Photos by Josiah Kopp
I name each one [of my sketchbooks]—I’m a perfectionist so it kind of gives me that freedom to not be a perfectionist.” Lisa Burns is a remarkable local artist from Downer, MN, with a fondness of several genres, but especially the farm life, flowers, and bees—all of which are plentiful subject matter in the Red River Valley. She began pursuing art as a career during her college years at Minnesota State University Moorhead (MSUM), and has since won awards like the Hawley Art Show Merit Award in 2019 and 2022. Lisa has also been a part of several art collectives, such as the President of the Red River Watercolor Society (RRWS), a Gallery4 premier artist, Fargo-Moorhead Visual Artists (FMVA), and Outdoor Painters of Minnesota (OPM) member.
Lisa’s workflow for sketches and projects is organized into different “themed” sketchbooks to help her stay organized and help each book best serve her needs and what she is out to accomplish. She works in steps of concepts, starting with a rough sketch to work out the values, then another sketch to experiment with and develop the colors, and finally the finished piece.
This beekeeper piece is a perfect example. As the Treasurer and former President of the Red River Valley Beekeepers (RRVB), Lisa has a deep love and appreciation for our local honey-makers. The goal of the RRVB is to bring both professional and hobbyist beekeepers together to create education and support for local beekeeping and pollinating. A lot of Lisa’s works reflect her love for the whole apiary ecosystem, including flowers.
“I call this sketchbook ‘license to fail,” Lisa said, showing me another beekeeper sketch. “I struggle with perfectionism, and I was reading an article that talked about how you have to give yourself a license to fail.” This approach helps Lisa approach concepts without letting overly high expectations get in the way of creativity flowing.
This project Lisa created for a client was one of the most unique and challenging pieces of her portfolio. The painting, which was completed on an antique sawblade, took her a year to complete. Lisa initially tried using enamel but switched to acrylic and sealed it when finished, to protect the paint, since the sawblade would be hung on display in the barn that is painted on it.
A common approach renowned American nature artist Terry Redlin did was taking photos of different scenes and morphing them together into a painting— Lisa has also experimented with this approach, which can be seen here where the dragon art was actually an aerial view of chalk art on a Fargo parking lot, and Lisa incorporated it into this piece of her grandson.
Again, you can see the workflow, showing the sample colors and how the concepts developed into the final piece, which Lisa showed on her phone.
“Just because this [piece] was so complex, I did three [versions] but most of the time I’ll only need to do two,” she noted. And wherever she goes, her phone is with her to capture photos to help guide her process of stitching concepts together. “I’m constantly taking reference photos; I have like 10,000 photos in my phone,” she laughed.
When doing workshops and instructional sketches, one thing that a lot of artists struggle with that Lisa actually leans into is having minimal direction and giving more freedom to concepts going on their own little journey. Being more loose with direction helps Lisa be less of a thinker and let the feeling influence the movement of her work.
These corn stalks are another great example of how Lisa plays around with colors, working with primaries and secondaries to develop a cohesive color palette. Though her concept sketches are loose and vague with lines, her final pieces are rich in detail.
Lisa’s interest in plein air art is apparent in much of her work. Plen air (pronounced plin-ee-ir) focuses on landscapes, plains, compositions, and depths in a painting—basically ditching the four walls of a studio and painting anything related to the outdoors. From farm-scapes, wildlife, plants, and beekeeping, Lisa has found a niche that finds perfect harmony between structured order and the organic fluidity of nature.
To connect with Lisa about a custom piece, email her at email@example.com