Trek Lexington in conversation with Heidi Elbers

Heidi Elber’s website

  1. Tell us a bit about yourself, both as an artist and as a person. Where did you grow up, and when did you realize you want to pursue art as a career?

I grew up in the suburbs right outside of New Orleans. When I was little, I told my parents I wanted to me a mermaid, a princess, or an artist. I’ve always loved making things. However, I was awful at coloring in the lines in coloring books – I hated coloring another person’s image! I just wanted to make my own. As I got older, I still wanted to be an artist but the type of art changed over time. At first I wanted to do comic books or illustration but during my first semester of painting in undergrad, I discovered oil paint and fell in love. I just knew I had to keep making paintings.

“Crescent City Queen”, 2017, oil on panel, 12.75 x 15.5 inches

2.  What inspires you? What do you do if you find yourself artistically blocked?

So many things inspire me, but ultimately, it’s beauty. I’m fascinated with the elaborate costumes of Mardi Gras, but I am also interested in my family’s hunter and trapper heritage with all of the furs, feathers and plants that come from the Bayou region.

For me, art isn’t just about the physical act of painting. Finding inspiration is part of the process. When I am feeling artistically blocked, I have so many things I do. I am very fortunate to share a studio with my best friend Jaclyn Brown, and we inspire each other. On days where I feel low on energy, she’s already there with a bottle of sherry or a six pack so I come running over with donuts and we have a gluttonous painting session. I’m very short on time (like most people) and sometimes when I’m stuck I just paint through it. If that doesn’t work, I costume hunt or create my own pieces for people to wear. Sometimes just taking a break and acknowledging fatigue is fine, too… and when that happens, I head on over to check out galleries, museums, or art fairs. Basically, there’s so many ways to deal with it, and I am fortunate that I have close painter friends that I can talk about it with because ultimately, having that support group is so important!

3.  Being an artist can be both exhilarating and discouraging. What are the best parts of being an artist, and what are the worst?

The best part is when the work lives on past the studio and someone wants to live with your creation.

The worst part? It is very time-consuming (which is fine) and while I like my hermit lifestyle, a month can go by and I realize I haven’t seen many of my friends outside of the studio or work. Unfortunately, not many non-artists really understand this.

4.  Do you have a day job? If so, how do you balance it with your life as an artist?

I am the Director of Exhibitions and Alumni Affairs at the New York Academy of Art, and we are always putting together exhibitions and events. It is inspiring to be a part of such a wonderful program. I am also very fortunate to have firsthand experience – I got my MFA from there in 2010.

People are always asking me how I find the time to paint with such a packed work schedule. To be completely honest: I make it a priority. I’m at a place in my life where all I want to do outside of work right now is paint. I rarely leave my neighborhood on weekends, and I’m pretty selfish with my out-of-work time right now. As Lady Gaga once said, “Some women choose to follow men, and some women choose to follow their dreams. If you’re wondering which way to go, remember that your career will never wake up and tell you that it doesn’t love you anymore.” Not to say that my priorities won’t change, but this is where I am at for now.

“Glow”, 2016, oil on panel, 12 x 15.75 inches

On another note, I also find ways to work on my art even if I can’t make it over to the studio. I have become very creative with my time. If I don’t have time to set up my palette, maybe I’m adding a layer of gesso to a canvas or flipping through images from a photo shoot. Like I said before, not all art making involves the physical act of painting.

5.  If you had a time machine, what words of advice would you give a version of yourself 10 years ago? And is there anything you would like to say to yourself 10 years in the future?

Ten years ago I was starting to put together applications for grad school… so crazy to think how much has changed between then and now! I would tell myself: do what YOU want to do, and don’t try to please everybody. Also, don’t ever let the way others feel about you affect the way you feel about yourself.

“Lingering”, Impression 2015, oil on canvas, 38 x 30 inches

As for ten years into the future: according to a recent psychic reading, I’m going to go back to school for some training and start my own business. However, what I would say to Heidi ten years from now is that I should keep learning to be forgiving to myself because rest and health are so important, and I don’t value either of those enough as I should.


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