Think about the last time you stepped outside, took a breath and really gazed upon the beauty of nature. That pause and reflection is exactly what Artist Elizabeth Kinahan calls us to do with her work. She recognizes how easy it is to get comfortable in our homes and offices and forget to connect with the beauty of Mother Earth.
Her visceral paintings of cows, goats, sheep and more illustrate the humanity of the animal kingdom, representing our deep connection to them and the rest of the planet. We talked with her about her background, her inspirations, and what she believes our response should be to nature’s magnificent complexity.
Roominate Blog (R): What inspired you to become an Artist? How did you get started?
Elizabeth Kinahan (EK): My family has always been very supportive of creative endeavors, and drawing and painting was something we were encouraged to do from a young age. When I was five my grandmother showed me a picture of the Cheshire cat in an Alice in Wonderland coloring book, she put a blank sheet of paper next to it, and asked if instead of coloring it in, if I could copy the line drawing. I remember trying several times to get it accurate, and when I did, I was really proud of myself. That moment started me on a lifelong path of trying to accurately represent what I see, what's meaningful and beautiful to me.
(R): How has your art changed over time?
(EK): When I was younger I was really focused on the human form. Most of my art in my teens and 20s was figurative or portraiture. Everything changed when I painted my first cow… it's like I finally found the subject that had deep meaning for me. I have always been passionate about the well-being of animals, but when I used painting to express the beauty and sentience I see in animals I felt like my whole world clicked into place.
(R): When you started that first cow, what made you realize that’s what you wanted to paint?
(EK): I really was utterly taken (no pun intended)! I was completely overwhelmed by what I thought was the majesty of these animals that are absolutely ubiquitous. You know, nobody thinks twice about the pastures of cows they drive by on the way into town. But I was absolutely taken by them.
I was completely enamored with the human form and with portraiture and trying to do these amazing human paintings that you see in magazines and what not and museums, and I really thought that was the direction I was going. But when I started painting cows I had a “Why” behind it. I had a reason, it was meaningful and important. And there was a market for it. Everything just worked and I thought “this is it” you know?
(R): How did you become a painter of nature and animals?
(EK): I moved to Colorado when I was 24. As soon as you leave city limits there are farms and ranches everywhere. I grew up in suburban New Jersey, and while animals were always my favorite things, I didn't have a chance to see too many of them in the wild, or on farms. But driving down the road and seeing cows and sheep, horses, donkeys and goats absolutely delighted me.
I started driving around in the mornings looking for animals to photograph. I instantly became enamored with the humble cow, with her long eyelashes and wet nose. The cow has always been symbolic to me, and prompted my turn to vegetarianism nearly 30 years ago. So, seeing her before me, separated only by a fence, felt magical. I wanted to honor her and give other people the chance to stand before her and look into those big eyes, without having to stand on the side of some county road to do so.
(R): Why do you think we connect more to nature, animals than other subjects?
(EK): I think that there is a sense of lost connection to the natural world – to animals, to wild places. I think that we are living in the human world, in our boxes (literally), and we’re surrounded by hard, inanimate objects. And I think there is this sense of something missing from that life.
I also think that there is currently kind of this throwback, at least where I live, to farming life, this whole slow food movement and farm to table and buying directly from the maker. All of this return to our roots is sort of gaining momentum, exposure and popularity. So I’m finding that my pictures are reminiscent of a time when you did live more in harmony and connection with not only the world but also with your food source.
(R): How do you think we connect to nature in conscious ways that are sustainable?
(EK): We see so much wildlife here in the country, and I spend an inordinate amount of time at the window watching a flock of turkeys walk down the hill and the driveway, or the deer that comes and grazes in the lawn. And I think just spending time observing that pattern is important.
They have little personalities, they all act in different ways and when something is startled, it jumps around like a puppy – there’s these connections that we can observe and relate to our own existence and our own family and our own life if we take the time to do that, and at that point, we become aware of the fact that we are not the only thing on this planet that matters. We are not the only thing that has a sense of joy or fear. It’s not all about “everything here is a commodity for human use.” It’s about being aware that other things matter too. And I think that’s a great place to start for a lot of people.
(R): How do we respond to that with art in a way that adds value?
(EK): I think that art is a natural extension of that sense of connection for everybody. Whether they are on the receiving end as the viewer of art, or if they’re on the creative end. I think art is really a visual language of emotion and we are connecting – it’s so subjective and it should be – some image will really resonate with a person and be meaningful and valuable for reasons that the artist may or may not have meant, but we’re connecting in some way with that on an emotional level.
(R): What kind of action should we be taking in our response to art?
(EK): We should take a minute, think about what we’re seeing, and respond to it in a way that is based in awareness, rather than a need for a response.
I think if we all did that more, if we took that pause on a regular basis and evaluated what we were seeing, we might touch on things that we routinely miss. And I think that a lot of importance can come from that. Importance as to identifying what’s valuable to you, or important to you, or meaningful to you.
(R): Walk us through your process– where do you start, what are your goals with each piece?
(EK): I always start with a photo. From there I'm just deciding on the size, a color palette (is this a sassy goat that might want a bright background? Is this a placid bovine who might fit in a more neutral scene?) The goal is usually to create an image that's pleasant to look at, while also portraying some of the animal's humanness. Animals experience a wide range of emotions, similar to those of people, and I am often wanting to convey that emotional quality in my work.
(R): What are your biggest achievements as a creative? What are you proudest of?
(EK): I’ve always wanted to make a living as an artist, and I think I’m most proud of the fact that I am getting to live that dream. I am a co-owner of an art gallery in Durango, Colorado called “Studio &,” so I have a place to exhibit on a continual basis. But most of the time I’m home working in the studio or the garden, watching the wildlife, drinking tea. I have a lot of people commission custom paintings from me, mostly portraits of their beloved pets, which I really enjoy getting to do for them. I’m just so grateful to live in a community that supports small business, and understands the value of art.
(R): What advice do you have for emerging artists?
(EK): I often tell emerging artists to imagine their dream life in as much detail as possible, being sure to also understand their reasons for wanting that life. And then to write it all out in full detail and get really clear on it, what it looks like, what it feels like, and how they'll know if they've achieved it or not.
If you can figure out exactly what you want, you've just removed the biggest hurdle of your lifetime. From there, all your decisions are based on whether it will move you closer to your vision or not. Artists are a lucky bunch in their ability to think creatively, and come up with unique solutions to problems. So hold on to that dream, hone your skill, do your research, and don’t stop until you’re there.
(R): What are your favorite frames from pictureframes.com?
(EK): I always love a clean black float frame, it adds the perfect finish to any painting, of any size. I love the LFC2 with the distressed edge. I also like to use the wide black frame with the gold lip (GG1) for smaller pieces… a little 6x6 is so perfect in there!
(R): Why do you choose to work with us and what services do we provide that help you?
(EK): I just received a frame order from you guys, and when that box arrives, I don't have the sense of dread that often occurs with receiving custom orders. I know that when it's coming from pictureframes.com, the products inside are going to be perfect. I know they'll be super high quality, with no dings or dents, and that they'll be very well packaged inside the box to ensure their safe travel. I know the contents will be exactly what I ordered, and because of that I'm stoked when that package arrives.
I also know that my customers notice and appreciate the quality of the frame that I'm using to finish my painting. It's clearly a custom work, handmade for exactly the piece that's nestled inside it. I believe the frame matters as much as the art it contains, and people know a quality frame from a bargain frame. Pictureframes.com has never disappointed me, or my customers, with their products and services. I can't imagine a better company to work with.