She started her working life as a registered nurse, caring for patients in an intensive care unit. Later she became an ordained Unity minister, leading a church she pioneered in Atlanta. About a dozen years ago, Harold picked up a paint brush and began creating landscapes and still lifes that vibrate with color.
One of her landscapes, “Boathouse Impression,” recently won the People’s Choice Award at the Leelanau Community Cultural Center’s plein art event. “That was a very satisfying painting to do,” says Harold. “There were so many good artists in the competition. I was a little nervous. But the brush just took over and it flew out. And it was sold before the judging.”
HOW I GOT STARTED
In the early 2000s I advocated for women who had been childhood victims of clergy sexual abuse. I became involved in SNAP (Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests). While in Boston for a meeting, I found myself unable to sleep on three consecutive nights. Instead, I seemed to hear an inner voice imploring me to “Do Art, Do Art.” Having previously had a similarly insistent calling to ministry, that I’d ignored for several years, I decided to respond to this calling in a more timely manner.
I bought some oil painting supplies, an easel and some canvas. Twenty years prior I’d dropped out of a beginning oil painting class, but remembered enough to get started. That partial class and a year of life drawing are my only formal art training. Once I got my equipment together, I put it in a corner of our screened porch and more or less forgot about it. Six months later, I spied some blue asters and orange tiger lilies, grabbed them up, stuck them in a pitcher and started painting. I’ve been at it ever since.
THE STORY BEHIND MY ART, MY INSPIRATION
The skills I developed as a nurse -- the ability to scan the environment and respond quickly -- and as a minister -- the ability to think on my feet, sense where energy is flowing and interact creatively -- have served the painting well. The painting seems to be part of a continuing evolution of spiritual purpose, one that I love and enjoy serving. While I devote most of my time to my painting, I also love my work mentoring artists who seek me out for assistance in learning to fulfill their aesthetic needs more completely.
WORK I’M MOST PROUD OF
I try to avoid taking a lot of pride in my artwork or getting too attached to any one painting. Pride is a tricky thing and if I start feeling like “I” am doing “good” work, hubris takes over. As a chronic people-pleaser, I’ll start trying too hard to reproduce the good result and in the process lose any aliveness or energy, the qualities I feel determine the real value of a work. That said, I do love most of my artwork! My Frankfort studio & gallery occupy a large portion of my home and my work is everywhere. Until they go to another home, I’m in constant conversation with the paintings. I actually believe they don’t sell because there’s something I still need from them and then, when I no longer do, they fly off to a new home.
At the recent Leland Plein Air event I had the experience of selling a wet painting. It’s the first time I haven’t had the opportunity to hang out with a painting before it went to a new home. I can only conclude that, based on the evidence, I got all of what I needed simply from making the painting.
YOU WON’T BELIEVE
How everything in life conspires to equip us with what we need to fulfill our spiritual purpose. I feel fortunate that I learned early on how to transform the so-called bad stuff in my life into a tremendous sense of meaning and purpose. I keep on painting the way I keep on living – to see what’s going to happen next!
MY FAVORITE ARTIST
I can’t say there’s one artist who is my favorite. I enjoy Monet and Bonnard, Diebenkorn and Matisse, but mostly because of the inspiration for an artistic lifestyle they demonstrate.
ADVICE FOR ASPIRING YOUNG ARTISTS
My advice for all artists is “Do your Art.” As I wrote in my book 7 Habits of Deeply Fulfilled Artists: Your Aesthetic Needs & How to Meet Them, if you’re an artist, making art is a need, not a want. My father was a commercial artist who for various reasons didn’t do his creative art. As a result, he was very critical of my early attempts to make art and I didn’t get around to fulfilling this need until I was 52. I’ve met a lot of older artists who’ve also been put off from doing their art because of family and other obligations. If as a young person you have the opportunity to pursue your art, just do it! Don’t deprive yourself! Do whatever it takes to do your art. As Dr. Seuss suggests, “Oh, the places you’ll go ….”
MY WORK CAN BE SEEN/PURCHASED
At my Frankfort studio and gallery and at the Sleeping Bear Gallery in Empire. I have my Caribbean paintings in the Siddhia Hutchinson Fine Art Gallery in Vieques, Puerto Rico.
clockwise from top left:
Point Betsie Dune Scene
Ellie Harold welcomes visitors to her in-home gallery in Frankfort.