A retired dental hygienist from Round Pond, Brenda Erickson, 62, paints watercolors of favorite family recipes, or sometimes just someone’s favorite Maine food – Damariscotta River oysters, say, or seafood stew from the restaurant down the road.

She sells the watercolors, as well as less expensive prints made from them. That way, her clients can keep the originals and give prints of mom’s lobster casserole recipe as gifts to friends and family. She also sells themed calendars (this year’s theme is cookies), a “Favorite Maine Recipes” poster, and a recipe-filled book called “Kitchen Memories” at retail shops, online, and at fairs and festivals all around the state. Tourists like to choose from her many watercolors of Maine foods – blueberries or whoopie pies, steamed mussels or fried clams. Most people hang the artwork in their kitchens, Erickson says.

When we spoke with her, she was beginning work on a commission for a family in Virginia – a watercolor of stuffed olives wrapped in cheese pastry. That aside, lately Erickson has been incorporating images of many fresh, local ingredients into her paintings and has seen an increasing number of commissions from local farms and food businesses: For the owners of Smiling Hill Farm, she painted cookies and milk – the farm’s milk, of course, in its charming glass bottle. For the Whitcomb family, who raise Jersey and Guernsey cows at Springdale Farm in Waldo, she painted a beloved recipe for cider-braised veal chops.

View her work at http://recipepaintings.com/

PAINTING FROM REAL LIFE: One of Erickson’s best-selling calendars featured foods from Round Pond. The strawberries that she painted for it came from Julie’s Greenhouse, which is around the corner from her studio. The crabs were from Bulls Point, where “I get to pick out the crab I want to paint.” As thanks, the businesses get prints of her work. “If you go into Damariscotta Fresh Fish, they have a wall with four or five of my prints that are from seafood that I used from there. Actually, one of the first questions I get when I go in the fish store is ‘Are you painting it or eating it?’ ”

MODELS WITH PERSONALITY: Erickson paints a lot of lobsters – no surprise. “One I painted was a cull, and a cull, of course, is a one-clawed lobster. They’re usually less expensive, so if you’re going to make a casserole, the locals will buy the culls because you get more meat per pound in it. The recipe called for a cull, and I painted the cull as it was, with only one claw. That guy had the meanest look on him. Wouldn’t you have a mean look if somebody ripped your arm off?”


STRANGEST REQUEST: Her own. For an old family recipe from Newfoundland, her great-grandmother’s as it happens, that calls for salt cod, salt pork, potatoes and hard tack. “It’s almost like a national dish in Newfoundland. My family either loves it or hates it. I took, like, 20 prints to a family reunion, and I didn’t come home with any.”

Customers ask about the print, she says, “but nobody wants to buy it unless it’s their grandmother’s recipe.” Ditto for fried clams, for which the “recipe” “basically says to go to your favorite clam shack and order the clams.”

FAVORITE BEHIND-THE-RECIPE STORY: The daughter of a friend asked Erickson to paint her mother’s lobster casserole. The recipe had never been written down, so the woman asked her mother how to make it. ‘A little bit of this and a little bit of that,’ her mother told her. And so it went. The painted recipe mirrors their conversation, with directions like, “‘Grate the cheese until you get tired of grating, and that will be enough.’ The terminology in there is just wonderful,” Erickson said. “She wrote it exactly as her mother told her.”

DOES PAINTING FOOD MAKE HER HUNGRY? “Yeah.” Erickson laughs. The olive balls are tempting, but the hardest one to resist was a Cosmopolitan. “Boy, was that really fragrant.”

IS PAINTING FOOD DIFFICULT? Breads are challenging, because of the shadows. “To make a tomato come alive, I don’t just whip them out. I look at the light on them and I look at the stem on them. I want depth. I want it to look real enough so that when someone looks at their painting, when they’re looking at that lobster, I want them to be taken back to the sunny day and the people they were with, so they hear the voices, they can smell the salt air and they can hear the lobster boat going by.”

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