Photos by Hillary Ehlen | House Portrait Photos provided by Courtney Stanley
When Courtney Stanley welcomed us into her South Fargo townhome, she had her most popular prints spread out across her kitchen table. Stanley is one of the makers featured at Unglued in Downtown Fargo and recently participated in her very first Unglued Craft Fest as a vendor. This month, we sat down with Stanley to discuss her journey as a watercolor artist and illustrator, which all began with a simple house portrait.
Get to Know the Artist
Stanley is originally from Madison, Wisconsin, and creativity runs in her family. “I would say I’ve always been pretty creative, but growing up, my parents would tell you I was more dramatic than artistic. My younger brother was the artist because he could–from an early age–just pick up a pencil and make really neat things,” she said.
Stanley has spent most of her married life in Idaho. In 2016, her husband took a job in the small town of LaMoure, North Dakota. Stanley was initially skeptical of the move because it meant leaving behind her career as an aesthetician in Boise. However, it inspired her to explore her artistic side. “We ended up really liking it in LaMoure and the people were amazing, but I had to find ways to kill my time,” Stanley said.
A Simple House Portrait
Though it would be some time before Stanley felt that she could identify as an artist, she slowly started sharing her experiments on social media. “I always thought, ‘There are so many people who are so much better than me,'” Stanley explained. One of her friends then asked for a painting. “I didn’t know what she wanted, but I knew she loved her house,” Stanley said. That is what inspired her to begin painting house portraits.
Since then, Stanley created an Etsy shop through which she has been commissioned to paint many house portraits. Though she likes to paint pastoral farms, it is hard for her to pick a favorite house portrait because each one has sentimental value.
“Hardly anyone has a house portrait painted for no reason. There’s always some sort of a story to it. Some are kind of sad, some are happy. Other people just have a lot of pride in their home. I’ve done businesses. I’ve done a hotel in New York. I’ve done churches where people have gotten married. There have been some where it’s, ‘My grandparents built this house, this is the house I grew up in, this is our first house or this is the house we had our kids in.’ There are so many things that make each house portrait special,” Stanley said.
With a Little Encouragement
After a while, Stanley thought it would be fun to paint something other than house portraits. In the meantime, her husband was accepted into a graduate program at NDSU. This called for yet another move to Fargo.
After living in Fargo for about a year, Stanley ventured into Unglued. “I’d heard a lot of people talk about the store. When I finally got to go in, it was a little intimidating at first because everyone was so cool,” she revealed.
Once she created a larger body of work, Stanley applied to sell her watercolor prints at Unglued under the name Northerly Goods. In February 2018, she participated in Unglued Craft Fest as a vendor for the very first time. “I was so excited when she [Ashley Morken] accepted me. Her encouragement with the store and the Craft Fest has really boosted my confidence,” Stanley said. Her family has also been very supportive. After the 2018 Craft Fest, Stanley’s husband is already looking forward to setting up a booth again next year.
Mountains of Inspiration
Stanley draws inspiration from the outdoors, especially the mountains of Idaho. She has also been influenced by time spent living abroad in Russia, Germany and England. When asked to describe her style, Stanley told us that she recently asked her dad the same question.
“I was asking my dad that a couple weeks ago, and he said, ‘It’s very warm,’ but I don’t know what that means. I think I would describe it as whimsical, rustic and maybe a little meditative. I don’t know if that’s more for me or the person looking at it, but that’s how I feel about it. I really like folklore and folk art, so I pull things from that,” Stanley said.
These days, Stanley tells her husband that he can take his time writing his dissertation. “I love Fargo. Anytime I think about when we’ll actually have to leave, I get all choked up. We’re anxious to get out west, have some land and be in the mountains, but I’m not anxious to leave,” Stanley said.