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An Interview with Erin Hanson: Alchemist of Color

How Erin Hanson became an artist, in her own words

Wednesday, November 1, 2023

Recently, open impressionist painter Erin Hanson shared her journey as an artist. Below is Hanson’s story of how she learned about color, gained her ability to color match anything, and hailed “the Alchemist of Color.”

Hanson was recently interviewed about her unique approach to color. You can view the full interview here or read it transcribed below. 

Here is Erin Hanson’s story, in her words:

My name is Erin Hanson. I have been painting in oils since I was eight years old. The thing that drives me to pick up my brush every day, the thing that drives me to paint is COLOR.

When I was a teenager, I worked in a mural studio. The first job I had was color matching for the other artists. We had about a hundred gallons of acrylic paint spread out across the warehouse floor. The main artist would walk between these hundred gallons of paint holding a few Dixie cups and he would go around mixing and dabbing together a set of colors. He would then hand the Dixie cups to me, and my job was to make an entire gallon of each color and the colors had to match exactly.

I’ve spent over 10,000 hours just mixing paint and this has given me a lot of opportunities to explore what color can do.

Crystal Light II by Erin Hanson

Now I can color match anything. I can color match any photograph, any paint color or fabric swatch – any object. I spend an hour or two every day mixing color for my paintings. In fact, color is such an important part of how I compose my paintings that I premix my entire palette before I ever pick up a brush to begin painting.

When I paint, I try to create the most pure, lifelike, vibrant colors I can and the best way to do that is by using a limited palette. Using a limited palette means I only use five pure pigments when I paint. And, at first it was a huge challenge restricting my palette to only five colors because you think, “I have fewer colors to work with so how am I going to create the variety of color that I need in a painting?” But, over the years, I have really learned that having fewer pigments gives me as an artist the freedom to create a wider variety of colors without the colors getting muddy.

So, I have a lot more control over the colors that I am creating.

When I am painting a landscape, I have to use color to create depth and atmosphere. I do that by making the colors closer to you more vibrant and warmer and the colors further away become cooler and duller – less saturated. So, when I mix my whole palette – I create all that variation and I create that depth of color right there on my palette before I ever pick up a brush. And that takes a lot of the thinking out of painting when it’s time for me to pick up a brush.

Fruit Loop by Erin Hanson

I can just go to work on the painting and it’s more about the motion of the brush and the texture of the paint and creating this feeling of dynamic rhythm in the painting. Whereas, if I was worried about color the whole time I’d be sitting there just mixing, mixing, mixing color while I am trying to paint.

It’s two different activities. There is color mixing and then there is painting the painting. And I separate those as I work.

Every day, when I walk into my studio, I have this picture that I want to create on this blank white canvas, and I have to reverse engineer that back and it always starts with my palette. So, I try to imagine every color that is going to appear in the painting. It’s almost like I’m an alchemist of color and I am taking these few pigments and creating a whole vision of a landscape.

And then, I pick up my brush... and I start painting.

Now that you have heard Erin Hanson’s story in her own words, you may be interested in exploring her work. Click here to examine her portfolio and see why she has been named “the Alchemist of Color.”


Erin Hanson ArtistERIN HANSON has been painting in oils since she was 8 years old. As a young artist, she worked at a mural studio creating 40-foot-tall paintings on canvas, while selling art commissions on the side. After getting a degree in Bioengineering from UC Berkeley, Erin became a rock climber at Red Rock Canyon, Nevada. Inspired by the colorful scenery she was climbing, she decided to paint one painting every week for the rest of her life. She has stuck to that decision ever since, becoming one of the most prolific artists in history. Erin Hanson's style is known as "Open Impressionism" and is now taught in art schools worldwide. With thousands of collectors eagerly anticipating her work and millions of followers online, Hanson has become an iconic, driving force in the rebirth of contemporary impressionism.

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