Creative exploration is a central tenet of being an artist. To some, that means taking classes from experts in their media to expand on existing skills. To others, it means trying a new technique or medium outside of their comfort zone.
No matter how artists approach it, experimentation and discovery while producing art is imperative for creative growth. Visual artist Elizabeth Schwankl has fully embraced the tenet of creative exploration since she started her artistic career 30 years ago.
But the Fargo artist doesn’t only try and master existing techniques with gusto — she creates completely original techniques of her own. One of these techniques is something she calls “aluminart,” which uses a heavy gauge aluminum foil coated with black on both sides.
Schwankl discovered the material in another industry early in her career and says it “accepts paint beautifully.” A series of Schwankl’s aluminart pieces are currently on display until the end of February at Nichole’s Fine Pastry, 13 Eighth St. S., in downtown Fargo, adding iridescence to the warm atmosphere as patrons enjoy fresh baked goods.
“People are just drawn to (aluminart),” Schwankl adds. “They know it’s something different. It’s something exciting to them because of the texture.”
Schwankl’s process for the unconventional medium involves embossing the back of the material and painting on the front to bring her designs to life. Once the piece is finished, she mounts it on a support to hang on the wall. It can also be cut from the support to be matted and framed behind glass, she says.
Through her business, ARTrends Gallery, Schwankl paints in a variety of styles that range from abstract acrylic work to murals to lifelike oil portraits. The artist often captures her love for nature in her work, which is represented in the current aluminart exhibit with imagery of birds, trees and farmsteads. Schwankl also restores statues for individual clients and churches throughout the region.
Over the years, she has won awards in regional and national exhibitions for her work found in corporate, institutional and private collections across the country. Some highlights of her career include achieving signature status from the Red River Watercolor Society in 2004, creating the three-wall mural in the Grief Shrine at Sts. Anne & Joachim Catholic Church in Fargo in 2012 and being the featured artist at the North Dakota Capitol in Bismarck in 2016.
She has also trained with nationally known artists like Judi Betts, John T. Salminen, Cheng-Khee Chee and Carl Dalio to continue learning new techniques.
“I’ve learned so much from them,” Schwankl says. “But then I like to branch off and do my own thing.”
This mindset is how she began a career as an artist. Although she went to college for marketing, Schwankl always had the idea to pursue art full time. She took the plunge in 1989 after encouragement from friends and gallery owners in the community who recognized her artistic talent.
From the start, Schwankl has specialized in commissioned work and thinks of herself as a “people’s artist” who creates unique custom pieces to their specifications, she says.
“I try to do a wide range of things for a wide range of people. If anyone asks me to (make a custom piece) for them, the answer is almost always yes,” she says. “No job is too big or too small.”
Meanwhile, her aluminart exhibit at Nichole’s offers a fun opportunity to showcase her original technique to the public while adding a welcome incandescence to the walls as patrons escape the cold winter for a warm cup of coffee.
“I think (my work) brings a nice energy there,” Schwankl says. “It’s a great place to show. I’m proud to be there.”
What: Aluminart exhibit by Elizabeth Schwankl
Where: Nichole’s Fine Pastry, 13 Eighth St. S., Fargo
When: Regular business hours until Feb. 28
This article is part of a content partnership with the Fargo Forum and originally appeared in print on Monday, January 7, 2019.