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How They See - Issue #11: Ellen Richman about limiting color pallete, dealing with creative block and growing as an artist

Ellen Richman is an artist based in Minnesota, USA. Color, form and scale are a significant part of h

How They See

September 12 · Issue #11 · View online
How They See will help you to meet artists from all over the globe and understand their perception of art. Published weekly on Saturday.

Ellen Richman is an artist based in Minnesota, USA. Color, form and scale are a significant part of her works. She is also exploring two, very different worlds of shapes: organic and geometric. I have found her art very inspiring, as understanding the relation between color and shapes is a big part of my interest. At first glance those key elements are very simple, yet together could result in infinite variations and a powerful effect on a viewer.
Ellen is painting for more than 25 years, still trying new things and keeping an open mind. She is also an art teacher. You can find more about Ellen Richman on her website or Instagram.

I have looked at your CV. It occurs that you are painting for more than 25 years. Are you still feeling that you are growing as an artist? What does growth mean to you?                                                          
Yes, I continue to grow as an artist. I try new things. I keep an open mind and I try to stay free of judgement and true to myself. I think sometimes there is a fear of expressing oneself that you need to confront and overcome. Visually, everything is available to us. I try to stay honest, to do my own work. This is continual growth.
You work in both: oil and acrylic paints, on paper and canvas. Which one do you prefer and why?                                                
They are very different mediums and each have their advantages. For most of my life I have painted in oil on canvas. I love working in oil, the way it moves and the luminous layers and textures. But due to inadequate ventilation I started painting in acrylic a few years ago. Acrylic paint has its own advantages. You can paint layers faster and ideas can be actualized in a day instead of weeks or months.
Ellen Richman, "282", Acrylic on paper, 10" x 10"
Ellen Richman, "282", Acrylic on paper, 10" x 10"
What interests you the most in the abstract painting?
What interests me the most is the relationship of color and form. It is an endless dialogue and communicates universally. 
Is it easier to distort reality or portray it as it is? What is your opinion on this topic as an abstract painter?
We all think differently. Every artist expresses themselves in the way that is most effective for them. I personally appreciate art that expresses something new.
How does your creative process look like? Is it an improvisation or thoughtfully planned approach?
I approach each painting without a plan. I build a painting from what is there and let the painting show me what it needs. It is an improvisational approach based on the contrast of colors, forms and scale. 
Ellen Richman, "96", Acrylic on paper, 13" X 13"
Ellen Richman, "96", Acrylic on paper, 13" X 13"
I have read that apart from being a painter, you are also a teacher. In your classes: “only primary colors of yellow, blue, red plus black and white” are allowed. Nowadays in the shop, you can buy paints in a rainbow of colors, why it is important to limit yourself when you are learning?                     
Many of my students have little knowledge of color theory. It is important to take time mixing colors to understand how different colors are made, the variations in value and hue. All of the colors can be made from the primary colors with black and white. Understanding color is at the heart of painting.
In the same interview, you have said: “My students taught me to teach”. What have you meant by that?  
Each student has their own set of questions and understanding. I listen to what they need and try to find the best way to get my ideas understood. I have grown and learned from teaching others.
Ellen Richman, "287", Acrylic on paper, 10" x 10"
Ellen Richman, "287", Acrylic on paper, 10" x 10"
How are you dealing with creative block? I think that such an event occurs to everyone working creatively.
Sometimes I’m not in the mood to paint but it is important that I start, and one thing leads to the next. If I don’t like it I paint over it. Sometimes disliking your work brings something wonderful and unexpected. Also, working in series and many paintings at once can help to not obsess over one work. Keep working and let other people be the judge.  
If you had a power to do something differently in your artistic career what would you change?
I have been very fortunate in my career in terms of support and opportunities. Going back, if I could change anything, I wish I had applied for artist residencies as a younger artist.
Where are you looking for inspiration and what inspires you? 
I’m inspired by colors and forms together in architecture and organic forms in nature. Digitally I’m inspired by graphics, other artists work and images everywhere.
If you had to choose one painting that stuck with you permanently, what would it be?  
This is the most difficult question of all. I have been thinking about it for a few days. I have many favorite paintings. I have too many paintings that I love that I am unable to choose just one.
Can you give some advice to any self-taught artist or designer? 
Just start. Make big moves and cover up what you don’t like. Keep an open mind and don’t judge yourself. Remember that your taste is always going to get in the way and that it will be more refined than your work is in the beginning. If you don’t like what you do, explore and keep painting.
What is your favorite color?
I enjoy all colors and what they do in relationship with other colors. If I had a favorite I think it might be a form of orange.

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