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How They See - Issue #9: Elizabeth Lennie about the transition to being a full-time painter, mythical inspiration and how important it is to paint every day

Elizabeth Lennie is an artist based in Canada. In my opinion, her art blurs the lines between abstrac

How They See

August 29 · Issue #9 · 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.

Elizabeth Lennie is an artist based in Canada. In my opinion, her art blurs the lines between abstraction and figurative paintings. I have caught myself a few times on shifting my perception between those two and discovering new elements on the work I was observing. For me, her art is also a synonym of tranquillity and I am sure it could cure the longing for holidays and carefree time. You can easily open Elizabeth site and dive into one of many situations or just observe people and their actions.
You can find more about Elizabeth Lennie on her website or on Instagram.

You were an actress in successful TV shows and movies aired on CBS or Hallmark. You have performed in a theatre and had a chance to work with Sophia Loren. An impressive career, why you have switched to art then?
As a child, I dreamed of being an artist but became distracted by life as an actor. The collaboration of working together on stage appealed to me and I worked for 30 years on stage and film with notable personalities, in exotic locations like Stockholm, London, Copenhagen, Scottsdale Arizona, New York City, as well as Canada. I slowly aged out of the desire to work 8 shows a week and long hours on set and ended my acting career in a series of Goodwitch movies for Hallmark. The desire to have an art practice was just lying dormant throughout that time!
How the transition from an actress to an artist looked? Would you describe it as a straight path or rather a bumpy road?
The transition has been seamless. Although I was working a lot as an actress I started to paint in 2001, in a class at the Art Gallery of Ontario. I set up a little studio in my home, and as I became more involved in the process of painting the struggle to focus on memorizing lines and working on character became a distraction to the painting process and so I stopped acting in 2012 as my gallery representation started to grow and my work started to sell regularly. As a stage or film actor, I have little control over how, when and where I work. In 2007 I became the Network Voice of a television station and realized that voice work was totally compatible with painting as there was no prep time involved, no lines to memorize!
Elizabeth Lennie, Rabbit lake 32, 36”x72”, oil on canvas, 2017
Elizabeth Lennie, Rabbit lake 32, 36”x72”, oil on canvas, 2017
Anyway, you still have a connection with previous professional life, I have read on your website that you are also working as a voice narrator. How does this influence your art?
I love to read and narration and commercial voice work is a great fit for me! The studio sessions are relatively short and I am paid well for my time. I narrate a lot of educational materials and learn in the process! And still have time to get to the studio.
I have also read that you are panting every day, how did you get to stick to this routine?
Although I administer a Voice-over training school that I own, I can do that remotely and so I am able to go to the studio almost every day. I now have a dedicated studio space - 900 sq ft of light-filled space to let my imagination wander. If I am not painting I am glazing and wiring paintings, searching for imagery, talking to other artists, ordering materials etc.
From a glimpse at your studio on Saatchi, I have seen that you are not working only on one piece at a time. Isn’t it challenging to switch contexts from one painting to another?
I work on up to 6 canvases at a time, usually within the same theme and sometimes the same palette, or similar palette. Although my technique is loose and I like to work wet on wet I need to let some surfaces dry before working them. I have a lot of galleries asking for work so it makes sense to use my time this way! I have an energy when I paint and that energy needs to be channelled when it arises.
Elizabeth Lennie, Night Swim, 40”x40”, oil on canvas, 2020
Elizabeth Lennie, Night Swim, 40”x40”, oil on canvas, 2020
What do you think regarding this mythical creature called “inspiration”?
Chuck Close says “Inspiration is for amateurs. The rest of us just get to work!” I agree with this statement. The work fuels the inspiration, not the other way around, for me anyway. I will find myself in the flow of a painting and time will disappear and I will step back and see something wonderful. Sometimes! Most of the time I find the more I paint, the more I get out of my head and into my heart. I think that’s where inspiration lies. Once I dreamed of over-painting one of my canvases blue and woke up, went to the studio and did just that. It’s one of my favourites. Beachlife 18. That happens a lot to me. An idea will come to me in a dream.
At first, you have started to paint animals, then your subject of interest changed towards people and scenes when they’re playing crucial roles. Why are people so interesting to you?
I wish I knew! I dream of being an abstract painter like Joan Mitchel! Maybe I want the subject matter to acknowledge me as the painter.
Your inspiration is water. It is visible in your art, paintings are very liquid. When I look at them, I feel a bit of nostalgia. I am wondering whether is it only me or indeed you are trying to evoke such feelings with your work?
The water paintings came as a result of witnessing my children playing in the water at our cottage, and then scuba diving in the Caribbean. I see water as a Divine element, life-giving and life-affirming. A universal memory, whether real or imagined, of living in the slipstream of life..a metaphor of sorts..
Where lies the border between abstract and figurative art in your work? A couple of times I have caught myself looking at your painting as an abstract one then later I have discovered that there is something more, people, their carefree time.
Thank you! I am working hard towards abstraction! it does not come organically and maybe not in this lifetime but the intention is to capture the essence.
Elizabeth Lennie, Aerial Navigation, 46”X46”, oil on canvas, 2018
Elizabeth Lennie, Aerial Navigation, 46”X46”, oil on canvas, 2018
You have done a book cover not so long ago. I am wondering how working on a painting is different from designing a book cover?
I have not designed the book covers. I have supplied imagery for 4 book covers and the designer has modified the images to suit, sometimes removing elements or editing elements of the image. That is the power of the internet. I have not sought this out. They have found me.
I have learned the hard way by painting myself that not every artwork is a masterpiece, and I am just learning to let go. How are you approaching this problem?
Paint every day. Do not judge your work. Paint a collection, or repeat a theme, and see how far it takes you. I would say I like 10% of my work. The rest is practice. It’s always surprising to me that others like those too!
How much time does it take for you to work on a painting? To figure out that it is time to finish it and embrace the situation that not every detail would be polished?
I usually abandon a painting when I am bored with it or have nothing else to contribute. I have signed unfinished paintings. I can take several years or several hours to complete a painting. That’s why I paint several at the same time. So they don’t become precious to me. I overpaint a lot of my work that sits idle and my technique is fast and loose. I don’t pretend to be a master!
What advice would you give to any self-taught artist?
Just do it. Paint. Read. Look. Listen. Do not judge your work. That’s for someone else to do. Give yourself permission to make mistakes and go outside your comfort level. It’s not life and death! Build a community of artists for conversation and support. Show your work! We work alone but we don’t need to feel lonely if we reach out.
What is your favourite colour?
Hmmm… good question!

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