A Passion for Art and Nature
Ellen Hoverkamp’s kitchen on the second floor of her West Haven Connecticut home feels like the bow of a cruise ship. Windows stretch all the way round behind shades of pastel flowers, fabric shades with maple leaves fluttering in a fresh breeze from Long Island Sound. Add a mosaic backsplash of tag sale china and light lace on a table in white and you’ll be sailing.
"I like it because it’s like a tree house,” says Hoverkamp, a retired art teacher and artist who works primarily in scanner photography these days of garden life and nature.
“I’m not a gardener myself. I’m a gardener wannabe,” says Ellen, who began her journey as a potter, then painter, then print maker using machines and reprographics.
Downstairs in her studio, Ellen connects scanner to laptop. She blots plants on a towel then lays them on the scanner, her palette, while others are suspended from a form.
Today she arranges heirloom tomatoes, flowers and vegetables acquired from friends Martyn and Micheline’s community garden plot and also from the Dudley Farmers Market in North Guilford, Connecticut. “What I’m looking for is something to draw the eye. I have to consider the composition right from the beginning,” she says while wiping the scanner with a lint-free cloth and auto glass cleaner.
That may well mean while gathering ingredients for a piece such as this one with baby veggies. To make a framework for it, Ellen places a baby gourd vine and weighs down the leaves with a florist eraser. “I try to have one element relate to the other,” she says while placing a green striped tomato next to baby green cherry tomatoes and snipped tomato foliage placed around them. She arranges tomatoes by size and color, okra foliage with baby okra, and relates and creates negative space and tweaks with tweezers.
“Usually I already know what it looks like upside down, especially when I have something I can’t play with very long. I’m on ‘flower time.’ I try to nail it as fast as I can. It’s all about finishing the position of the elements so that they relate to each other and the eye travels.”
Although Ellen loves creating art, a big component of her work is making a connection to people and making new relationships. “I get asked to people’s gardens,” she says. She is part of different communities: growers at farmers markets where she gets ingredients, garden shows with gardeners, art in the garden events at nurseries and art galleries such as a recent solo show in Spencertown, New York.
For a while a life-changing event occupied time and space that minimized creative opportunities for Ellen. “I didn’t feel fully alive because I wasn’t making stuff,” she says. “My tech coordinator (at school) taught me how to scan. He was a real mentor and a real encouraging person to me.” She got a computer and a scanner loaded with Photo Deluxe. She picked her neighbor’s garden plants, made note cards and did local garden shows. She did the CT Horticulture Show, the CT Master Gardeners and the Fairfield Garden Expo. She enjoys breaking into different communities.
“I found there was a robust community of good people and it is something I can do in the margins of available time. I’m an evangelist for making the art that fits into your life, so if your life changes you may have to change media but never stop making stuff. Maybe go from 3D to 2D. As your life becomes more complex, you may still look for that hallowed studio time. There are so many choices. I started out being the opposite of techie. I’m very bad at math. I started out as a potter. Before computers there were the art people and the math people. Now computers have become tools for creativity. I taught sixth-graders digital art and computer elements.”
It can take up to five hours to create a piece not including getting the plants. Some call Ellen’s type of art “scanner photography;” others call it “scanography.” It doesn’t matter what it’s called she says; what matters is the quality of the work. “It’s really about if the work resonates with the viewer. For my own work I like classic images. I want to put a contemporary spin on an art form people recognize like botanicals and mosaics. I like patterning and surface design.”
One day Ellen met Ken Druse at a Master Gardener symposium. The result: a full-page article in The New York Times, Horticulture Magazine and collaboration on a book Natural Companions (Abrams/Stewart, Tabori & Chang) with gorgeous photography of real use to gardeners.
Her plans? “This whole journey has been so much about opportunities that have presented themselves. I’ve always proceeded that way. Having no business background, planning my next move jolts me way out of my comfort zone. Now that I won that award (Garden Writers Association’s 2013 Gold Award for Best Photography for Natural Companions), I guess that it gives me Star Power but we’ll see.”
“I would really like to rock that scanner. Test its limits. I’d like to do another book. I’m proud that I can (distill) the work. If the story in my image can bring honor to a gardener’s efforts and my collaboration then I feel it’s a successful piece. The image has to resonate as an image – not just be a souvenir of a visit. It has to engage the viewer.
“My mission has evolved to being in the position to bring attention to the beauty of nature and using the available media of our time and these images are dramatic reminders of nature’s exquisite beauty. Often we are too busy in our lives to notice it otherwise. The more we notice the more we’ll care about it and take care of our natural world.
“I feel that this path has revealed itself to me through the generosity of so many people. Each one reminds me of the source. I would have stopped making art when my life changed but I’ve learned that focusing on the beauty around us and putting your attention there … the message just amplifies goodness. Nothing bad can come from it. I have so many more friends now who like to grow things. You just need a little bit of something to focus on intently and bring attention to it. It’s enhanced my life and the lives of others.”
Looking for a beautiful gift? Check out Ellen’s art and Natural Companions book with Ken Druse on her website here: www.myneighborsgarden.com
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published December 07, 2013