Artist Erin Hanson pulls inspiration from the desert landscape and translates the energy into a highly expressive and colorful impressionistic style of painting she calls Open Impressionism.

Photography © Blue Barn Creative

What was your childhood like? What did your relationship to art look like as you were growing up?
I would say I had a very well-rounded childhood. I grew up in a few places in and around Los Angeles. My parents did not allow a television in the house, so we spent our weekends outside exploring the Joshua Tree desert or inside creating, playing games, and reading. We read a lot in my family—every night after dinner, my parents, my three younger brothers, and I would all put our noses in books and enjoy whatever fiction we were in the middle of. I also played competitive sports and went camping and backpacking.

I went to a small private school that encouraged students to apprentice in the fields they were interested in. I wanted to be a professional artist, so I worked at a mural studio. I remember the first time I painted a real mural—I got to climb high on the scaffolding and spent weeks painting little trees on rolling hills. This was in the early 1990s, when you couldn’t just spit out a printed mural on an Epson printer. If you were a casino, a cruise liner, or a big restaurant and you needed art on the wall, you hired a mural company. Our murals went into many of the casinos in Las Vegas.

Photography © Blue Barn Creative

Where did the drive and ambition come from to accelerate your schooling?
My school was “self-paced,” which meant that students would read textbooks and do assignments in the classroom at their own pace. You were required to get 100 percent on all exams, so some people took longer than others. I graduated early at sixteen and went to UC Berkeley to major in biosciences. I have always been interested in both art and science. When it came to making a career decision and choosing a major in college, I opted for science, since I had been told so many times as a child that it is “too hard to make a living as an artist”—a datum that I now believe to be completely false!

How did the path to an art career take shape? What kinds of mediums were you working with?
My decision to return to art as a career came with a move to Las Vegas, where I started rock climbing at Red Rock Canyon. I had never seen such beautiful desert landscape before, and I made a decision to create one painting every week and see where my art took me. I have kept to that decision ever since—almost fifteen years later—and my style has evolved from a more realistic rendition of nature to a highly expressive and colorful impressionistic style of painting that I call Open Impressionism.

What is Open Impressionism?
Open Impressionism is a new style of painting that I developed, characterized by a limited palette of pure pigments and impasto brushstrokes (a technique that involves a thick, paste-like application of paint) that are laid side by side without layering. I was inspired in my work by Van Gogh as well as early impressionist painters like Monet. I paint in a loose, expressive style, using varying thickness of paint to create rhythm and motion within my paintings. I try to never go over the same spot on the canvas more than once. I have found that trying to correct brushstrokes that are already on the canvas only leads to a muddy mess. I try not to overlap my brushstrokes, which gives my paintings a mosaic or stained-glass appearance.

Photography © Blue Barn Creative

What does your process look like?
The first step to creating a painting is seeking out inspiration. Several times a year, I put down the brush and go out by myself into the wilderness to hike and explore. I visit the Colorado Plateau often, revisiting some places like Canyon de Chelly and Zion National Park over and over to see the landscape in different lighting and to search for new compositions in the red rock cliffs. After returning home from a trip like this, my camera is full of thousands of ideas to paint from. I then have to somehow glean from my two-dimensional photographs what it was actually like to experience the beauty I had seen there in person. I create original compositions with pencil and paper, and then I usually create a small painting sketch to work out the color before I start on the large painting.

What happens when you don’t like a painting you’re working on?
One of the most successful changes that helped me become a professional artist was to actually finish each painting before going on to the next. Before that, I would start a painting, get frustrated because it wasn’t turning out the way I wanted, and then decide to come back to it later and start a new painting. I learned how to deal with the trouble areas by just pushing through and trying different solutions until I got it right.

Photography © Blue Barn Creative

Have you found community in the realm of social media?
My art has a wonderful following on Instagram, and there’s been a lot of engagement with my painting images. I think people just want to be inspired by natural beauty, and they love my contemporary take on impressionism.

What do you hope people will experience when looking at your art?
I want them to see the world in a different light and remember what a beautiful planet we live on. I love when someone tells me that they are planning a trip to the Grand Canyon or Zion National Park because of my paintings.

Has it ever been difficult for you to let a painting go?
Yes, sometimes—especially my favorite pieces. But it also makes me happy that someone else is cherishing that painting and that it will hopefully be passed down through generations.

In the alternate reality movie of your life, who would play you and what would you be doing?
I would be played by Natalie Portman, and I would be living in Paris trying to follow in the footsteps of the great impressionists of the past.

At a fundamental level, what do you believe is your purpose here?
I believe my purpose is to create aesthetics, and I believe true beauty and aesthetics is a spiritual wavelength. I want to inspire with beauty.

For more info, visit or follow Erin on Instagram @erinhansonartist