The Inner Circle: Elizabeth Winterburn

Have you ever found yourself staring at a work of art and just marveling in awe? Brushstrokes that seem so perfectly and intuitively placed, dashes of breathtaking color, bold and brilliant: that’s Beth Winterburn’s artwork. From large-scale pieces that stand so elegant they make you gawk, to small pieces that add a necessary touch of class to any space, Beth is a master at her craft and she is definitely an artist to know and watch.

I believe for a certainty that Beth’s experiences and dedication to her artistry are worth hearing and knowing, so I’m privileged to have her as part of my Inner Circle. Let’s get to know this talented artist better, shall we?

How did this journey begin for you? What led you to painting?

I’ve always been an “artsy” kid, but I never thought I’d pursue art as a career. The real love for art began in high school under an incredible art teacher. I still remember things she said, taught, etc. After high school, on the recommendation of another teacher who knew me well, I actually applied and was accepted to architecture school (because of my equal love of math). After a semester, however, I realized it wasn’t quite the right fit. I took a semester off (as an undecided major), but missed the art & architecture building too much to stay away for long. I was eventually back in the building, but this time as a fine arts major. Up to that point, I’d taken quite a few photography courses, so I ended up focusing in photography. As a fine arts major, however, you were required to take a little bit of everything – so printmaking, sculpture, ceramics, watercolor, etc. I literally took one watercolor course in my entire college career – but it all just stuck. I remember everything about that course. Of course, I also took lots of design courses, so all of that combined gave me a really solid foundation.

Painting, in particular, didn’t really take off until I’d had my kids. The photography that I’d studied included darkroom, so I wasn’t as interested in digital photography – but with little kids, I wasn’t comfortable with chemicals around the house. So, I literally started painting with acrylics and watercolor because they were safer mediums (water soluble, etc.). I still had all of my old supplies from college, so one random day, I came across a bottle of ink and started playing with it using watercolor techniques, and I was hooked. The rest is history.

What challenges have you faced as an independent creative?

Time constraints are my biggest challenge – especially with three kids. They’re older now and able to do a lot for themselves, which has made it easier in some ways, but on the flip side, as they’ve gotten older, they do more activities outside of school. So, my schedule really fluctuates depending on their needs. Space is also an issue, but hopefully that will be resolved one day. We have plans to build a studio on top of our carport. For now, I work out of a 12×12 room, so I’m only able to do a certain amount of work at at time, especially large-scale work.

Your use of color and empty space is beyond impeccable. How have you developed your technique?

When I first began creating again after a lot of years off, I threw everything I knew from art school at the canvas. Having been exposed to and having learned so many techniques/methods and having used so many different mediums, I had a fairly large library. Also, I was just beginning to find other artists (Instagram was just taking off in that way), so I would see something, be curious or inspired by it, and then I would take some element of it and practice. (I highly recommend “Steal Like an Artist” by Austin Kleon for anyone starting out or getting going.) A lot of things just weren’t quite right for me personally – so I did a whole lot of painting over things. I enjoyed and admired other peoples’ work, but the processes they were using just weren’t enjoyable or comfortable for me. So, over time, I just began stripping things away, playing with materials, techniques, etc., until it felt right. It’s still very much a process in that way. I’ve been wrestling with canvas work for several years now and am just now liking what I’m seeing. But, as someone else said recently (I wish I could remember who it was!), if you can fall in love with the process rather than the results, your art “career” can be sustainable.

Beth received her Bachelor of Arts in Fine Art in 2002. She began her collegiate career as part of the Architecture program, but quickly realized that the Fine Arts section of the building was where she belonged. The majority of her years in school were actually spent in the dark room, developing film. The hands-on tactility of processing film and the delay of the work coming to life really “fit” – numbers, cause and effect, creativity. After graduating, she worked alongside a photojournalistic photographer for a couple of years until another job forced a move. After setting all creative endeavors aside for quite awhile, she began to feel the itch again.

During her time away, digital photography had swept the photography industry, forcing her to reevaluate her direction. As a fine arts major, she had a fairly full resume of work – throwing and hand building with clay, watercolor, design, sculpture, photography and printmaking. Through the years, she’d painted on the side – nothing major, only small projects – until one fortuitous request changed it all – a request for a large abstract piece. From that, a real passion was awakened.

Beth Winterburn in her Memphis, Tennessee studio.

Beth’s work is characterized by bold, gestural brush strokes and minimalist detail. As a nod to her analytical roots in photography and architecture, she approaches each piece with a mathematical mindset – counting evens and odds, balancing lights and darks, visually “slicing” the composition into thirds and fifths. She approaches her work as if it’s a problem to solve: combining and contrasting elements with and against one another to create a cohesive yet dynamic piece. Beth’s work is an exploration of contrast, tension and resolve. Methodical by nature, she challenges her own ideas of control by experimenting with materials, allowing them to behave as they naturally would, with subtle direction. Each canvas, piece of paper or panel is an invitation to engage – to feel, to react, to explore the tension and resolve of each and every element and property used to build it.

“I’m actually shifting more of my efforts into my personal “tribe” lately – specifically, people who have joined my newsletter. Sending an email straight to an inbox is more direct and can be more personal these days, oddly enough. People do still find me on Instagram – individuals as well as businesses/companies, so I won’t be walking away from it altogether. But, the grind of staying on top of all of the changes isn’t something that I want to be tied to.”

You’re another artist who understands the power of social media. How has it helped you grow your brand?

I wouldn’t be where I am today without Instagram. I can say that without hesitation. I’m so grateful that I was able to utilize Instagram at a time when it was less tampered with. Early on, I was reposted by several larger accounts, which escalated things quickly. Things have really changed, though. It honestly makes me really sad that the algorithms keep changing and that it’s become so frustrating to use in recent years. At first, it was such an honest space – real followers, real behind the scenes – now we’re all being forced to polish things up a whole lot or to learn a new set of rules every few months. I’m actually shifting more of my efforts into my personal “tribe” lately – specifically, people who have joined my newsletter. Sending an email straight to an inbox is more direct and can be more personal these days, oddly enough. People do still find me on Instagram – individuals as well as businesses/companies, so I won’t be walking away from it altogether. But, the grind of staying on top of all of the changes isn’t something that I want to be tied to.

Why should makers also see themselves as brand-builders?

Consistency is key. In our fast-paced world, studies show that the average attention span is 6-8 seconds (!!), so we have to be easily identifiable. I’m as guilty as the next person. If I don’t understand what’s happening quickly in a visual or it doesn’t fit with the rest of what I’m seeing, or it isn’t consistent with what the brand claims to be, I move on. It’s really difficult to hold someone’s attention for very long these days, so being consistent across the board is extremely important. Your brand is your business identity – so anything related to your brand needs to be incredibly consistent and easily identifiable as you.

Sum up your personal style in 5 words.

Simple. Consistent. Clean-lined. Geometric. (I can only think of 4. ;))[

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