Makers to Know: Naomi Ernest

Naomi Ernest is an artist and photographer whose work is the perfect balance of delicate, intricate details and minimalistic composition. I'm thrilled to give her work the spotlight this week and learn more about her roots. 

BB: For those of us who are meeting you for the first time, can you tell us a bit about your background? How did you get started?

NE: When I was younger, creating was a core part of growing up. My parents were both artists-on-the-side, so my siblings and I would spend time painting roses with our mom, posing and cheesing for our dad’s camera, writing stories, starring in our own self-produced plays, building tree houses, and digging up clay from the field to make pottery. In high school, my work was entered in various inter-school art competitions, and I was voted class artist my senior year. Despite a childhood of creating, it never occurred to me that I could choose a creative career. I enrolled at the University of Michigan as a pre-med student.

Eventually I returned to what I really enjoy and graduated with a degree in English and Literature; writing will always be my first and everlasting love. After I married and started a family, any personal aspirations were put on hold while raising five young children. Still, all during that time, I continued to create, on my own and with my kids, just as my parents had done. After my children all began school, struggling to discern my path, I eventually began a middling portrait photography business, which gradually transitioned into acclaimed art photography. And finally, after almost a decade of searching, it suddenly and decidedly occurred to me that art was where I need to be, and I embraced it wholeheartedly.

BB: Your paintings are detailed, delicate, and geometric. What inspires you to be drawn to waves, galaxies, spheres, and birthstones?

NE: The essential element in all of my work is an overall simplicity of composition made up of myriad details. The inspiration for any one subject isn’t usually much of a revelation. My wave line drawings are inspired by Michigan’s Great Lakes... my birthstones began after learning about gems with my 4-year-old... my galaxies bloomed from my husband’s perpetual interest in space exploration. They all start as rather humble sketched thoughts, and I develop them until I feel I’ve mastered and exhausted a concept. Hint: I haven’t yet mastered and exhausted a concept; they continue to evolve. 

BB: When you begin a painting, what does your process look like? How long can a painting take to complete, and how do you decide that you're finished?  

NE: All of my work is very intuitive and process driven. I am ceaselessly inspired to try new textures or color combinations, to replicate various techniques with paints or inks, or to experiment with different tools. It is important to me to have a good, simple composition, but as I paint,I allow the details within the composition to reveal themselves, often surprising me with beautiful intricacies.

Deciding where to begin is often the most difficult task. Once I’ve begun, the success of a piece seems to pivot on how freely I allow myself to work. I often add additional elements like spot gilding or ink details, and deciding on those details sometimes requires letting a painted piece simmer quietly for weeks or even months. I know intuitively whether or not work is finished; some pieces look lovely enoughbut don’t feel finished, so I wait until I discover what’s missing. And then suddenly it’s done. I’ve found it’s so important to be patient with the process, to allow ideas to simmer until they’re ready.

BB: What has been a challenge that you’ve faced as you’ve established yourself as an artist, and how did you overcome that? 

NE: 2 things: First, it can be somewhat complicated to work in various mediums—painting, drawing, photography, writing—though I see connections in all my work, it can feel very scattered at times. Yet I remind myself each medium informs the others, and the more I work, the more cohesion I discover. For me, it’s good and necessary to have multiple projects, so if I need a break from one, I can turn my attention to something completely different. As I grow my art and business, I’m becoming less timid about sharing those other facets.

Second, I am not professionally trained and my background is erratic. Like other self-taught artists, I have had many feelings of self-doubt and insecurities about my work’s worth. Taming that self-fed monster? Just get over it. Trained or not, the value of the work comes when you put something of yourself into it. The really difficult thing is finding your voice, which is intrinsically a journey of self-discovery. But when it begins to speak authentically through your work, the value comes in sharing that bit of yourself with others. 

BB: Aside from painting and illustration, you're also a photographer of dreamy, blurred, organic images. How would you describe your style of photography and the meaning behind it?

NE: In all of my artwork, I experiment a lot. I learned so much from my portrait photography about creating properly exposed, tack-sharp images, so I began to stretch and test those standards. My impressionistic photographs area result of challenging the norms of photography—intentionally overexposing, blurring focus, using physical obstructions in the foreground of an image—creating nebulous compositions to address mood rather than subject, all with an overall simplicity. In this respect, I discover many parallels to my paintings. 

Find more of Naomi's work here:


Instagram @naomiernest