In Studio With Courtney Stanley Of Northerly Goods

One of my favorite regular gigs is writing profiles about North Dakota artists and artisans, a job I do for multiple publications, including this site. I’m always fascinated by how many different ways there are to be creative. And despite the fact that it is literally my job to keep a running list of creative people, I always am a little surprised to keep discovering new voices.

Courtney Stanley is one of those people. I first noticed her cool watercolors (a medium I’m developing a new appreciation for) on the Northerly Goods Instagram page. I was struck by her use of blue, a color I don’t normally respond to in art, only in nature. (Unlike the majority of people I know, my favorite color has never been blue!)

But since Courtney’s work often features nature — water, stars, fish, sky– I guess my initial attraction to it isn’t so mysterious after all. I like how she takes natural subjects we can all recognize and puts her own spin on them. The images her work are real, but not strictly realistic. I really respond to her dreamy, fresh take on familiar subjects.

Since I started following her work, Courtney has expanded her range and added new items to her Northerly Goods online shop, continuing to push her boundaries and explore things she loves. She also does really sweet custom house portraits that make unique and artful gifts.

I’m thrilled promote her work here and excited to learn a little bit more about her art and her creative process as part of my regular In Studio Series. Here’s Courtney!


What materials do you prefer?
“Definitely watercolor, and good brushes.”

How long have you been creating? (Officially or unofficially)
“Officially, it will be a year in June. I’ve dabbled here and there but it’s really come about in the last year.”

Who or what has influenced your work?
“I am heavily influenced by northern landscapes; mountains, rivers, forests. I also really love and appreciate traditional fine art.”

How does your current audience respond to your work?
“My current audience is very supportive and uplifting. It is incredibly helpful!”

What is your workspace like and how does it function for you?
“I created a little space in a small room in our home, but it tends to serve more as a storage room than anything. I usually work upstairs at the kitchen table, so I can be with my family, or have some sort of background noise. Although the clutter this brings is a bit obnoxious for my husband.”

How do you arrange your life to honor your creativity?
“This is probably the biggest challenge. My husband is getting his PhD and I have three young children. Although my two boys (6, and 7) are in school during the day, I do have a 2-year-old I’m chasing around.

Family time is important to us and it can be really difficult to make time for my art. It does work out, but sometimes that means leaving the dishes for the next day, letting the laundry pile up a little higher than I’d prefer, and getting less sleep. I know I can never replace this time with my children so that takes priority.”

What’s your creative process like?
“When I have the chance, I like to spend time just looking at nature and studying its movements, shapes, and colors. I try to imagine how I would put that on paper and store it to memory for the future.

For example, I am really trying to develop my skills painting water. Last summer when we were in Glacier National Park I just sat and watched the lakes and rivers, staring at the way the waves changed color, where the light hits, how reflections appear, etc.

When I can’t get out, I scroll through Pinterest for inspiration. There is a lot of great photography that helps me out.”

What’s necessary to live a creative life?
“I think you must be really open minded and aware of what is going on around you. Really listen to what others are saying. Really listen to your surroundings. Take it all in. Turn off your smart phone for a few hours (or a few days… or get a flip phone like me, haha). There are so many amazing stories happening all around us all the time and that is what really inspires creativity!”

Why is it important to support other artists?
“I think it is important to support anyone who is working hard to achieve a goal.”

What are you working on now?
“I am currently working on several pieces with water as the central feature. And my houses. I’m always painting custom house portraits.”

What do you wish people knew about your line of work?
“I never ever saw myself as an artist, let alone a (somewhat) successful artist. It took a lot of encouragement from friends to open an Etsy shop and start posting to Instagram. I like what I create, but I still always feel a little spark of surprise and joy when orders come in.

I want others to know that they should pursue the things they enjoy. Even if time is limited, if you like to paint or draw, you’re probably better than you realize. Start putting your work out there. Your secret hobby could become your dream job. With smartphones, tablets, and social media, it is so easy to show the world what you can do.”

What do you hope people take away from experiencing your work?
“I hope my work gives people a happy, peaceful feeling. I hope it reminds them of good memories, and good people.”

How do you reset when you get stuck?
“First, I get frustrated. Then I just have to stop and put it away for a while. If it is a commission and time doesn’t allow for a long pause, I pray! It always does the trick.”

What are a few tips you give people when they ask how they can live a more creative life?
“I tell them to go buy some paint and brushes (even if you can only afford the kid version) and start painting. See how it makes you feel and go from there.”

What about you?
What do you think about Courtney’s work?
How does her art make you feel?
If you could have a painting of a scene from your own life, what would it be?
How do you live a more creative life?
What kind of art do you create?

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