Just looking at photos of Elizabeth St. Hilaire, it’s hard to not be inspired by her. With her vibrant hair, bohemian chic clothing, and high cheekbones she looks like the muse we all wish had been our eccentric high school art teacher. Dig a bit more into photos of her multi-media collages, her “Paper Paintings” and you fall deeper in love with her. Her work contains multitudes of levels, both literally and figuratively, of story, sensory experience, and emotion.
We consider ourselves extremely lucky to be offering an exclusive chance to spend eight long art-filled days with her on the private island South Water Caye in Belize. With the glimmering turquoise Caribbean ocean, white sand beaches, vibrant fish and birds in every color of the rainbow… We think she’ll blend right in! Take some time to delve a little deeper into the artistic inspiration of this amazing woman and artist.
Tell us a bit about your process and what environment you like to work in. Do you thrive in chaos or order?
I create art in all kinds of different environments. I have a wonderful studio space near my home in Longwood, FL that I can get to by driving less than five minutes, or even on foot. It’s in a retail space, which makes it nice for visitors to stop by and for walk-in traffic. I enjoy having people visit my studio. In that space I try to keep things orderly and clean, however when I am in the midst of a big project, things can get messy and out of hand. typically I do not clean up until I am finished with what I am working on, between projects. When I am in the throws of creativity, I don’t worry about cleaning up.
I also work in small spaces, such as airline seats (on my seat-back tray table) hotel room desks, and sometimes in public spaces like cafes or Starbucks. Since I travel a lot to teach, I have to always be working on something portable and small that I can take with me. I save the big stuff for the studio.
Do you use a sketchbook or a journal?
Lately I have been experimenting with watercolors. I bought a Sakura Koi field watercolor box and a small pad of watercolor paper, some micron pens, a pencil and found an old kneaded rubber eraser from college (really old). I love the immediacy of this medium, I am able to do small watercolor sketches and studies rather quickly. I’ve been sending these sketches as postcards to loved ones when I travel.
I also do have a journal. When I am home, I love to attend a journalling class at my local Craft Shack. Believe it or not, I do enjoy being a student and not always the teacher.
How has teaching influenced your art and what was your route to becoming an artist? What was the biggest obstacle you overcame?
I have learned many new skills as a result of teaching. I have learned more about dealing with people, about understanding diversity, personal challenges, different levels of confidence, and the ability to make students feel comfortable to the point where they can truly enjoy the experience of my class. I learn a lot from my students, people have wonderful ideas and compositional solutions that inspire me and influence my own personal projects. Solving 16 different challenges in the classroom day-to-day sure helps me to think on my feet and to overcome hurdles in my own work!
The biggest obstacle I overcame with teaching has been making the required travel work and balance with my personal life. I have had to figure out how to arrange care for my children (now teenagers) and my dogs while I am on the road, not always an easy job. Also scheduling can be challenging, trying to fit workshop dates (sometimes back-to-back) together with studio time, projects, and arranging my own travel. Balance that all out with personal demands, on one big happy calendar.
As a collage artist what piece of equipment or tool or color could you not live
Colors I can’t live without are Golden fluid acrylics permanent violet dark and pyrrole orange, favorites for sure. Equipment I can’t live without for large scale works would definitely be my Jack Richeson BEST easel, I love it and it’s a top notch quality product. Good brushes and brush cleaner are another must, I use my good brushes for painting paper and for my under-painting, I use my less expensive brushes for my glue. I try not to mix them up and mess up good brushes with glue…but sometimes it happens. The Masters Brush Cleaner is invaluable in keeping brushes soft and workable and extending their life, glue brushes included.
What are some of the most interesting found materials you have used in collage making?
I have used chips of spray paint that I took off the cars at Cadillac Ranch in Texas. I have used personal ephemera in commissions including beach sand, golf score cards, cigar labels, NBA Playoff tickets, parking tickets, coasters, birth certificates, obituaries, diaper pins, kids’ homework, scrabble tiles, political buttons…. and more. You name it, I can use it, if it’s important to the patron in their commission.
If you could spend a beautiful spring afternoon with any artist dead or alive who would that be? Would you invite them on your retreat?
My all-time favorite artist is Gustav Klimt of Vienna, Austria. In 1990 I traveled to Vienna to see his work in the Austrian Gallery in the center of the city. This was before several of the works were returned to Maria Altman in her famous law suit against the Austrian Government (the premise of the recent film “Woman in Gold”) I would love to have been able to sit with Gustav and ask him what it was like to be a working artist of such a level of success in Vienna in the 1890’s, early 1900’s. I would most certainly invite him to my retreat! His combination of decorative patterning and detailed painting would lend itself well to collage, I think he might be my star student.
How has your work developed since you began and how do you see it evolving in the future?
My work is constantly evolving and changing. When I started collage I used to glue paper down and paint in translucent layers over the top of it, right on the canvas. When I started using papers to glue down and form an image, I was using decorative purchased papers only. My work was originally framed under glass. All of this has changed to hand-painted papers that form an image without any paint on top, coated and protected with UVLS varnish.
In the future I see myself continuing to experiment with backgrounds, which are sometimes left as paint or mixed media. Currently I have just begun experimenting with silver leaf metallic backgrounds. I had never applied silver leaf until last week. I love the effect, the application is time intensive but well worth the effort.
We were going to ask you about travel and how it inspires you as an artist, but it looks like you just published a blog entitled A Day in the Life – A Traveling Artist! Can you elaborate at all about this subject beyond what is in your blog post? How do you feel art and travel fuel each other?
I have always encouraged my children to travel, to consider being exchange students or to spend a semester abroad. My sister was an exchange student in Belgium when she was in high school and I attended Syracuse University’s Study Abroad Program in London, England in college. I whole heartedly believe that travel is imperative to fueling us personally and creatively. When I travel I am sure to take in the local color, whether it be art museums, community galleries, dairy farms, or glacial gorges. I have hiked, swam across a lake, and kayaked in Upstate NY this month, as well as have walked and explored New York City and its most prominent art museums. Travel opens your mind to new people, new experiences and new inspiration. I am not only inspired by art, but also by nature and urban settings. I have photographed cracks in the pavement while running, thinking about how they would make wonderful abstract backgrounds for collage. I have taken up close photos of Mark Rothko’s work thinking that his transition of colors would make wonderful collage papers. Personal and artistic inspiration is everywhere, when you travel and explore new places, that fact is compounded.
You are leading an 8-day collage retreat in Belize with Arts and Cultural Travel. Have you traveled to Belize or Central America before? If so what inspired you about the people and the culture? How will you infuse local culture in your workshops?
I have been though Belize briefly on a cruise ship excursion to Mayan Ruins. It was only a matter of hours, but the countryside was lovely and tropical. I have collaged toucans and coconuts and tropical palm imagery in the past, but it has been mostly from photography or Florida based scenes. I look forward to sketching and taking in scenes for future work while I am in Belize, my watercolor box and sketch pad are wonderful for this. I would like students to collect papers from the local culture and use them in their work, I would encourage everyone to think about the scenery around them and be inspired by it, to paint tropical leaves, fruits, and animals.
Part of the Belize retreat takes place on private island South Water Caye, do you have any plans to utilize the natural resources there for creating art?
If the natural resources include anything I can glue down, I’m on it!
Also I often use the Gelli Printing Plate when creating my hand-painted collage papers. One of the things I love the most to incorporate into this process is leaves, I’ll bet I could get amazing mono prints of indigenous tropical leaves on South Water Caye!
Is there anything that retreat participants should know about you before they sign up? Any pearls of wisdom or cautionary tales about your quirks?
Oh my quirks! Well, I am a health conscious person, I prefer to drink water, eat my vegetables, and start every day with some form of physical activity. I always bring my running shoes when I travel.
After a full day of teaching, I need “down time” to recharge, if I seem like I don’t want to engage in high levels of conversation after hours, it’s only because my battery is low.
What excites you most about this specific retreat and working with Arts and Cultural Travel?
What excites me most about this specific retreat is the amazing places we will get to experience and the artwork that we will produce from a mindset of inspiration, rest, and relaxation. Working with Arts and Cultural Travel means that all the details of the trip will be taken care of. When excursions and activities are masterfully planned by someone in the know, everyone can loosen up, have a good time, and be super creative. Knowing that the travel details are going to be spectacular, can put everyone in a very relaxed state of mind. This is a wonderful zone for creativity.
More information about Elizabeth can be found on her website, PaperPaintings.com.