When Ella Friberg was 8 years old, her mother and father moved their family to Italy. They were immigrating to America from Ukraine and had a six-month stopover in the boot of Europe to await their paperwork.
“My parents took turns taking my brother and I on adventures around Italy,” Friberg remembers. While in Rome at the Vatican, she was mesmerized by Michaelangelo’s “La Pieta.” “It definitely opened my eyes and sparked my love for art and culture.”
Though she only dabbled in art as a child—drawing a picture of her childhood home in Ukraine for her parents—she only explored it as an adult on the sidelines. Friberg went to college for occupational therapy (OT).
“I had no confidence in pursuing art,” she tells. “I was super envious of the art students and was dying to take a class, but they didn’t really fit in with my sport science degree. So I painted randomly at home. Somehow, I figured out how to use oil paints. I copied other painters because I had no idea what else to paint. Grad school happened and my painting time faded away.”
Along with her husband and children, she moved cross country twice in a short few years, from Oregon to New York, and ended up in Wilmington in 2016 to open her husband’s dentistry practice. Friberg also took a job at the hospital, yet her passion for making mixed-media collages out of metal, as well a love for photography and even calligraphy, never waned. While practicing hand-lettering one day, she came across urban sketching.
“And I decided to jump into watercolor painting,” she tells. “I watched online classes and just started practicing. This is when I began Italian architecture paintings for friends . . . and I haven’t stopped.”
Folks can see commissions of her portraitures at ellacreates.com. She has drawn numerous first homes for young families, a bride and groom on their wedding day, and a family picture, dog and kid included. It began a few years ago when a friend asked her to do a painting of the old fire station #2.
“It was a massive piece,” she says of the 22-inch-by-30-inch artwork. “It was the first time I painted that large with watercolors. I was immersed in it and so pleased with how it turned out. That continued to spark my desire to do more ‘house/architecture’ paintings.”
Friberg pays attention to all details, showcasing precision in lines and composition. The stories of a home’s walls or the body language emoted from her faceless portraits captivate her most.
“When people reach out to me and tell me the background of the house or building and what it means to them, it becomes more of an emotional experience for me,” she says.
Upon moving to ILM, Friberg and her husband often hung out at Wilmington Brewing Company (WBC) and became friends with owners John and Michelle Savard. Friberg had been eying an area in the brew shop with a blank wall. She wanted to do a mural.
“We happened to be chatting with John and I mentioned if they were ever interested in painting an empty wall with something, I would love to chat,” she recalls. “Well, he raised me one and said I need to chat with Michelle because they actually want a mural on the outside of the building.”
After coordinating various ideas and guidelines, and submitting multiple mini sketches, Friberg got to work on her biggest project to date. The side of WBC features waves enveloping a WBC can and tagline, “For People Who Drink Good Beer.”
“They were so wonderful to work with and I really could not have asked for a better first mural client,” she says.
On Thursday Friberg will head to the Savard’s in-law’s brewery, Flytrap Brewing on Fourth Street, for her very first art show featuring a new series of work. She calls the abstract collection “Free Flow,” which features 12 to 15 pieces, made with oil, cold wax, acrylics, watercolors and pastels. They’re priced $75 to $300.
“These paintings came from a deep desire to let loose, to focus more on the process rather than the final outcome,” she details. “They were inspired by the loosening and letting go of boundaries. I’m all about becoming more brave, and this is pushing those bravery boundaries for sure.”
Friberg has adored working with newer mediums, like cold-wax painting. “The Pieces Fit” (24-inches-by-24-inches) is an older work made from unpainted cradled board and primed with gesso. Friberg focuses on layers to give it texture and depth.
“With oil and cold wax, the layering [is] most important at the start, not necessarily the colors,” she says. “So I mix oil paints and the cold wax and then use a dough scraper to layer on the paint. The first few layers are what builds the character of the painting. With this one, I laid down a dark layer and then a light one and another dark, and I let the painting sit a day after a few layers so it wouldn’t get muddy as I added more layers. Once I had a good base, I started adding colors I wanted to really show in the end.”
She created geometric shapes by cutting out cardboard pieces and placing them on the painting, while adding paint or even removing paint with a brayer. She also incorporated various patterns by using stencils, shelf liner, corrugated cardboard, wood skewers and the like. “I wanted the geometric shapes to feel like they belonged and were embedded in the painting,” Friberg says. “I usually don’t have a set plan when I approach a painting. I often will pick certain colors to work with and the rest just evolves as the painting comes to life.”
It also brings to life a bold vivacity Friberg says she never felt as an artist. Being self-taught and without knowing all the right terminology often has left her feeling less confident than a pedigreed creator. However, the freedom she gets from it is exhilarating—so much so, she’s left her OT job to pursue her dream full-time.
“I’m not bringing in full-time income from my work, so I can’t say it’s replaced my other job,” she says, “but I’m in a good place and heading in the right direction . . . I tend to jump into things with both feet and hope for the best. I never considered myself to be brave or bold, but the more I dive into art, the braver I seem to become.”
Ella Creates is only the starting point for Friberg. She also has ideas to found a female space where artists and non-artists can gather, create and find therapeutic connection and inspiration. “I’ve met some amazing people through art, and I want to inspire others to just try making something, even if no one else sees it,” she says. Her vision also includes making downtown a more vibrant cityscape. Friberg has a dream of turning the drab into the delightful.
“I realize I have to be careful what I put out into the world because every time I say something, it ends up coming to fruition,” she predicts. “Still, I would love to paint a mural in downtown Wilmington. I’ve scouted out a few blank walls that could be made quite beautiful with a floral mural. I would love for this to be a collaboration with a few fellow artists. Murals used to be quite the social and collaborative movement that brought communities together; I would love to see that happen here.”