MINDEN — Tori Denae Swanson uses composition, color and subject matter to allow viewers of her work to feel something from her paintings.
“When you’re looking at it, I want the painting to flow and make sense,” she said in an interview from her home in Aurora. “Ultimately, the most important thing is for people to feel something — to feel like they are being transported to that place, that scene that I’ve painted.”
In some respects, the painter wants to document scenes from Nebraska.
“I think the camera roll on my phone must have some 30,000 images,” Swanson said. “Most of them are sunsets and scenery that I see. When I see something pretty, I usually take a photo of it. But I also paint a lot from memory.”
She might pick a scene and augment it with different aspects or even play with a particular color scheme.
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“Or it might be certain colors that really capture my interest,” Swanson said. “I’ll try to incorporate those, too.”
Painting from memory allows the freedom to create and add as needed.
“When I’m painting from memory, I have certain compositions that I return to,” she said. “And then I just change the season or the time of day; is it sunset or the middle of the day? It’s a much more free flowing process for me. I get something down and then I just see where the paint takes me as I’m working on it.”
An exhibit featuring her work, “Tori Denae Swanson: Acrylic Paintings,” continues on display through Aug. 31 at the Minden Opera House Gallery. The gallery will host an artist’s reception for Swanson from 5:30-7:30 p.m. on Saturday. Admission to both events is free.
“My paintings change a lot,” Swanson said. “The paintings I create from memory transform from beginning to end.”
Swanson grew up on a farm. The images from her rural lifestyle greatly influenced her art. She studied studio art at Hillsdale College in Michigan, focusing on painting and drawing, graduating in 2017. For the past six years Swanson has pursued and achieved her goal of working as a full-time artist.
In her artist’s statement, Swanson, 28, wrote about her connection to Nebraska: “In my childhood, I spent many hours on a tractor with my dad, assisted with working cattle and irrigating, and played outside with my brothers. From these experiences, I gained a deep connection with the land and am compelled to share the inherent grace and tranquility that I find in rural Nebraska. Through my paintings, I seek to convey the quiet beauty I see within the simplest of scenes.”
Working with acrylics, Swanson finds power, simplicity and beauty in the landscapes she paints.
“It’s all Nebraska scenery,” she said. “There are some river paintings and scenes from the farm land around where I grew up,” she said. “It’s all very bright and colorful.”
Even though she works to capture a scene, Swanson also reserves the right to change her paintings to help evoke a feeling in the viewer.
“I don’t always copy a photograph exactly in my painting,” she noted. “I make some artistic decisions. I use what my professor in college called, my artistic license to change things, cut things out and transform the painting into my own thing. It’s capturing the scene but it’s also describing what it felt like to me at the time.”
When Swanson begins to work on an image, she focuses on the line separating the land from the sky.
“That’s the first thing I put down when I start a painting,” she said. “I decide where the horizon is going to be. It’s the grounding point for the whole painting, at least in my opinion. I tend to use a more classical approach where I’ll either put it one third from the bottom or one third from the top.”
From her perspective, following the rules of classic painting helps to make her work more appealing.
“For Nebraska landscapes, that is one of the main features; a really long and flat horizon where you can see so much of the sky,” Swanson said. “It’s pretty important.”
As for influential painters, Swanson cites the work of John Singer Sargent (1856-1925), a leading portrait painter during the turn of the century.
“I was also inspired by some of my professors,” Swanson said. “I have an Instagram account and I post my pictures on that. I’ve come across so many artists on there who are doing really cool things. For me, as a full time artist, when I see other people being successful at it, that’s very inspiring to me, too.”
On the business side, Swanson gets commissions for artwork.
“In the beginning, I did whatever people asked me to do,” she said. “But now I stick to landscapes or farm scenes. I also do pet portraits, sell a lot of cards and stickers — and paintings as well.”
When creating a portrait of a pet, Swanson tries to evoke the same response as with her landscapes — some sort of feeling.
“When I paint a pet portrait, I ask people to send me several different pictures so I can get a gauge of the look of the dog, of the personality and I try my best to capture that, especially in their eyes and in their expression,” she said. “I try to make it more lifelike than a photograph. It’s hard to do because you’re working off of photos, but that’s always my goal — to capture the spirit of the photograph.”