Studio Visit appears in Sunday editions of The News-Gazette. Here, a visit with Connie Erickson, a painter who lives in Urbana.
Q: When did you move to Urbana and where were you living before?
A: I moved here on Dec. 2. My son is a professor here. I have two grandchildren, and I moved to be closer to them. I was living in McKinney, Texas, north of Dallas. I started painting as a career when I was living in Franklin, Tenn.
Q: Did you have an art gallery or studio there?
A: I had a studio, and I've taught workshops all over the central South.
Q: Did you study art?
A: I studied with masters like Joseph Sulkowski, who paints pet portraits, including for the Queen of England, and with Daniel Greene of New Salem, N.Y., for a whole summer. I studied at the Art Students League of New York. I've studied with various artists over the years who are very well-known masters in their fields. That's how I got my training — that and a lot of hard work. By education, I had a biology major and went to grad school in molecular biology and became a nuclear medicine technician.
Q: When and how did you get started in art?
A: I was traveling with my then-husband and studying in the evenings with various people. I decided if I don't find out what I can do in this, I'd regret it. In 1984, I made a resolution to be a portrait artist and took my first workshop with Daniel Greene, and I visualized how it would be. I continued to study art but was still working in nuclear medicine until 1987. Then I took the leap and became a full-time artist.
Q: Do you concentrate on portraits?
A: I do, but I also do landscapes and still lifes. I helped found the Chestnut Group in Nashville, Tenn., which is a plein air painting group. So I'm very interested in plein air painting in oil and pastel. It sort of balances out doing portraits. And I love doing horses. I just sold three big horse paintings.
Q: Do you work from photographs?
A: I prefer working from life if I can. When I have a commission like that (points to large portrait in progress of a woman) — someone who travels a lot from her office in Washington, D.C. — I have to do it from photos.
Q: Who is she?
A: She's the president of (the Daughters of the American Revolution). This is the third D.A.R. president portrait I've done. I also did portraits of the presidents of Belmont College in Nashville and the University of Tennessee at Knoxville.
Q: Is portraiture what you like doing best?
A: It pays the bills. Yes, I really do like it. I would like to get models up here and do some classes and demonstrations in portraiture — and plein air painting as well.
Q: Do you do pet portraits, too?
A: I sure do. That one is of my dog, Frida, a black and white standard poodle named after Frida Kahlo. It will go to the Portrait Society of America auction. This is the third time the Portrait Society of America has invited me to submit a portrait for auction. It has to be a 6-by-9-inch painting, and they want at least $250 for each one. The auction raises money for scholarship funds for the society. I'm a founding member of the Portrait Society of America; it started in 1997, after breaking off from the American Society of Portrait Artists. The Portrait Society has a focus on portraits being fine art and on developing high standards and education. The society has grown tremendously.
Q: Have you won awards from the society?
A: I've placed three times, with honorable mentions or certificates of merit. My biggest prize came in 2000 when the portrait society met at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York for our national meeting. There were 10 awards, and I was No. 8. I was the only woman who won an award that year.
Q: Is your work always representational?
A: Yes, but sometimes it's more impressionistic. That portrait of the boy was done in three hours, so it's looser. Some of the plein air paintings are more impressionistic because they're done rapidly. I want to move toward more impressionistic, rapid work, but people who commission me tend to want the paintings realistic. I do have a great appreciation of the 19th-century masters who painted more representationally.
Q: What made you want to do art in the first place?
A: It's almost like you have a calling. I did draw when I was younger. In fact, my mother gave me a book that I still have of old-master paintings, and in it I wrote I wanted to be a doctor. It was ironic that it was a book of old-master paintings and I became an artist.
EDITOR'S NOTE: To see more of Erickson's work, check out her website at http://www.portraitartist.com/erickson/ . To contact her, email email@example.com.