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Adventures Turned into Art

Article by Erin Hanson

Wednesday, February 1, 2023

My paintings all begin with outdoor hikes and explorations in nature. My goal when I paint is to re-capture that feeling of being out of doors and surrounded by natural beauty: how do I capture the experience of waking up in a National Park at dawn, surrounded by quiet darkness and watching a sunrise slowly dawn over a dramatic canyon -- how do I capture the contrast of a single cottonwood tree that has turned canary yellow before its fellow trees, strikingly gold against a red rock cliff -- how do I paint in two dimensions the wide expanse of a sunset sky -- how can I make my paint as alive and fresh as I feel when I am out of doors?

Erin Hanson out of doors getting inspirationWhen I paint, I work from photos I took out in the field. The challenge I face is how to turn a flat, un-inspiring photograph into a beautiful impressionist painting that captures all the light and movement of the outdoors.

The first step is to decide which elements I want to focus on in my painting. For example, I could decide to focus on a brilliant sunset sky, in which case I would make the foreground indistinct and dark by contrast. I could focus on the different colors I see beneath the waves in a coastal painting: here I would dramatize the size of the waves and the various hues of green, turquoise, blue, and purple, using the white
foam as contrast. I might focus on the abstract shapes of light I see between the

branches of an ancient oak tree. In this case I would select which branches to paint that make the most interesting series of negative spaces.

I compose all my paintings to communicate a specific focus of the landscape.
When I am out in the field, I use a variety of cameras to capture different angles that might come in handy later when I am painting: I use two Canon EOS 5D cameras, one with a standard lens and one with a zoom-lens. I use my iPhone’s camera when I want to shoot wide-angle shots or panoramas. I even use a drone sometimes to get higher-elevation shots or to reach difficult angles.

Erin Hanson autumn painting

When I come home from an adventure shoot, I have thousands of photos that might turn into paintings. I start by printing out several reference photos of the same scene. Then I use pencil sketches to test out different compositions that might work to best communicate my “focus.” Rarely can I use a photograph just as-is. I often move around strong compositional elements, like trees, or take hills from one photo and merge with the foreground of another photo, for example. After painting thousands of landscape compositions, I have refined my technique of transforming an ordinary photograph back into the original beauty of the landscape that made me pick up my camera in the first place.

Erin Hanson's Portfolio // 


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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