Meet The Sausalito Artist Taking Cues From The Water’s Surface


Elizabeth Geisler sits in her office

Artist Elizabeth Geisler sits in front of an artwork in her studio.

It would not be an exaggeration to say that Elizabeth Geisler is obsessed with water. “Every time I go for a walk, I literally gasp as I notice the intricate patterns created by the current or how the light hits on a misty or sunny day— it creates all these shifting colors,” says Geisler, who has spent the better part of seven years documenting, photographing and painting oceans, lakes, wetlands, creeks and ponds. And yet when it comes to depicting water, Geisler feels she has barely scratched the surface. Indeed—it’s the surface that excites her. “A number of artists are concerned with capturing crashing waves, choppy water or the horizon line,” she says. “But I seek these more tranquil patterns that emerge on top. It’s almost like music; I look for certain rhythms—visual rhythms.”

blue and yellow painting of the water's surface by Elizabeth Geisler

A couple of Elizabeth Geisler's works including the piece Shimmer (left).

A painting hangs on the studio wall of Elizabeth Geisler

Inside her Sausalito studio, artworks such as Hope Echoes hang on the wall.

Yellow and blue detail of painting by Elizabeth Geisler

A yellow and blue detail of one of her works.

Colors mix on Elizabeth Geisler's palette.

The artist mixes colors on her palette.

Photographs of water taken by Elizabeth Geisler

Before she begins painting, artist Elizabeth Geisler photographs watery details.

With her home in Mill Valley and a studio in Sausalito, Geisler is never too far from her subject. In fact, she credits the birth of her second son with jump-starting this body of work. “He could not sleep unless he kept moving in the stroller, and so I’d walk for miles and miles beside the bay and local rivers until I found myself seeing them in a completely different way,” she says.

The artist’s acrylic waterscapes tread an interesting line between photorealism and abstraction by cropping in tightly on a section of water animated by external conditions: ripples blown by a breeze, concentric circles created by dripping branches, hot colors reflected during a sunset—all scenes we might notice but not necessarily register. “I tell people I need to be brave,” Geisler says. “Because I have to pay attention to what I’m seeing—and not what I think it ‘should’ be.”

Before picking up a brush, Geisler shoots hundreds of images with her iPhone or digital camera. “As I sort through them, I determine how a pattern might fit a particular format—be it square, tall or horizontal,” the artist explains. She then lightly paints a grid onto the canvas, sketches in the scene, and applies a monochromatic underlayer—ochre yellow, gray, cobalt blue—parts of which will peek through intentionally, adding depth and luminosity.

The overriding emotion Geisler seeks to evoke is peace and serenity. “It’s wonderful to have people visit the studio and watch as they kind of visibly exhale and become calmer,” she says. “This is what I hope for when people hang one of my paintings in their home.”

Photography: Kristen Loken