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Erin Hanson Answers School Children's Questions

School children often reach out to Erin with art questions. Here are some answers.

Thursday, May 2, 2024

Recently, the 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade classes of an Iowa school reached out to Erin to ask her questions about her work and to share their own thoughts and comments as well. 

The questions and comments were very astute and wonderful, so we thought we would share the Q&A here on the blog.

From A: I love how you use lots of color. Have you used any other paints other than oil paint? How long does it take you to paint a 3x3? My favorite painting is “Chelly Shadows.”

Erin: I love that painting too! A 3x3 painting takes me about 2 days to paint. I used to paint in all sorts of mediums — watercolor, oil pastel, acrylic, ink… but I like oils the best since I feel connected to the past masters of impressionism who all painted in oils. Also, now that I’ve painted 3,000 original oil paintings, I’ve become pretty set in my ways!

Chelly Shadows by Erin Hanson, 2011

From M: I love your “Desert Road” painting! It is my favorite! Can you help me know how you mix colors? Thank you! 

Erin: I’m glad you love this painting! When I paint, I use only a few colors on my palette—usually five. The trick is to mix all the colors you want to use before you pick up a brush. That way, you can make sure you like your colors before you start painting, and your colors won’t get all muddy.

Desert Road by Erin Hanson, 2022

From E: I like how you made the clouds on “Desert Road.” How do you think of the painting you make? What is your favorite painting?

Erin:  I wanted to capture the feeling of driving down a desert road, all alone, surrounded by desert in every direction. The angle of the clouds helps create a sense of drama and movement in the piece, and the clouds give dimension and distance as well.

From E: My favorite painting you have painted is “Desert Road.” And I was wondering if your hand cramps sooo much during painting? Because mine do in handwriting.

Erin: The trick in any kind of repetitive motion is to change the way you are doing it. When I am doing handwriting, I hold my pen in three or four different ways. When my hand starts to cramp after a half-page of writing, I switch to the next “grip.” That way your muscles can recover and get stronger without getting cramps. When I paint, I do the same thing. I change from sitting to standing, I use several different hand grips on my brush, and I also have three different heights of rolling palette that I use.

From J: Our whole class loves all of your painting videos and your paintings that we have been studying all term. How do you do it?!

Erin: I’m glad you love the videos! We have tried lots of ways of videoing me painting. We use phone cameras, and also professional video equipment (though we have to hire professionals for those!)

From A: I’m not good at painting but I can draw decently. Can you give me some tips on shading? Also how to do trees? Also, what’s your favorite animal? And what’s your favorite painting you’ve done?

Erin: It is good to learn how to draw before you start painting. Drawing teaches you how to create dimension and shape with only black and white, which is important to practice before you pick up a paint brush and start applying color. Here is the advice I was given when I was your age: every single day, do 5 drawings from something you are looking at in real life. Try to draw only what you see, not what you “think” the thing should look like. Do a few hundred drawings like this, and you will see a lot of improvement. Drawing and painting is like any other skill — it requires lots of practice to get good at it! Think of it like learning to play an instrument. You would practice every day if you were learning to play the guitar, right?

A good way to think about shading is that every object has three basic shades: the darkest shadow, the middle-color, and the highlight. So use at least three shades when drawing your shadows.

Trees are like groups of spheres, like collections of grapes or oranges. Practice drawing a pile of oranges, and you will get the idea of how to draw trees.

My favorite animal is a cat.

My favorite painting… at the moment… "Crystal Creek.” :-)

Crystal Creek by Erin Hanson, 2018

From G: 1. How long does it take you to do one painting? 2. How do you come up with your paintings? 3. How many paintings have you painted?

Erin: It takes me one or two days to create one painting. I come up with my ideas by going outside and hiking or exploring in beautiful nature areas. I love sunrise and sunset especially, since there is so much color in the landscape. When I am deciding on the exact composition I am going to paint, I focus on something in the landscape, like a particular tree, or a dramatic shadow, and then I base my own painting around that one idea.

I have painted 3,000 oil paintings so far this lifetime.

From E: How old were you when you really got into art/painting? And really enjoyed it? I love your work and how you capture the outdoors.

Erin:  I always wanted to be an artist when I was young, and I even was selling commissions when I was 12, and I worked in a mural painting studio when I was a teenager. But I didn’t start painting seriously until after I graduated college and I moved to a new city and started rock climbing at Red Rock Canyon. That’s when I really got inspired to start painting just landscapes. I loved the bright reds and oranges and pinks in the red rock cliffs, and I never got tired of painting them.

Red Rock Canyon by Erin Hanson, 2011

From I: Do you have any kids? Did you teach yourself, or did you have a teacher?

Erin: I have one daughter who is almost 5 years old. 

I had an art teacher when I was your age, but I taught myself my own style of painting when I was an adult. I didn’t want to paint in many layers, waiting for the paint to dry between layers. I wanted to create a style that was fast and expressive, with lots of chunky texture. So I had to figure out how to make the oil paints do that, so I did a lot of trial and error.

From K: I really love your artwork, and I really like doing art myself! Do you have any tips? Thank you. I’d love to meet you some day!

Erin: My biggest tip to become a better artist is to finish every painting you start. This is what turned me into a professional artist. When I was younger, I would get frustrated because my painting wasn't turning out the way I wanted, and I would stop painting and decide to “come back to it later.” So I ended up with a lot of unfinished paintings, and I never learned how to work through my trouble areas. But when I actually started FINISHING every painting I started, I forced myself to learn how to paint the areas I didn’t know how to do, and I figured out different ways of doing it until I found a way that I liked. This is how I created a unique style of painting that became known as “Open Impressionism."

From S: I love your works; they are so beautiful! I have a question: do your hands cramp when you paint? Thank you!

Erin: Sometimes they do when I mixing my paint, which I do with a palette knife. But then I change my position (like stand up, if I am sitting down), or change my hand grip, and then the cramp goes away. It’s important not to keep doing the same motion over and over in the exact same position.

From T: I love your paintings! Have a good day!

Erin: Thanks so much!

From D: You should make the New York Statue of Liberty.

Erin: That would be fun ;-)

From Mrs.M: Can you tell us the paintings you’ve observed that compelled your style? Do you ever work in other mediums? What is your most enjoyed museum?

Erin: I always loved van Gogh’s paintings of irises and Monet’s paintings of haystacks. I loved how they could use colors that didn’t seem to fit together when viewed up close, but then the whole painting comes alive when you step back a few feet. 

My favorite museum exhibit was the Expressionist exhibition at LACMA (Los Angeles County Museum of Art.) I especially loved the dark blue walls and how the artwork really popped. I started painting my gallery walls in rich, dark colors after seeing that museum exhibition.

Second Question and Answer with Erin Hanson

Another class also reached out to Erin and asked her questions that she answered:

Q1. Who is YOUR favorite artist? 

Erin:  Van Gogh

Q2. What, or who, inspired you most, to pursue your work? 

Erin:  It was when I started rock climbing at Red Rock Canyon in Nevada. I fell in love with the colorful rocks and started painting one painting every week. The first two years I painted nothing but red rock cliffs and desert plants. After I had painted 50 paintings, I decided to start trying to sell my paintings, and I discovered outdoor art festivals. I started doing just a few festivals every year, but eventually turned it into a full-time career! Now I have my own gallery and ten employees!

Sweet Pain by Erin Hanson, 2008

Q3. How long does it take you to create your large paintings?

Erin:  The biggest oil painting I ever created was 13 feet long and 9 feet tall. This painting took me one week (and a big scaffold!) I paint other big paintings that are taller than I am, and these take me about 3 days to paint.

Field of Blooms by Erin Hanson, 2016

Happy painting to all of you!


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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