Artists I Know: Elise Morris

It dawned on me recently: I know a lot of artists. And many are pretty awesome, talented people. Their work needs to be out there in the world, especially now. In order to illuminate the world of art for those not in it, I am going to regularly post interviews and conversations with these amazing artists.

My first entry for the “Artists I Know” series is Elise Morris, a painter and the founder of the blog, “The Studio Work.”

Elise and me, with babies in tow, at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Nov 2016


Elise’s work is mesmerizing. An abstract painter inspired by fleeting moments in the natural world- from leaves blowing in the breeze to footprints in the snow- she creates luminous, colorful oil paintings and works on paper. I liken viewing her work to walking through one of those gardens with vines growing all around, the sun peeking through against the silhouettes of flowers and tree branches. Dark and light play against one another, dancing back and forth. Colors come and go, are muted and then bright. The overall suggestion of Elise’s work is one of incandescence.

We met when she reached out to feature me on her blog, though by then I was very familiar with her gorgeous work through two long-standing Bay Area galleries, Bryant Street Gallery and Slate Contemporary. She also was featured on the blog The Jealous Curator, which I peruse regularly.

Elise and I had been following each other on Instagram, that great meeting place of creative minds, and she had figured out that we lived near each other in the East Bay of the very large San Francisco Bay Area. One of our favorite things to discuss is the difficulty of balancing an art practice and motherhood. I have since moved back to Denver, but Elise and I keep in touch regularly, cheering each other on.

Here is Elise’s interview in full. (I basically got her to share her art secrets with you. Shhh…)


J: So, HOW did we meet?

E: Well, I basically stalked you on Instagram for a while! We must have had a few mutual connections there, and I found your account. There is a particular image that I kept thinking about – one of you working in your studio holding baby Liam. It sort of changed my ideas about my studio practice as I had also just had a baby.  I was really impressed by your honesty and determination to make it work. After a short while I realized we must live in the same area, as there were some locations in your feed that are local to me. So I got in touch because I wanted to feature you on The Studio Work .  So glad that I did that!

J: What are you working on right now?

E: I am working furiously on paintings for a few different shows and deadlines. One is our show Color Play [at the Village Theater Art Gallery in Danville, CA, in March] and another is a solo show at Ann Connelly Fine Art in Baton Rouge in April. I also have a few commissions that I am just starting on. I always work on multiple pieces at the same time. At the the moment I have 8 large canvases reaching completion!

screenshot-2017-01-19-20-40-21J: One of the aspects of your work I love the most is your surface. It is so soft and creamy in the oil paintings. Can you describe your process?

E: Thank you so much. I love the texture of oil paint. I work in many layers, which is why I need to work on several pieces at the same time. Each piece needs a few days to dry between painting layers. I work with two brushes – with one brush I am making gestural marks and with the other brush I am basically softening it, sometimes even obliterating it.

When you build up many thin layers of paint, the light actually has to pass through each layer and the painting has a diffused quality. I also use rags to wipe away paint and define edges. I am constantly moving paint around – it’s hard for me to leave it alone.

J: Can you share some uninvited words of advice for a young artist?

E: Hmmm, I would say to show up in your studio as if someone was keeping track. Foster a daily studio practice. Don’t let yourself off the hook.  That daily need to create will serve you well.

J: What got you into art? What keeps you going back?

E: I was constantly drawing as a kid – and I suppose I got a lot of praise for it, so I kept doing it. In school I drew elaborate pictures for my book reports, and during summer break I made dollhouse furniture, jewelry, and books.  My mom had an amazing supply of craft stuff that I could use, which of course made my projects all the more elaborate and fun.  I took my first oil painting class when I was 8. As I grew up, I turned to making art as a refuge, finding my way to the art rooms during recess and lunch.
In college, I showed up for a drawing class to find out that I could only sign up if I was an Art Major. So I added a double major (I was there to be in the Environmental Studies program) and signed up for more classes.

screenshot-2017-01-19-20-42-33J: Is your imagery from observation, memory, or both? Do you work from sketches?

E: I don’t keep a sketchbook actually. I never really have. I work intuitively, although I do start with observation. I take tons of photographs of branches and various shapes found in my immediate environment, often even in my backyard. I print the photos and keep them in a big binder. When I start a painting, I refer to the images to create an initial blind contour drawing. Every single one of my paintings start this way, even when I work on paper. I think it grounds me and gives me a solid starting place. Then from there, I apply paint, work out areas of dark or light, and determine the general direction of the piece. The rest is moving paint around and creating space within the piece. In this way, I am maybe working with the memory of a place, layered on top of observation.

Elise is represented by several galleries throughout the United States, including Kathryn Markel in New York, NY; Ann Connelly Fine Art in Baton Rouge, LA; Bryant Street Gallery in Palo Alto, CA; and Slate Contemporary in Oakland, CA. Her work will be on display as part of Color Play, an exhibition of five contemporary abstract painters, opening March 2017 at the Village Theater Art Gallery in Danville, CA. Learn more about her at


Photos courtesy of Elise Morris.


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