As a young child in the American West, Eilish Hynes spent many hours in nature arranging found materials such as grass, stones, flowers, and branches. Later, she was taken under the creative wing of Conrad Fulke Thomond O’Brien-ffrench, the distinguished British Secret Intelligence officer who, in his later years, had emigrated to the United States to find solace at his ranch in Colorado — and in his artwork. Now an adult painter based in Portland, Hynes chatted with Quills about her creative life.

JG: Eilish, what led you to become a painter?

EH: I've always been oriented towards making art. As a child I grew up on a communal farm without money, so adapted to limited resources by creating art from the things I found in nature. Around the age of 10 I was lucky to live near an amazing painter named Conrad French. He was a master with oils, and I spent a great deal of time with him in his studio discovering the beauty and detail of his paintings. I developed a deep admiration for painting. I had the desire to paint myself but was intimidated and limited by my own mental construct that painting needed to be realistic and exact. As I pursued art in the more sculptural and craft modalities I found encaustic painting. I was in love with the medium at first sight and eager to learn how to paint in this ancient and unusual way. I took a one day seminar that taught me the proper mixture of wax/resin/pigment, and the basic fundamentals to set forth painting with wax. In an effort to "master" a craft I started painting in the encaustic medium with great discipline. I found creative freedom through years of painting and my own style as an ever-evolving abstract artist.

JG: What would you say is the most nourishing aspect of your creative process?

EH: I don't think I really understood until my 30s that I was a person who "had" to make art. I literally would get depressed and start to feel nervous and anxious when I don't spend enough time painting. I keep falling in love with painting over and over again throughout my life and feel so thankful that I made the commitment to making art years ago. I don't even feel like the outcome of a painting is the part that matters the most, but it's the solitude and process that nourishes me the most. My studio is the place I get to be left alone and think about the world and my life and all my relationships and circumstances. It's the place where I give every problem my full attention and where I let my attention lapse and flow and just go where it wants to. The paintings have turned out to be guide for my meditation.

JG: How do you feel that art changes the world, specifically visual art?

EH: Visual art is such a direct response to the climate of the world we're living in. Art communicates the personal emotional psychology of the life of the artist, as well as the culture and conditions he or she is living in. Fashion — which I categorize as visual art — continues to respond to politics. The big couture houses are coming out with amazing hand-stitched garments referencing nature, mysticism, spirituality, the tarot. It's a counter revolution to the restrictions and cultural oppression of our current government. Artists have the opportunity to respond to the world through the very literal to the extremely abstract. Art changes and evokes the feelings of the viewer. There is power and responsibility in that.

JG: Tell us about your most satisfying creative experience?

EH: Beyond the feeling of accomplishment that I always get from creating and executing an art show, I recently took my art outdoors. I went on a six-day rafting trip with 18 friends, and I had this inspiration for a photo-based art project. I intended to fully shroud the participants in black and gold lace and capture them in states of exchanged emotion that you could only see through body language and hand gesturing. The project happened really organically one morning and everyone just got into character and the backdrop of the natural canyon was so epic, and the sunlight was glistening off the water and the lace and it was just beautiful. The pictures were taken on an iPhone! It was just a simple idea and it turned into this shared beautiful experience. I think that's what I've learned the most about making art up till now. Don't overthink, or talk yourself out of trying to make something. Let your ideas flow and just go for it and suspend judgment. There's art in all of us trying to make it's way out! We have to keep our creative channels open and let our organic instincts bring more art into the world.

—Ashland resident Jeffrey Gillespie is a Daily Tidings columnist, arts reviewer and freelance writer. Email him at