Brushstrokes bring these two together in Carrie Nenstiel’s paintings.
If artistic talent can be passed down from one generation to another in a family, Carrie Nenstiel’s likely came in part from her grandfather.
“He’s a very quiet man, but he’s got some talent,” she says. “I remember painting in his office. We would watch Bob Ross together.”
Carrie says he set the stage for her in the world of art, showing her the satisfaction that comes with completing a painting, of using a paintbrush to translate what her eyes see into scenes on canvas. When she and her peers were trying to find their niche in high school, Carrie gravitated to art. She took several classes and painted murals on walls at her high school in Mobile. “I was always working on something. That’s what I felt like my place was.”
When she enrolled at Auburn University, she couldn’t imagine majoring in anything other than art. Her focus was in painting, but she also dabbled in ceramics. She graduated from Auburn with a Bachelor of Arts in 2009 and worked for a non-profit organization for the next year. Then, she and her husband, Parker, a biologist, both decided to continue their education in graduate school. Carrie earned a master’s degree in elementary education in 2014. She hadn’t forgotten about art—she still painted on her own—but she didn’t know how to market her work at a professional level.
She and Parker moved to Alabaster in 2014, and Carrie immersed herself in raising their two children. At the same time, she was becoming more comfortable with getting her artwork out on social media, and getting her foot in the door at local art galleries and markets. She also worked out a system at home, converting her garage into an art studio and setting times to go out and work.
“I spend naptimes and well past bedtimes out here painting,” she says. “I just feel like both motherhood and art are callings.”
Carrie works mostly with oil and watercolor paints, going back-and-forth between the two to keep her work fresh and exciting. Her oil work is exclusively abstract. “My current abstract oils feel like my babies at the moment,” she says. “There’s so much effort put into the act of oil painting. I’m putting a ton of myself and my effort into each one, and they often end up being my favorites.”
Most of her oils are color-palette-driven, meaning she chooses about four colors to work with for each painting. “I try to keep it as light as possible with bursts of color. I love how when you get close, you can see different colors. It kind of draws you in.”
Choosing colors is the relatively easy part, though. For Carrie, having the courage to make that first brushstroke is the challenge. “I think the hardest part is putting the brush to the canvas. It’s OK to keep working on it; just start moving the paintbrush.”
Carrie periodically does painting series. People say her recent series resemble oyster shells or geodes. She doesn’t assign names to all of her paintings, instead urging people to form individual interpretations of them.
She is constantly painting cotton. Her 8-by-10-inch cotton initial watercolors have comprised one of her most popular series. Customer statements like “it looks so clean” and “I can almost smell the cotton” let Carrie know she’s hitting her mark. “I try to keep things light and airy,” she says. “I want my art to be accessible for people to put in their houses.”
She does watercolor paintings and prints of well-known Birmingham and Mobile landmarks, including Birmingham’s Rotary Trail in the Magic City sign. “I just think it gets people excited,” she says. “This whole Birmingham area is kind of magical. There’s a place for everybody.”
Carrie also makes ornaments and other items with repurposed materials from nature.
The moments when her 3-year-old wants to paint with Carrie remind her why she continues to balance motherhood and art on a daily basis.
“As I’ve gotten older, I can’t believe I’m blessed to do this and stay home with my kids,” she says. “I hope they remember it, and that I took such joy in being a mom and in my art. My hope is this continues to grow.”
You can view and buy Carrie’s artwork at the Market at Pepper Place, Four Seasons Gallery in Homewood and Amber Ivey Gallery in Mobile. She also does commissioned pieces. For more information, follow @CarrieNenstiel_Art on Instagram.
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Carrie and her artwork will be at the following events in the coming months:
30th Annual Jubilee Festival of Arts
Sept. 29 and Sept. 30