Brookline artist and teacher Diana Stelin begins her work outdoors. Her intricate paintings start with plein-air sketches in watercolor, miniature masterpieces on their own. From the sketches, she creates large-scale oil and wax paintings. Stelin’s work can be found in exhibits at Brookline Booksmith and J.P. Licks through the end of July. 

Stelin believes there are many benefits to displaying work outside of a gallery space. “I love watching kids, and their parents interact with my pieces in their comfort zones, with ice creams in their hands,” she says.

Often her paintings take four or five sessions in the studio to get just right. The pièce de résistance comes at the end when Stelin melts certain sections of the painting. The melting process, while maintaining compositional balance, creates trails of abstraction in the otherwise figurative painting. Stelin says she has always wanted to work abstractly but finds it challenging to give up control. The melting process allows her to maintain control while working with unconventional representations.

While melting, she turns the canvas, so the streams of paint run in all different directions. The result is a beautiful, otherworldly landscape.

Stelin was born in Russia but has come to see Brookline as her home. “I adore Brookline because on the one hand there’s historical architecture that blends beautifully into the landscape. On the other hand, it has plenty of parks and open spaces that change beautifully throughout the seasons,” says Stelin.

That blending of architecture and nature is a recurring theme in her work, particularly in the watercolors, she paints during her travels. Stelin confided that she’s working on a novel based on her own experience as an artist immigrating to the United States. During both this stressful and exciting experience, Stelin poured her emotions into her artwork. Painting was the outlet that stabilized her transition.

Believe it or not, Stelin’s artwork is just one facet of her busy life. When she’s not painting her own oils, Stelin runs The Plein-Air Art Academy, teaching adults and children painting techniques. In 2016 she won Boston Magazine’s Best of Boston award for children’s art class. She teaches in both English and Russian out of her Brighton studio and often, as the name indicates, teaches outside. Larz Anderson Park in Brookline is one of her favorite spots to take students.

“I believe my work is incredibly timely because our lives today are spent more and more on our devices as opposed to being outdoors. Looking at my work forces the viewers to dissolve into the landscapes I paint, to stop, relax and contemplate the important things in life,” Stelin says.

By Celina Colby