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Mendocino Artist Erin Dertner

09/25/2018 11:00AM ● By Sandie Tillery


October 2018
By Sandie Tillery
Photos courtesy of Erin Dertner

IT’S BEEN A LONG and ongoing journey of growth and discovery for internationally renowned North State artist Erin Dertner, who has seen great success and opportunities throughout her career. “Painting, studying and teaching the subject of light is Erin’s driving force,” says her online bio. “The cool shadows of the early morning and those that fall long and warm in the evening enliven her creative soul as nothing else.” 

Dertner, who lives in Mendocino, developed her talent out of early encouragement and inspiration from her mother, who dabbled in oils and watercolors. She also benefitted greatly from what Dertner characterizes as college-level instruction by excellent teachers during middle and high school. She “played” with art, creating practical things like greeting cards in her early adult years while living in a Christian community in the Sierra foothills and in her first years of marriage and motherhood. When a gallery owner framed some of her earliest pieces, she was invited to take part in an exhibition at the Marysville gallery and frame shop. A joint show followed with her best friend and artist, Leslie Greenetz.

Family friend John Oakes, a Yuba City bank president who also served as Mendocino County Rotary Club’s fine arts auctioneer, introduced Dertner to Mendocino gallery owners Ted and Anna Lee Hendershot in 1983. They featured her work in the Ruth Carlson Gallery, where she received a favorable reception. The Hendershots continued to mentor her as an artist and entrepreneur for the next 18 years. 

Oakes describes her early work as “country cottages and very colorful flowers that transitioned into seascapes with incredible substance and character.” He remembers that the Mendocino gallery owners called him after her first exhibit, requesting more of her work because it was selling out. A successful career had been launched. 

The Dertners moved their young family to Mendocino County in 1986, where Dertner’s “studio on California’s dramatic and inspirational North Coast is well broken in,” she says. She especially enjoys painting en plain air “since it allows her to capture the essence of a place by more passionately communicating its light, temperature, color and mood.” 

Tomas, Dertner’s husband, quickly became her business partner and framer, her greatest fan and supporter, and still occasionally offers constructive critiques. He has often maintained the home front, she says, especially while their two sons Abraham and Levi (both with musical and artistic talents) were growing up, and even now that they are grown and gone, when Erin travels to exotic locations to study, paint and teach. 

She started teaching painting in 1985, and in 1992 took her first international work-shop from an American artist working and living in Greece. Dertner began organizing group trips to teach in places such as France, Italy, Sweden, the Greek islands and Hawaii. She still enrolls in at least one class every year.

Dertner is particularly well-known as a watercolorist who also enjoys acrylics. Her current efforts, mostly in oils, have ventured more into Impressionism as she continually grows and pushes into new territory creatively. “This effort to be honest and deliberate continues to result in images that reflect peace and yearning for stillness in a world that is often discordant,” she says.

Encounters in Europe have been “very emotional and moving,” developing her affinity toward Impressionism. She has visited Saint-Paul Asylum in Saint-Rémy, France where Van Gogh famously produced much of his finest work, and the French country-side where he spent the last days of his life. She has been inspired by visits to places where Monet and Toulouse Lautrec also found inspiration. Taking just a few weeks each year to travel and immerse herself in her art has been a highlight of her career.

Some of Dertner’s greatest success has come from connections with galleries in both Mendocino and Hawaii, where her artwork has won many awards. She’s been featured in “Plein Air Magazine Salon” and “Steppin’ Out Magazine,” among others. Reproductions of her paintings appear on a variety of gift items. She’s been featured in galleries around the country.

An eloquent writer, Dertner published a coffee table book in 2012, “Mendocino Musings in Paint and Prose.” According to Dertner, “There is no better life than to study the world with paintbrush in hand and a heart full of love and gratitude.” •