Ellen Nunes | A collaboration with nature

Ellen Nunes. | Courtesy Ellen Nunes

As I’m paddleboarding on Lake Tahoe, the multicolored blue and teal ripples interspersed with shocks of gold and copper shining through remind me of Ellen Nunes’ Fine Art. Nunes has spent decades finding her purpose and perfecting her craft; her love and connection to Lake Tahoe is apparent in whatever she creates. Her work is unique and original, accurately capturing the spirit of this place that we all love so much.

“I call this process a collaboration with nature because I’m utilizing elements of the earth: salt, air, trees, temperature and water. I try to work with a real conscious intent, approaching these tools with honor.”

— Ellen Nunes

Nunes moved to South Lake Tahoe in 1985 and raised two children, whom she calls “her greatest masterpieces.” She took a watercolor class at Lake Tahoe Community College (LTCC) in 1998 and became hooked. Her instructor at the time, David Foster, was encouraging and proved to be one of her biggest influences. After taking several courses, she eventually earned an associate degree with an emphasis in Fine Art.

paintings Ellen Nunes has made of Lake Tahoe. | Kayla Anderson

Next, she took a life drawing class and mastered five kinds of mediums. Ironically, she wasn’t that into acrylic painting because she felt the paint dried too fast — but that’s exactly what she does now to get the desired effect in her pieces. What she noticed — and likes — about her new medium is that acrylic is permanent whereas watercolor is not.

She continued to take classes at LTCC after she graduated, including a class with David Russo, an art instructor who studied with Pablo Picasso for a year.

“What a character, he was such a beloved person. He was not a purist; he encouraged us to take whatever we could to make art,” Nunes said. She pointed at her kitchen cabinet and said that he urged students to take things like coffee grounds to create texture.

While taking Russo’s class, Nunes went home and tried an experiment. She took a bottle of acrylic ink, soaked a piece of paper in it, put it in a metal tray, threw some salt on it, put it outside on a cold, winter evening and went to bed.

A YouTube video on Deep Revelations, Ellen Nunes’ 100th Lake Tahoe painting:

“In the morning, I had the most dynamic thing happen,” she said, showing off that first creation. The salt melted and crystalized, sucking up the pigment and forming shimmery sparkles as the ink spread and clustered together in an astonishing way.

She asked Russo if she was on to something and he encouraged her to keep at it, so she bought more ink and kept experimenting. Fourteen years ago, Nunes had no idea how the painting would change over time, but now she’s finding that it still looks the same as it did on that cold December day in 2006.

A detailed image of her salt work. | Courtesy Ellen Nunes

After discovering this new process, Nunes hosted an art show at LTCC and displayed a 14-foot-long piece comprised of several panels that formed one flowing work. The panels complemented each other into one cohesive art display. Each piece is poured separately and reacts differently. Nunes puts them together like pieces of a puzzle.

There’s a lot involved in creating art like this and Nunes is mindful of the environment and natural elements that contribute to her work.

“I call this process a collaboration with nature because I’m utilizing elements of the earth: salt, air, trees, temperature and water,” she said. “I try to work with a real conscious intent, approaching these tools with honor.”

There was a time when Nunes stopped making art for a few months; she suffered with artist’s block until she discovered Tahoe Activist Artists. She went full speed into creating art with a new purpose: to raise awareness. It fueled her passion in a different way around the time she discovered acrylic pouring.

“Making art for change shifted everything. It felt really good to me to have the opportunity to make art for a cause,” she said.

She often donates proceeds of her sales to charities close to her heart and contributes to the community through her art when she can. However, Nunes’ most popular pieces are the affordable Lake Tahoe-shaped wall hangings. Since the acrylic pouring reacts differently on each piece, it makes each artwork as diverse as the lake itself. She created her first lake artwork last December and recently completed her 100th titled, “Deep Revelations.”

“I’m so passionate about our lake and I’ve worked very hard on my palette to capture the essence of it,” she said. | ellennunesfineart.com