Boundless Skies with Rebekah Nordstrom

It has been a pleasure to collaborate and hold space for the upcoming show “Boundless Skies” with Rebekah Nordstrom and Katy Kyle. A true collaboration of support and holding one another up, tying up ends where the other can’t, encouraging direction and equally contributing strengths so each individual is able to reach their creative goal.

It was back in October I approached Rebekah about showing her 30 days of sky paintings that were completed back in September of 2018. I would see glimpses of her social media posts but I wanted to see them all together, how they changed through each day. She agreed and brought artist friend, Katy Kyle, along in this journey. Two artists of different mediums but meeting each other with integrity and love for the skies.

I visited Rebekah at her home studio in mid January to talk more about her work and the upcoming show.

What inspired you to do this series?

Rebekah in her studio displaying her 30 days of sky.

Rebekah in her studio displaying her 30 days of sky.

I find painting in a series and particularly everyday a lot easier, it is a motivational thing. Every September I participate in an online challenge to paint everyday of the month. I have always loved painting the sky. It is interesting painting the sky from life, there is no time to mess around. You just have to put it down. In September of 2018 I was in a creative dry spell, with the sky the subject matter is there but you don’t have the time to second guess yourself you just have to put the paint down. 30 seconds from now it is a different sky and 30 minutes from now it’s a completely different sky. It was a great exercise for me to work through the inevitable creative block, I didn’t have time to think about it. It is really cool after a challenge like that you have 30 paintings and even though they are little, together they are pretty powerful.

What surprised you about working on this series?

It seems in the beginning of these series I tend to paint like I know how to paint but by the end of the series I am really pushing what I know, it is a tremendous way to grow. If you compare the beginning to the end they are still recognizable but there are paintings in here that I have never done anything like that before. It is a surprise because it is not a conscious decision that I make to go ahead and do something completely different, it just starts coming out because of how comfortable you are going out there everyday and then you just start pushing yourself farther and farther.

Did you paint from the same spot everyday?

I traveled and I always bring my paintings with me when I travel. The first half are all in Flagstaff but the second half are from Escalante where I spent two weeks. The topography starts changing, even though I did not want anything to be about the land, the land is always just holding up the sky. I did it at anytime of the day or night depending on when I had time free. Sometimes it was in the middle of the day. September is a really good time to do skies, in this part of the country there is usually something going on in the sky. I painted the moon in the middle of the day.

Does the sky have an importance to you?

My father was essentially a weather man and worked for the FAA at the airport, sometimes he would bring home weather balloons. My family has always been about the weather, we talk about the weather extensively more than a passing polite phrase, it gets delved into. So I have always liked the weather. I use to work at Lowell Observatory and I really like looking up. I think there is a lot more that happens above earth than on earth. Moving to Flagstaff being a dark sky, people pay a lot of attention, the sky isn’t a novelty like it is in other places.

How did painting start for you?

Rebekah’s studio space.

Rebekah’s studio space.

I picked up my first paint brush in 2013, I had never painted before but I had a lot of artists friends and I have always loved looking at art so I had spent a lot of time with art. It just kind of incubated. I took a painting class at Coconino Community College because I wanted to address those dreams one has, “I want to paint one day” and then pretty soon your 50 years old and you have painted, I gotta try it. I went into it just as a personal development, after my first class I signed up for a second class and they were doing the fundraiser “Palette to Palate” and my 5th painting I had ever done was chosen to be in the professional artists auction instead of the student auction. There was a bidding war and the price just went higher and higher. I was sitting at my table crying because I could not believe that people liked the painting enough to battle it out. I thought to myself, “you could do this” but I was still working full time. In 2016 my job fell apart and then I kinda fell apart and my husband, Alex told me, “I think you should dedicate your life to being a painter, I think you have it in you.” So that is my story.

Everything I do is self generated, I make the product, I market the product, I put myself out there. For a introvert such as myself it is way outside my comfort zone but no-one is doing it for me. I don’t have a staff, I have cats and chickens but they aren’t that helpful when it comes to marketing my business.

Art and your activism how do they tie together?

I am primarily a plein air painter, someone who goes outside and paints from life. For me it has been a powerful tool for environmental activism because you are out in the environment and you are painting the environment. With the cloud paintings you don’t see a lot of paintings of clouds. People become attuned to looking at photographs and when they are shown a painting of clouds it catches people off guard. It is another way to communicate the beauty and importance of our Mother Earth and how closely we are tied to it. For me plein air painting it is incredibly powerful in environmental activism language. So I work really hard to be the best, to tell the best story through painting.

Tell me about collaborating with another artist, Katy Kyle, on this show, Boundless Skies.

It has been super exciting, I love to see Katy’s personal growth. I think sometimes there is a competition between artists and there is not as much support as you would hope. I am much more of the let’s collaborate and hold each other up and bring each other to our full potential. In this case, I may be the leader, the pieces were already done and you had to ask me to show them and the Katy had come in and was able to really pick up the end. To me that is another beautiful thing about art, collaborating with people that have similar visions and helping bolstering each other up so the art world or art scene in Flagstaff gets stronger and stronger, the standards of quality and support.

Any advice for those wanting to get into art?

Just do it and you build on each experience. The more paintings you make, the more you learn and the more you build. I believe in time to self-teach, we rely on others to show us how to do things. By just doing it you use your own critical thinking, what makes this stronger than this painting. To really look into the work you are doing. Other eyes can help clarify what is going on. It really is just taking action and just doing it.

Capture vs. Observation, what does this mean for you?

The frames that Rebekah and her husband, Alex, make together.

The frames that Rebekah and her husband, Alex, make together.

I use a limited palette, all of the colors are mixed. I am learning observational color, you paint what you see. With a strong base of that, then it is easier to paint more spontaneously and more about what you feel more than what you see. When painting the sky it is constantly changing, I go for more the overall feel of experiencing the landscape. It is also what I really love about plein air painting, for awhile I was calling my outdoor paintings, snap paintings. I would be out painting on the trail and people would be mountain biking, hiking and snapping lots of pictures but they really weren’t looking at where they were. They were capturing what they were seeing but they weren’t looking at where they were. I get to sit there doing the complete opposite, looking at the same spot for hours. I like observation, I am not trying to capture the clouds, I am trying to learn about them. There is no capturing what is happening here in the sky it was just feeling what the sky was doing, how dynamic the skies in the southwest can be. Why would you want to capture that energy?

It is also why I don’t like true frames. When you put the painting in a frame it is like a cage, especially with these little landscapes. If you were to block this off it contains but with the free edges the landscape and the clouds continue to be energized.

Rebekah’s home studio, currently in progress with a 30 day color study.

Rebekah’s home studio, currently in progress with a 30 day color study.

Boundless Skies opens on February 1st from 6-9pm. You can follow more of Rebekah’s work at