Whenever people ente…
Whenever people enter a restaurant anywhere on the Outer Banks, most often they’re in search of a delicious dining experience, especially an amazing gem of expertly prepared seafood. It could be a tantalizing grilled crab cake, addictive spiced shrimp, dream-worthy blackened salmon or virtually hundreds of other variations of fresh local seafood. However, there’s another culinary aspect they may not be consciously looking for: the often incredibly talented, colorful, and adventurous staff who cook and serve for them.
They may be surfers, poets, divers, artists, sailors, writers, kitesurfers, singers, skydivers, musicians and just about anything else you can name. What transcends this diverse group of people is they have taken the gamble to move from their safe spaces from where they were raised. They live and work in an environment that requires an unlimited amount of challenges such as high rents, that is if they can find a place to live at all; hard, tedious work involving a high pressure atmosphere of sustainability; and patience with sometimes hungry customers who have little of no patience themselves.
These mostly twenty and thirty something workers generally have keen minds in terms of memorizing entire menus, knowing the perfect timing of cooking and organizing dozens of different dining choices, and juggling the practically infinite number of issues involving the operation of a successful restaurant or bar.
Yet, they still make sure they have time to fully appreciate the beautiful scenery and exciting adventures the Outer Banks and has too offer. They frequently work double shifts for six or seven days a week during increasingly busy seasons. But, in the Outer Banks’ off season, these managers, servers, bartenders, cooks, and dishwashers can often be found as far away as Indonesia, Thailand, Iceland, El Salvador, Virgin Islands, Panama, Jamaica, and just about anywhere else where there’s great sunshine, surfing, hiking, or any other adventurous passion that allows them to recuperate from the past season and prepare themselves for the upcoming one.
Along with their zestful outlooks on life, they also generally possess an uncanny amount of individuality and creativity. I literally could and eventually will write about dozens of such locals who fit into this genre, but today I’ll focus on one such person, a classic OBX surfer girl, server, and artist named Aerin who works at the Aqua Restaurant and Spa in Duck.
She sails the waters of the regional sounds on her sailboat and surfs whenever the waves are up and clean, though she occasionally travels to the south side of Puerto Rico for some off season surfing and enjoying the tropical nature of the Caribbean. But, what Aerin is increasingly being known for is her artistic abilities that combine her individuality and deep appreciation for the coastal life into captivating OBX-themed paintings.
If you see someone with a colorfully painted surfboard, you may have seen some of Aerin’s work. Or murals at local businesses, mailboxes, or just smaller signs that businesses use in their establishments that are far more cool to look at than just the block style writing that you would normally see. You can see some of her work on her Instagram page @saltpixiebyaerin.
What recently got my solid attention is an artwork of hers’ that is now on the interior wall of Aqua itself. I love Modern Impressionism style, though she describes her work as more Contemporary Impressionism. Either way, it all ends up with her creative juices conjuring into reality her colorful and unique impressions of Outer Banks life. There’s no better way than to hear it from herself about her love of art, so I do hope you enjoy this Outer Banks Beyond interview.
Remember, whenever you visit any of the multitude of restaurants and bars on the Outer Banks, just realize there’s not just awesome gems of seafood that you will experience. You’ll also experience some of the most colorful gems of humans that you will find anywhere.
OBB: Have you always been an artist?
Aerin: I have always loved art and I have drawn and painted ever since I can remember. After the moment I learned to hold a brush as a toddler, I simply never put it down. Throughout high school I doodled on every possible notebook, graded paper margin and folder that I owned… when I began my university education, I started painting actual art pieces on whatever I wanted to, mostly on skateboards and surfboards by request of my friends.
As a child I always admired the collection of paintings that graced the walls at my great aunt’s place. She has so many bright and dynamic paintings from around the world and I always thought that the random marks and intentional shapes that define Impressionism made them incredibly interesting. I’ve generally always been influenced and inspired by natural forms and colors. My family raised my sister and I with a focus on the outdoors, from hiking to boating. Many of my first serious projects were inspired by the Carolina coast and my passion for the ocean.
OBB: What style of art would you describe your work and what are some of your artistic influences?
Aerin: I currently define my style as Contemporary Impressionism, although my work does stylistically change based on the subject. My canvas paintings are usually much different than my mural works. This is for two reasons: firstly because of scale, and because I never paint with black to use as an outline color in murals… I almost never use true black in an Impressionist piece, even to shade deep colors. I’ve visited museums coast to coast as I grew up as a military brat (her dad was a Marine and her mom was in the Army) and the classics that I always admired most were the likes of Renoir, Monet and of course, Cassatt. It fascinated me that detailed scenes could be created with non-specific shapes, and specific color/value placement.
OBB: How has your family influenced your work?
Aerin: Both of my parents are intensely creative and capable people. My father can build or re-purpose nearly anything and my mother is the most expert quilt maker you’d ever meet. Since I was a child I loved to draw and paint and every Christmas my parents gifted me with art supplies, sketchbooks, paints, and brushes of all kinds. They always encouraged me to be creative and it’s something I constantly did as I grew up.
My great uncle, Neil Hickoff, was also a very important influence on me. He was an art graduate in Pennsylvania back in the 70’s. This man was always a little stern, maybe you could’ve even said that he was rather grumpy, but when he shared with me about art, techniques, memories…he was different.
I was probably ten when he gifted my sister and I with a stack of his truly retro art textbooks and I remember having fun as he told us about how to use them and that “the parts that seem boring are actually very important.” As a practiced painter, I now know that he was talking about the importance of art theory, amongst the excitement that is actually painting. He has forever inspired me to be correct in my theory, but to enjoy myself while I do it.
OBB: What was the first painting you ever sold?
Aerin: The very first painting I ever sold was a juxtaposition of the sun and the moon over bright, crashing waves, all framed by some hibiscus flowers. It was on a cheap wooden skimboard that I had beat the hell out of, and my friend James purchased it from me at my very first farmer’s market. I was a freshman in college and it was one of the first times I’d ever painted on something other than a canvas, I was so delighted that someone liked it enough to actually pay for it. I definitely felt like I was, in part, just being supported by a friend, but I actually asked him recently if he still owns it and years later he’s still hanging it on his wall.
OBB: What scenery do you use as an inspiration to paint and do you pencil things out before you start to paint?
Aerin: I often find myself inspired by places that I go and things that I see. I’m not shy to snap a photo to use as reference later if I come across a scene that charms me. I have an entire folder of photos I’d like to paint, but sometimes it doesn’t happen for a long time.
Sometimes I paint without any reference at all and I feel my most creative when I do that. It challenges me to look into myself and to draw from everything I’ve learned from every painting I’ve done previously. I almost never put a pencil on my canvases, usually things start with a messy color wash and a ‘sketch’ made up of loose brush marks. I often explain to people that I’m “making myself a map” so that I know where to place my shade values as I work through a painting.
Sometimes I find myself so engrossed in a project that I’ll complete it in a day, and I have some pieces that I’ve been chipping away at for months. It’s largely about when I feel that the time is right for me to paint, which isn’t always.
OBB: Have you ever experienced artist’s block like some writers experience writer’s block?
Aerin: I absolutely have had creative blocks before. It can be difficult to paint if it isn’t “the right time.” I often find myself completely immersed in my work when I do feel creative.
In some ways, I feel that I have an obligation to use my disposition to work when I do feel motivated. But when I really think about it, I believe that I just enjoy the powerful ebb-and-flow of creative inspiration. Sometimes it makes me upset when I feel like I can’t pick up a brush, but I quell that by remembering that my zeal always returns. The remedy is sometimes rest, sometimes fresh inspiration, but I generally have a deep trust for my creativity even when I struggle to feel it.
OBB: How has living on the Outer Banks influenced your art?
Aerin: The Outer Banks has been an enormous influence on my work, especially my early pieces. I moved to the beach because of my love for the ocean, and in many of my earlier pieces you can find subjects like waves, beach accesses, seascapes, and many mermaids.
My first ever standing art installation is in a historic flat top in southern shores, which I also called my home for several years. It features three murals that picture a scene of mermaids under a sunset, an over-dune beach access, and live oak trees with buoys hung from the branches.
The culture and geography in this area were some of my first sparks for my first serious pieces and for this, I am grateful. Obviously these themes prevail in some of my recent work, but in the last year I’ve found my interests to be more in landscapes, architectural structures, and portraiture.
OBB: Can you describe how you gravitated towards an Impressionistic style?
Aerin: I absolutely love painting subjects and scenes with a prominent light source. I love pulling light into a painting, whether it’s of buildings or a place or person. A light source with a lot of character gives me so much to work with, no matter what the subject of the painting is. Light is my favorite thing to paint, and my favorite element of a painting.
Modern Impressionism is something I sort of fell into. The style in which I paint has grown and changed a lot over the years. I struggled with realism because of the details, but also because in realism I felt like I wasn’t creating anything original. Copying a photograph just wasn’t fun for me, so I decided to let go of feeling like I had to make things perfect.
When this happened, my shapes loosened, my color palettes changed, and the way I view lights and shadows also took a complete turn. Overall, things got way more fun and way more interesting. I love creating something unlike anything anyone’s seen before, and the evolution of my paint style feels natural to me.
OBB: What is it like for you when you initially begin a painting?
Aerin: When I work, it’s like there’s a warmup. I have to feel ready to undertake a painting, and then once I’ve gotten all the materials I need in a space that I can see them, I begin.
The first twenty or so minutes of painting nearly always consist of some sense of panic, doubt, or frustration. Its always been one of my favorite things to tell myself to get through the “warm up,” because after that, things get really fun.
When I find myself “in the zone,” my mind honestly goes blank. I’m focused on exactly what’s in front of me and on what I’m doing… but it doesn’t feel like focus. It feels like fun. I think that during those first twenty-ish minutes, my brain does all the hard work about how I’m going to go about painting, and after that I just enjoy myself.