Elizabeth Crane Swartz loves making lists, is afraid of math, and professes her favorite color to be “John Deere green.” Yes, that jaunty trademark hue seen on tractors now covers an old five-drawer engineering flat file spotted on Etsy. “It’s the perfect storage system for my pastel paintings, needlepoint canvases, and packing supplies,” says Crane Swartz of the fixture that’s a favorite thing in her studio – a double space at Mad Dog Artist Studios in Pawtucket.
A lifelong artist, Crane Swartz always created on the side while maintaining a steady homelife for her three now-adult children throughout many moves due to her husband’s work. About 17 years ago she started making jewelry using wooden beads and acrylic paint. With relocations behind the family, in January 2018 she told herself that if she could find studio space, she would leave her job to make art full time. “As soon as I put that into the universe, I heard back from the manager at Mad Dog and they had one space open,” Crane Swartz recalls with a smile. “I spent years making a mess at my kitchen counter or in a spare room at home, so having a dedicated space is a real luxury.”
Crane Swartz is known for her minimalist-meets-bold vibrant style; along with a line of statement jewelry, she designs needlepoint canvases – a textile extension of her graphic sensibilities. “When things went sideways in March of 2020 and people weren’t buying jewelry as much, I started needlepointing – but didn’t see anything I wanted to stitch – so I taught myself how to paint needlepoint canvas,” says Crane Swartz. She also paints lush coastal landscapes in oil and soft pastel, noting these works “have all the colors I love to use but the mediums are much looser than the very detailed work in my jewelry and needlepoint designs.”
As with most art-making, things can get messy, especially since Crane Swartz uses toothpicks to hold the beads while she paints them. To maintain a sense of visual calm, she keeps surroundings white and bright. Solid core doors painted white on castered legs are cleverly used as mobile work surfaces. “I love that I can repaint them white when I need a literal clean slate or move them around depending on what I’m working on.” Taking a look around the studio she adds, “I make very colorful art and having white as a background makes everything feel less chaotic, and even on a gray day, my space feels bright.”