On the Next Level: Elise Wagner

On the Next Level is a series of interviews that features artists of the Art Nxt Level academy. The artists share their stories of how the academy has impacted their careers as well as share the exciting projects they have been working on. These artists have made the most of their experience and have taken their careers to the next level.

What advice would you give to newer artists who are trying to discover their own unique style? 

Elise: My advice to newer artists is to trust yourself and do what you are most passionate about with your work. If you get an idea, think it through, and then follow what emerges from that idea. We are so lucky to have access at our fingertips to anything we are curious about; anything we want to learn more about or investigate; and research anything from new subject matter, to new materials to try. I continually switch between and combine encaustic painting, oil painting and printmaking.

Have faith in yourself and your vision. Apply for juried shows that fit with the voice and vision of your work. As an exhibiting artist who was used to having solo shows every year since 2006, I had all but abandoned applying to juried shows. But the pandemic seemed to demand that I do this to circulate the work, and to feel that what I was doing mattered. After careful consideration of which shows to apply for, I decided to submit my newest work. I was accepted into most of them, and am waiting on one in New York. 

Over the holidays, I had my newest work photographed, and decided to curate my own online solo show, “This Decade in Painting,” which encompassed an overview of my work over the past ten years, including work at my galleries, in an effort to support them. I thought this was a good way to begin the year, and it turned out to be true. I have sold several of my new pieces online, and through in-person, masked studio visits. With everything so uncertain in the art business, I found that the playing field sort of evened out with galleries, but created a way for us to work together and be transparent as we all embarked on selling art online. Keep good documentation of your work. 

Another piece of advice is to embrace rejection as an opportunity that sparks you to grow and learn from yourself, and become stronger as an artist.

I know that this might sound like a tall order, but I would be happy to share my very thick file folder of rejections! Each time you apply for a grant, a juried show or gallery, there is an opportunity to become more intimate with your voice. Learn how to write about your work, and articulate what you are aiming for.  This is something I have grown to find as very important. Know the materials you are working with, push them further, and always stay open to experimentation, ALWAYS. You must do this. I say this because it was through experimentation in my studio, one day in 2002, that I took a rolling pin, some oil sticks, and a textured encaustic panel on wood, and discovered that I could print from it. I now teach a technique called “Encaustic Collagraph Printmaking” internationally, which I innovated quite by accident through experimentation.

There is a lot happening in your career this summer. What projects are you looking forward to the most? 

Elise: There has indeed been a lot happening over the past few months. I’ve been involved in producing instructional videos, and marketing my online shop and workshops. Recently, I won a grant to fund video production, and an upgrade of the internet connection and ventilation system in my studio. I also transformed the back hallway of my house into a gallery called “Xemplar Micro-Gallery.” With Covid, there has been an increase of studio visitors. To save time from repeatedly unwrapping my work and setting it up in my studio, I decided to hang it for when people visit. It has worked amazingly well! I spent much of the winter finishing new work, planning studio projects, and applying to juried shows and various grants.

The project I’m most looking forward to is opening my studio to the public on July 31st for my 19th Annual Summer Open Studio. I will be finishing up a series of small works for that event. In front of that, I’m finishing a large commission piece, and beginning another for an Oregon winery. I am also resuming work on a 20-piece Jezero series, based on the recent Mars landing. As things open up, I am really looking forward to seeing and sharing the work I have done during lockdown with collectors and members of the local art community.

You have a very distinct artistic voice in your paintings.

Elise: Over the decades, I have learned that the artistic voice comes from a place within. Every artist looks at and responds to the world differently, each with a unique mark, story and voice. I have always viewed the visual world as my oyster for inspiration, because it’s filled with abstract shapes and colors everywhere. 

Growing up and making art as a teenager in densely populated Jersey City, New Jersey, with skyscrapers all around, my art was all about people and faces, still lives, and cityscapes. While studying painting and photography in high school, I loved having easy access to the museums in New York City, just a 20 minute subway ride away. It was when I moved to Oregon that I was first exposed to the expanse of nature. For the first time, I saw an open sky without light pollution. This had a huge impact on me visually, and it became an integral part of my artistic voice. Overarching themes in my work are the impact that humans have had on the environment, and navigating nature’s grand indifference. I view my studio practice as a spiritual practice, a way to express my own fragility and raise awareness of how fragile our existence on Earth truly is. Science is all about mystery; and for artists, working abstractly is all about mystery, too, as we are in a constant state of revealing and discovering our artistic voices. 

My creative impulse is to stay open and negotiate these elements of tension within my work. For artists, whether working abstractly, realistically or figuratively, the key is the ability to look and see, and transform something from nothing.

Continually showing up for over 25 years, and nurturing and listening to my inner voice and “visual cues,” as I call them, is how my work manifests and has grown to be distinct.

When did you discover the Art Nxt Level Academy and how has it been able to give an edge to your art career? 

Elise: I discovered Art Nxt Level Academy in 2018 when I took the Art Business Growth Challenge. Being a part of this community has helped me achieve success in so many ways. Since quitting my last day job in 2012, there was a lot I had already been doing for my art business. I had built my own website, had solo exhibitions locally at Butters Gallery in Portland, as well as at my galleries in Seattle, Houston, Boston and Washington D.C. I hosted open studios and built a substantial email list. But I wasn’t as tuned into doing things like releasing new work, identifying a VIP list, and communicating more frequently with my audience. Through ANL, I have learned how to improve my Instagram and marketing skills through the many resources, challenges and videos.

What about the way you approach your art career has changed since joining the academy? 

Elise: I would say that the main change has been that I have switched my mindset from a fear and scarcity mentality to one of acceptance, optimism and faith in myself as an artist.

My network has broadened due to being a part of this community, and I feel I have found my tribe. Art is a business just like any business; it is an industry, and a vast terrain. As a young artist growing up in such an international place, it was intimidating to think I could make any kind of mark. 

The unique support community and education provided by Art Nxt Level helps validate your art career, and turn it into a real and growing thing. You get out of it only what you put into it. I have found it to be an enormous resource for feedback and support. Here in the States—and this may very be true in other parts of the world—but even within my own family, many people do not understand that art is a legitimate business and a worthwhile enterprise. Being a part of this supportive community has been grounding for me, and has helped me to recognize and reinforce my existing strengths to see not only what I can get from it, but also, what I can bring to the table. 

Art Nxt Level has also caused me to reflect on legacy, and the value and knowledge that I can impart to emerging artists through mentoring and providing resources they might not have known about. It is so comforting to be able to relate to the struggles and celebrate the triumphs with artists from all around the world.

I have been a part of many artist’s groups, but this one is set apart from the rest. The name, Art Nxt Level, says it all.

There is always going to be someone at a different level than you, either established, mid-career or emerging. I have learned not to compare myself, but to be more of a sponge, and  learn more through meeting other extraordinary artists, using the abundance of resources, participating in challenges and sharing my experience and knowledge as a lifelong working artist.

Do you have any additional thoughts or comments you would like to share concerning your projects or Art Nxt Level? 

Elise: One thing that ANL has helped me with is opening myself to collaboration and finding support to manage my art business. As my business has grown, the tension between studio time and screen time also has grown. Being willing to seek and embrace the expertise and help from other people is as important in being able to grow my business, audience, and financial success. By having a part-time studio assistant, I am learning how to let go and trust others to handle aspects of my business that take me away from my studio practice to provide the time necessary to get in there and make the work without distraction.

I joined ANL well before the pandemic, at a time when I was having a lot of overwhelm about how to continue on with my art career. It has been inspiring to watch the community grow, and to be a part of that by seeing my own growth as an artist. It was so thrilling to meet Sergio and Yanina in person at the Carnegie Diner in New York in March of 2020. Little did we know how crucial and important the ANL community that they created would be to us. During lock down, ANL became a place of refuge and support. Since joining, I have done two small works challenges, grown my Instagram by 7,000, grown my YouTube and Vimeo channels, created catalogs, built a more targeted email list, started selling my work online, and diversified my income streams through merchandising, teaching online and monetizing my instructional videos among many other successes!

Art Nxt Level is made up of artists from all over the world. Where are you located?

Elise: I have been based in Portland, Oregon since 1986. I’m a poster child of being that artist that lived in every low rent neighborhood before it became gentrified. In 2002, I finally landed, and bought a house in North Portland. For the past nearly 20 years my studio has been a work in progress. I live and work here, in the heart of North Portland near the popular Historic Mississippi Avenue District.

To see more of Elise’s art follow the links below:

https://www.instagram.com/elisewagnerstudio/

https://www.elisewagner.com/

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