It is not an exaggeration to say that Eric Larson’s life changed on a summer day in 2013. Larson and his family were on vacation in Wisconsin and encountered the Door County Plein Air Festival. Even though Larson had been oil painting since high school, he had never experienced so many artists painting from life so quickly and with such great skill. “A kind of alchemy occurred,” Larson recalls, “as the artists transformed commonplace scenes into beautiful paintings much more interesting than the actual subject matter.” Then and there, Larson set himself a goal to paint in the same way and transform the ordinary into compelling.
Larson grew up in a happy suburban middle-class family in the Midwest outside of Chicago. He was the third of four kids, and with two busy older sisters and a little brother five years younger, Larson had time to foster an active imagination. “I loved to draw,” Larson remembers, “so to keep myself busy, I would pull an encyclopedia off the shelf, open it to a random page and draw the most interesting picture on the page.”
Art became serious for Larson in high school when his family moved to Massachusetts, and he had the good fortune to take freshman art from Michael Milan. A favorite teacher, Mr. Milan was a renaissance man who introduced his students to a college-level curriculum of drawing, painting, woodcuts, copper etching, and sculpture. Larson sold his first piece of art in high school, a 36”x36” woodcut of a mother and child, and $350 went into his college fund.
In college, Larson took all the required Art classes and loved learning new things like ceramics and graphic design, but he always returned to his favorite subject, oil painting. Larson’s favorite college memories involve his time in his senior studio in a 19th-century building at Valparaiso University. “The windows were huge, the light was great, and the hours would fly by.” Larson graduated with a BA in Art Education and hoped to teach as an homage to Mr. Milan. Still, with art teaching positions being eliminated at that time, Larson had to pivot to a position in retail advertising.
Larson married his college sweetheart, Maureen, had kids, and life went on. He returned to school when he discovered a natural aptitude for computer programming. “There are some creative similarities between writing a good program and painting a landscape,” Larson says, “In both, you start with the big sections, then add detail.” Through it all, Larson pulled out the paints a few times a year, but the canvases were big and his self-imposed expectations high.
That all changed after Door County. As Larson began researching painters to emulate and learn from, he encountered Carol Marine, founder of DailyPaintworks.com, who advocates painting small daily. Not only did this provide necessary practice, but painting small and often reduced the pressure to create a masterpiece. As Larson honed his skills and the canvases accumulated, he began selling them.
Larson paints almost every day, and when he’s not painting, he’s looking at the world with a brush and canvas in mind. “My phone is full of pictures that will become future paintings,” Larson explains. “My family is no longer surprised when I abruptly stop the car or run down an alley to take a picture if the sun and shadow are just right.”
Living in Woodstock, Illinois, just south of the Wisconsin border, provides much material for Larson’s interest in small towns and rural landscapes. ”I find endless inspiration in old farm buildings and historic frame houses, “ Larson says, “not only because their gritty uniqueness represent the character and hard work of the people who built and maintained them, but also because sunlight on round silos and tall gables throws the most interesting shadows. “
Many of Larson’s paintings feature a country road or a backstreet alley, offering viewers a glimpse into places they wouldn’t otherwise appreciate. His goal with each painting is to conjure the magic he experienced in Door County: skilled application of pigment on canvas that provides a fresh insight into a snapshot of American life. Whether next door, down the street or across the field, Larson paints to transform the ordinary into compelling.
Larson has taken multi-day workshops from prominent artists Tom Nachreiner and Tim Horn and was mentored by Kim Casebeer for several months. His plein air painting Boone Creek Headwaters won Best of Show at Art of the Land in 2020, and his painting Around the Bend won an Honorable Mention in 2021. Larson has collectors in 20 states and five countries on three continents.
View more of Eric Larson’s art at https://ericlarsonart.com/