The work of artist Elaine Coombs is derived from a fascination with the rhythms, colors and patterns of the natural world. Local and national forest environments inform and inspire her luscious acrylic paintings on canvas and paper.
Born in Canada in 1973, Elaine began painting and drawing at a young age, studying privately in a local painter’s studio for several years. By 1996, she had received joint degrees in the Art & Art History program at both the University of Toronto in Mississauga and Sheridan College in Oakville, Ontario, studying under some well known Canadian contemporary artists. After several years of travel and work abroad, Coombs moved to San Francisco in 2001 and began pursuing her art career in earnest.
Elaine’s paintings have exhibited in cities both nationally and internationally including New York, Los Angeles, Seattle, San Francisco, Toronto, and London. Her work has been seen in a number of publications, notably: California Home + Design Magazine (2007); Art Calendar Magazine (2009); and in an upcoming book entitled Green Art: Trees, Leaves and Roots (2014). Several notable collections have acquired her paintings; the U.S. Department of State – Art Bank Program, the San Francisco Public Art Collection, Art in Embassies, and the Ritz Carlton Highlands Hotel in Lake Tahoe, California – as well as numerous private collectors worldwide.
There is something about being in nature that makes me want to seek out these spaces time and again. Perhaps it is a memory conjured from my rural childhood; positive feelings of comfort, stability and happiness come to mind easily. It seems whenever I simply need to regroup, breathe and return to center, it is the forest that can do this for me every time.
When I go out to take photos, I’m looking for drama. I often go out early in the morning or late in the day when the light is low. I like to point the camera up, into the tall trunks, to achieve the perspective that shows the patterns of the forest canopy. I also like to shoot pictures straight on into the groves of trees, highlighting the strong vertical lines of the trunks against the flowing, sunlit leaves. The photos I take don’t have to be amazing – they just have to guide and inspire me in terms of color and composition.
Process and Media
I work from snapshots taken with a digital camera while on hikes in local, regional, and national forest environments. In a 2-hour hike I may take up to 200 photographs. Back in the studio, I sort through the photos to see which ones have an interesting composition that I think will translate well into paint. I then print out about 30-40 photos for a series, 4 x 6 inches in size, using one photo as a reference for each painting. I usually create about 20-30 paintings in a series that are all based on photos from the same forest area, taken on a particular day, at a particular time of the year. Each painting in a series has a similar palette and feel because of the type of trees found in that forest, the quality of light at the time of day, and in the season when the photos were taken. Often I change, alter or crop the photo to fit well into the format I have chosen to paint.
Once I have matched the photo to the scale and size of work that I am creating, I then sketch in the main compositional elements with pencil crayon directly onto the canvas. This is a very loose outline of the trunks and main branches found in the picture. Next, using a palette knife, I paint in the trunks and branches that I have sketched. Then I work in sections from top to bottom to apply the acrylic paint to the rest of the canvas in dots. A pixilated version of the reference photo slowly evolves onto the canvas. My eye is intuitively separating the colors present in the photo and translating them into paint, and no form of digital manipulation of the imagery occurs. I continue painting in this manner until the canvas is completely covered in dots of paint. At the end of this process, I step back and look at it for a few days. Then, with fresh eyes, I may tweak some areas slightly by adjusting the tone of some of the dots or adding some contrast where necessary, but only a small amount of paint is added once the canvas has been initially covered. It really is an additive process in which texture is created from the dot application, such that not much can be altered once it has dried. This is especially true in the case of working on paper rather than a canvas support. When working on paper, I am careful to leave some paper showing in the background – a definite exercise in restraint.
“Since 2005 I have created contemporary landscape paintings that attempt to capture the essence of nature as it feels to me in this time: sacred, stoic, tranquil. I seek to conjure a particularly idyllic moment in time, and it need not be a named place, for one can look at it and see many places in it. I want the viewer to have the sense of connection with something more – my depiction hinting at a peaceful force beyond us that is benevolent. To wander through a forest is to truly be present in this goodness.
Painting with knives rather than brushes, dots rather than strokes – has let me play with pattern, repetition and color tone in such a way that these qualities have become a secondary, abstract subjet matter in their own right.
Inherently modern – a pixelated image is evoked by my painstakingly handmade dot technique. My work therefore presents a duality of vision: one that juxtaposes the physical and the emotional, the figurative and abstract, the handmade and the manufactured.”