strongly, and though my memories of those feelings are still strong, I don’t want to fixate on them any more. Maybe one day I’ll get dumped and have to unceremoniously drag them back out of the closet…but I hope not.

Today I ordered 20 canvases online, ranging in size from 16”x20 to 30”x40”. I’m feeling the intense need to start painting again. The problem is that I’m not sure where to begin. This is an age-old problem for me. I now have (at least I think I do) a somewhat original “voice” but I’m no longer confident that my work is still representative of “me”.

At my last show (I shit you not) a woman came up to me and asked me why all the women in the paintings were “thin”. The women in the paintings weren’t *that* thin, and I felt like it was a critique on me…I wonder if she would have asked that if the artist had been skinny too? I felt like she was saying “Why don’t you paint fatties like yourself”…ok, I’m maybe reading too much into this but…why is there this notion that we have to “paint what we know” so damn much? Or that our work has to be reflective of some aspect of our inner lives? Is that the most important thing? Can’t it just be about making a painting that makes me feel good because the forms and colors work well together? Or is that a total cop out?

I don’t know, honestly I’m confused. But I look to the Boneman, who paints constantly, everything around him without so many existential breakdowns. At the end of the day, he painted. Which is more than I can say as of late.

Replies: 12 Comments

on Thursday, November 15th, holly said

I don't care what you paint. I just miss seeing your paintings.

on Saturday, November 17th, Rod said

Yeah, what Holly said. Paint more, you slacker.
Then mail all of them to random people that post on your blog. No show, no stress, just people happy to get a painting in the mail and let them post about it. ;)

on Sunday, November 18th, RR said

Hi Elise, I don't think we should be limited to what we know-how would you experiment if you did that? Most of my work ends up starting from something in another piece that seemed to start working from me - the rest is just a development on from that and it's great fun playing (but I guess I'm still at the early learning stage). But I wouldn't say it was always a reflection of the inner me (god forbid!) You are lucky -you have a very identifiable 'personal language'. That's something we're all told we should be striving towards at college. I'm just happy if I can get paint on paper at the moment ;-) But why do you have to stay with the same style? Start playing and never stop challenging yourself and see what happens :)

on Sunday, November 18th, dad said

:laugh: talk about changing your style how's my wolf comming along no preasure, just bthough you might like a little change of pace, you could put a nude in it if you want :D dad

on Monday, November 19th,">native said

umm a "real alaskan"
haha yea right your a honky

on Monday, November 19th, Elise said

Hi Holly! And thanks, I hope to be painting again soon.

And Rod, nice idea, though I don't know how I'd get addresses etc. and also, I want to be able to support myself as an artist some day so that wouldn't work so well...but thanks.

And is fun to play, and maybe I'll feel a bit more excited to start new work and play more once I get my back pain under control. It seems to be all consuming at the moment.

And dad, i forgot all about your wolf painting. I'll look around and see if I can find it. SORRY!
And native, guilty as charged, I am indeed a honky. I'm not sure where you're picking up the "real alaskan" from, I've never (to my knowledge) claimed to be a "real Alaskan". I have been an Alaskan resident for nearly 20 years and it has a lot to do with how I see myself and my work as an artist.

I have a huge amount of respect for the work of Alaskan Native artists and I never appropriate tribal imagery in my own work, no matter how tempted I may be.

I've even taught classes on respecting the cultural and intellectual property rights or Alaska Native people.

I'm sorry if something you read on my site offended you, please let me know where I went wrong and I'll do my best to put it right.

thanks all for the feedback!

on Monday, November 19th,">julie b said

We are surrounded by images of beautiful women portrayed in art... I think it would be impossible to NOT identify with these images as women ourselves. They can be your "inner-goddesses", or reflections of your youth, your passion, or your love. I don't think you have to justify it at all, to anyone!

on Tuesday, November 20th, Jim L said

I agree with julaybee - no justifications! The woman at the show may have just been curious, but a lot of times viewers bring a lot of extra baggage to art, rather than taking the chance to put that luggage down and just look. Personally, I love that your work is relatively luggage-free, "thin" women or not, "Real Alaskan" or not. It is what it is and not what we ("we" as in those who are not Elise!) want it to be.

That is always a huge problem with talking to non-artists (and even some other artists) about your art - they are talking as much about what they conceive art should be, that they end up talking about some mythical forest of their own making rather than that particular tree in front of their face that we made...

on Saturday, November 24th, Kasia said

If aretwas only about what we know and wouldn't be art anymore!!! Art is a perfect way to escape from reality into the magic world of somebody else's mind. Your women are great, they represent you the same way the sunflowers represent Van Gogh.

on Sunday, November 25th, berry connell (boneman) said

OK, well, here's one for ya.
I found a sizable "Achilles" heel in me.
I was asked to produce two, 11x14 paintings as awards for folks who have really helped out alot at Stopover (a charity group I like t'help out)
It was "paint something to do with the house and somehow include something new"
First off, even though i had the pencil lines in at that night, something kept me from painting right off on them.
Danged things haunted me! MOCKED me, even.
I ended up finding out just how good alkyds do with oils and, seriously, it was still in a pinch!
Got them done three days before deadline.
(Yeah. Nice and dry, though some of the heavier colors were still slightly "spongy" but, I'm sure it was solid by presentation time four days later)
And then, why, but, why did it take me another week to pull out of that dive?


I had to revisit the whole concept again, and here's something that I remembered, and, it might just help y'all out, too.

Get a nice, warm acrylic, water it down some, scumble over a canvas quick (don't paint anything, just cover it)
After it dries, or after lunch, whatever...
Look at what you have. Turn the canvas around some.
If it reminds you of something, find that something and paint it.
If it looks like someplace, take the canvas and some charcoal, go find the place, sketch it it.

Invent something out'a yer mind...
(boneman, you're out'a yer mind...) :rolleyes:

Well, whatever.
I am back on it, though.
And, I have a few canvases already scumbled (I do it just t'get the white off) and waitin' fer paint!

on Tuesday, December 18th, Eva Villa-Lobos said

I was just given a charcoal sketch of
"Chief Hollow Horn Bear of the Prule Sioux Indians"

It is signed E. Tomlinson?? Is this sketch one of your works?? There is no date on the sketch - I am really interested in finding the history of this sketch.

on Tuesday, January 1st, subi said

maybe that woman meant to merely suggest painting larger women might be an idea or something to think about and it just came out all wrong? occasions like this only reify the need to have quips ready at all times....for example, "Perhaps for the same reason most women I paint are blue, green, yellow etc... " Truth and and truth, tis all subjective... you also don't paint men, or 'scenery' per se... paint what you want, I say... and you simply need to start selling yr prints on ... you would have a definite audience there! We need to have one of our late night...early morning chats with wine or chapagne one of these days soon!