Interviews With Artists: The Creative Process and Connection to Nature

By: Eileen Cohen

August 06, 2018

Category: Arts

Above: Kelli Nelson in her Minneapolis studio. Photo courtesy of Kelli Nelson.

Kelli Nelson

Imagine if a bouquet of flowers exploded, sending petals and color everywhere. Kelli Nelson’s The Other Side of Nowhere magnificently depicts this.

Painting called 'Edge of your Feather' by Kelli Nelson.
Edge of Your Feather by Kelli Nelson. Photo courtesy of Kelli Nelson.

Kelli is a Minneapolis-based painter who explores landscapes and plants. Her work hovers between actuality and imagination. Perhaps you saw her show this June or July.

I asked Kelli a few questions about her studio practice.

What’s the most indispensable item in your studio?

My stereo. I could paint with a stick and mud but not without music.

What kind of creative patterns, routines or rituals do you have?

I work on several paintings at a time to let my mind work through the ideas arising in the body of work. Time in the studio is spent alternating between thinking and doing (painting), and washing brushes.

How do you overcome creative blocks?

I don’t believe in them! Inspiration comes from the work. If you have the willpower to be in the studio working, something creative will eventually happen.

How does nature inspire your work?

The Source painting by Kelli Nelson.
The Source by Kelli Nelson. Photo courtesy of Kelli Nelson.

I work from memory, so I look at nature through the eyes of a painter, studying the aesthetic nuances, relationships, movement, and my emotional responses to my environment.

What role does the artist have in community?

Artists present windows into the unknown and create space for people to think for themselves, engage in their own imaginative process, and expand their perceptual and emotional consciousness.

What makes Silverwood a unique destination or venue for an artist?

Silverwood is a vibrant park, with friendly people, opportunities to engage in programs, or wander in solitude making new discoveries. There is outdoor sculpture and art, two galleries, and artists and musicians are encourage to paint or play on site!

What is your favorite thing about Silverwood Park?

The beautiful environment, with the lake, prairie, and oak forests nestled in the metro area, provides artists a place to explore nature within the city.

Paula McCartney

Any birder knows the challenges of photographing birds in their natural habitat. It is difficult, requiring time, patience, and perseverance. 

Overcoming these challenges, Paula McCartney purchased fake birds from craft stores and positioned them with exactness and care in trees and bushes for her brilliant series Bird Watching. This series presents constructed landscapes suggesting ideas of control, beauty, nature photography, and natural history in a humorous way. 

See photographs from Bird Watching Aug. 9 through Sept. 30 at Silverwood.

Aqua Tanager, a blue bird on a branch, by Paula McCartney.
Aqua Tanager by Paula McCartney. Photo courtesy of Paula McCartney.

I asked Paula the same questions as Kelli. It is interesting how different their responses are. However, both agree that Silverwood offers an inspiring landscape! 

What’s the most indispensable item in your studio?

A ruler and X-Acto knife.

What kind of creative patterns, routines or rituals do you have?

I have a disciplined studio practice. I teach two days a week, the other three are always studio days.

How do you overcome creative blocks?

I used to worry once I finished one project what would be next, but after working for 18 years, I now know a new idea will always come. I now have more ideas than time, but when I was younger, looking at other artists’ work always helped.

How does nature inspire your work?

Two fake red birds on a branch near a lake.
Vermillion Flycatchers by Paula McCartney. Photo courtesy of Paula McCartney.

All my work is influenced by nature, but instead of just documenting the landscape, I take the parts that I like and add what I feel is missing.

What role does the artist have in community?

To encourage people to look more closely -- and in an unpredictable way.

What makes Silverwood a unique destination or venue for an artist?

A fake sparrow on a snow-covered branch.
Song Sparrow, framed, by Paula McCartney. Photo courtesy of Paula McCartney.

I find walking the trails to be both a time I can clear my head and remember how art can interact within a landscape.

What is your favorite thing about Silverwood Park?  

The variety of landscapes within the park.

About the Author

eileen cohen

Eileen Cohen is an Art Educator and Exhibitions Coordinator at Silverwood Park, where she is approaching her nine-year work anniversary. Combining her love of the nature and art, Eileen found her dream job with Three Rivers Park District. She studied ceramics in college and graduate school and maintains a studio practice in northeast Minneapolis. She also teaches at the Northern Clay Center. A perfect day is over 70 degrees and includes adventure, fun, her bike, and a horse or two.

August 06, 2018

Like a living museum, Silverwood contains curiosities and specimens of every kind. Here, the connection between nature and art takes center stage. Learn about the park's history as an escape from the city and take a virtual walk down a trail of sculptures.

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