A self-described “artist, photographer, and clandestine writer,” Naomi Ernest has carved out a unique niche for herself on Minted. Her paintings, drawings, and photographs are at once minimalist, personal, and whimsically mysterious. “I am very process-oriented, letting the various effects of tools, mediums, and techniques be integral to each piece,” she says. “I like my work to be uncomplicated at first glance, but the more you look at it, the more complexities you discover. Overall simplicity with interesting details.”
Here, the Ann Arbor, Michigan artist shares details behind the scenes of her life–from her five children to the ongoing project of rehabbing her farmhouse.
When did you know you were an artist?
Growing up, my parents were both artists-on-the-side; as a very young child, I wanted to be an artist and a writer. I remember thinking these things specifically at maybe 3 or 4 years old—well before I could write more than a word or two, when my paintings were unsteady brush marks in blue and red and yellow. Somewhere along the uncertainty of growing up, I lost these early convictions, and it took me decades of searching to rediscover and to implement them.
What’s it like to live in a farmhouse?
My husband and I both grew up in the country, so about 10 years ago, we bought a nearly 200-year-old farmhouse—a quiet place with wide fields, fruit trees, and climbing trees, farm animals in the barn and woodland creatures wandering in from the forest. The bones of the house are spectacular, and the history is fascinating, but everything needed to be gutted completely. For over a decade, in our limited spare moments of family-raising, we have been slowly renovating the entire thing by ourselves, wall by wall, board by board.
It has been drawn-out and exhausting, and we have had to come to terms with living in less-than-comfortable situations—unfinished floors and walls, bare lightbulbs, doorless closets— as we inch our way through the process. Bats flapping in the attic, snakes slithering in the basement, and mice darting everywhere. Occasionally living without heat or water for days at a time. Cramming our family of seven into one large makeshift bedroom for the better part of one year. Working late into the night one winter, an entire wall ripped away from the house, a single glaring worklight illuminating the snow blowing in around us as we pulled down crumbling plaster and lath. Lessons in humility and gratitude.
Living in this state of constant disruption and disrepair is often overwhelming, but it also compels me to look beyond the disorder, to seek out small details of interest and beauty while striving toward minimalism and simplicity. Very much reflected in my work.
You have five children. What are they like, and are any of them artists?
My children, Lola, Holden, Luca, Penelope, and Olivette, range in age from 6–14. I could ramble too long about each beautiful, unique soul— their many talents, their kind hearts, and generous spirits. As a family we encourage creativity, and they each express themselves in different ways—filmmaker and photographer, comic book writer and invention builder, painter and color lover, meticulous storyteller and illustrator, singer and actor. Collaborations with my kids are always interesting and entirely satisfying.
How do you balance being a busy mom with being a successful artist?
I work hard, but I work hard to live fully. For me, family always comes first. When my kids were very little, I did the job of full-time motherhood. It often felt defeating, as if my personal dreams were slipping away while I wiped faces and swept up Cheerios day after day. But in retrospect, that time spent nurturing my family was also one of immense growth for me. It was, in fact, imperative.
Now that my kids are a bit older, my workdays are spent madly alternating between art, business, and housework, striving to accomplish as much as possible during school hours. When my family is home, I try not to do much work-related aside from answering a few emails and, of course, creating with my kids. My creative pursuits are deeply fulfilling, but regardless of any successes or failures, I don’t think I’ll ever wish I had spent more time on my career and less time with my family.
Photo by Lola Ernest
Your Instagram photos are beautiful. How do you keep up with posting on a regular basis, and what’s your approach?
I’m a very visual person, so Instagram is a great platform for me; it’s like a visual journal of my work and process. I aim for engaging individual photos and for a generally cohesive feel to my account overall, but mostly, I just want to share and connect with others.
“drift” limited edition print by Naomi Ernest
In a recent Facebook post, you wrote, “I feel sometimes that half my work is covert. I focus so much on my drawing and painting that I often neglect to share my photography.” Why is this?
Though all of my work has similar themes of minimalism and unostentatious detail, my painting and photography appeal to widely different audiences. At some point, my brand became more about my painting than anything else. But I paint and draw and photograph in relatively equally measure. And I write more than anything else. So really, it would be accurate to say most of my work is covert.
What are the most important things you’ve learned in your career?
“The imagination needs moodling—long, inefficient happy idling, dawdling and puttering.”—Brenda Ueland
Give yourself time. Care for your family. Serve others. Read often. Love daily. Keep a prayer on your heart. Fold laundry. Sing. Bake bread. Be kind to those who frustrate you. Wash dishes. Go for walks. Make your bed. And sometimes, don’t make your bed. Cook dinner. Sweep the floor. Make amends. Smile when you can. Cry when you must. Look at the stars. Let ideas simmer—creation comes when it is ready. Meanwhile, simply and humbly live.
Photo by Lola Ernest
Describe your last month in a word.
What do you tend to think about first thing in the morning? And last thing at night?
Snuggling next to my husband. The answer to both.
What are your dreams and goals for 2016?
New website. Much needed. And more determined focus on my writing.
NAOMI’S MINTED EXPERIENCE
You joined Minted in 2011. How did you first hear about Minted?
I worked as a family and portrait photographer for several years and recommended Minted to clients for photo cards. I noticed the first collaboration with West Elm, and on a whim, I thought it’d be a good opportunity to gauge interest in my experimental abstract photography work. I didn’t bother to tell anyone and didn’t think much more about it; I was sincerely surprised when West Elm selected two pieces, and one received a special award from Minted. It gave me confidence in my work and helped solidify my conviction that I am following the right path.
What do you enjoy most about being part of the Minted community?
Becoming friends with so many brilliant artists and designers. It truly is a unique community brimming with talent, encouragement, inspiration, and kindness. I’ve made genuinely treasured friendships.
“May – Emerald” limited edition print by Naomi Ernest
What’s your favorite Minted design that you’ve designed?
My series of watercolor birthstones originally began as a project with my daughter, then 4, as we learned about gems. An oversize version of Emerald, which she helped paint, is framed in our dining room. We’re both pretty proud of it.
Who or what inspires you: My family. Little everyday moments. The landscapes and seascapes, the narratives and idiosyncrasies of Michigan.
What annoys you: Selfishness.
Recent discovery: That my hair looks basically the same whether or not I brush it.
Favorite place in the world: Empty beaches on Lake Superior.
Favorite movie: Basically anything from Hayao Miyazaki, Wes Anderson, Stanley Kubrick.
QUICK! TELL US…
Dreamer or doer? Dreamer married to a doer.
Techie or unplugged: Always and forever seeking to be more unplugged.
Photoshop or Illustrator? Photoshop. I honestly know 0.05 things about Illustrator.
Movies or TV? Movies. And occasionally binge-watching a good series.
Morning or Night? Early morning and late night when moments settle into quiet and calm.
Summer or Winter? I love all the seasons!
City or Country? Country.
Junk food or healthy? Healthy on weekdays, indulgences on weekends.
Spend or save: Save to spend on things you really love. And to share with others.
Portraits by Caryn Noel Photography
Published January 27, 2016 • Become part of the Minted Artist Community. Submit to a Challenge here.Comments Off on Meet a Minted Artist: Naomi Ernest