“I like making new things that didn’t exist before I started,” artist Nicole Caulfield says, describing her joy in creating art. She says something she sees triggers her imagination, and she scribbles down the idea so that later, she can translate that idea into a physical representation.
As she explains on her website, “My still-lifes and portraiture often explore the strangeness of depicting space, depth and form on a two-dimensional surface.” She tells her students that creating realism art is like being an illusionist, “trying to make it seem like an object is there when it is not.”
Her degree of detail and the depth she achieves with her depiction of light and shadow create images that do feel alive and three-dimensional. This fits with a style of well-known artists whose work she admires, such as Johannes Vermeer and other Dutch still-life painters of the Golden Age.
During her time as a working artist in the Monadnock Region, colored pencils were her preferred medium. The Chicago native came to Keene with her husband, who attended Keene State College, and they spent 11 years here before moving to Washington State.
Although her focus was on raising children at that time, when she attended the yearly show of the Northeast Chapter of the Colored Pencil Society of America (CPSA), she was inspired by the “amazing” work she saw.
Wow, that’s something I could do at home with a baby, she thought at the time, she says. Caulfield had studied art and education at Illinois State College, and this show created the spark to resume working with her art. She joined the CPSA, taught classes at the Sharon Arts Center in Peterborough, and participated in online groups such as The Wet Canvas Group.
“I learned so much from the online group, with them sharing their techniques,” she notes. She also learned and grew with other members of the CPSA in New England, which she calls “such a great group.”
Fellow artist Liz Winchester-Larson says, “I have been delighted to have had the opportunity to exhibit together with Nicole, in collaborations with Colette Lucas, and as members of the New England district of the CPSA. Finding a fellow artist sharing the same interests in the still-life genre was very productive.”
Caulfield has participated in Keene’s annual Art Walk and Art in the Park events and displayed her work at the Jaffrey Civic Center and another gallery that was once beside Brewbaker’s on Main Street in Keene. One year she placed first in the Thorne Sagendorph Regional juried show. And she worked as the art teacher for grades K-8 at St. Joseph Regional School in Keene.
New England’s traditional sights, such as the small farms, were eye-opening to her as she was more familiar with huge factory farms in the Midwest. She was also amazed that people could pick their own strawberries, blueberries and other fruit.
Her drawing of tomatoes for this issue’s cover is part of her “Food Squared” series, in which she challenged herself to draw a variety of food combinations from a bird’s eye view and have each combination fit into the same eight-by-eight-inch format. In this way, the colors and shapes of everyday produce have a more abstract look, which she says “are more akin to modern art than a traditional still-life.” Other factors she considered were incorporating many foods that are native to the region and having food combinations that make sense, as well as being pleasing to the eye, with complementary colors and shapes.
In an interesting self-portrait series she calls “Balancing Act” (which can be seen on her website), she shows herself behind three side-by-side white rectangular paper masks with cut-out eye openings. Yet each of the three depicts something different: The first has normal curved eyebrow lines over each eye and a curved smile line. The second shows tilted inward and upward arched eyebrows and a downward curved frown line, and the third depicts no expression because no eyebrows or mouth are shown. These raise the thought-provoking question of what the person behind the mask actually feels and whether that’s safe to show.
Caulfield has now added ceramics to her repertoire after learning a “fascinating” process that fuses artwork onto the ceramics during the firing process. She says she enjoys giving herself challenges more than anything.
She continues to teach art and during the pandemic, online educating was a bit easier for her and her middle school students, as they were familiar with each other from past art classes.
“Electives were super important in keeping kids grounded,” she says. And she gives them the same advice she follows herself:
“Don’t be afraid of pushing yourself into something uncomfortable — that’s how you get better. Otherwise, you’d still be drawing that same sun in the corner and fluffy tree.”
See more of Nicole Caulfield’s work on her website, nicolecaulfieldfineart.com, and in the Farm Directory section of this magazine.
Diana Damato writes from Keene, New Hampshire.