Interview: Finger Painting Artist Shares How She Creates Her Energetic Artwork for Solo Show

Finger Painting Art by Iris Scott

Iris Scott. Photo: Erik Nuenighoff

Artist Iris Scott might be the only adult that still finger paints on a regular basis, and has actually made a name for herself with her amazing work. Her portfolio of beautiful art looks as though she created them with a brush, but in actuality, she put on a pair of gloves, dipped her fingers in pigment, and spread it on canvas. Like us, viewers are wowed by the incredible detail Scott achieves and the complexity of her images.

Though she’s now had years of experience and dedication, Scott actually got her start in finger painting by happenstance. In 2009, she was “too engrossed in painting” to wash her brushes, so she decided to manipulate the oil pigments with her fingertips. Scott then had an a-ha moment as she put her hand to the canvas. Painting this way felt better than using brushes, and there was an added benefit that once people saw these works, they liked the new pieces more.

A decade later, Scott is about to debut her solo show called Ritual In Painting. The exhibition is centered around our connection to the natural world. “Every painting [in the show] is an affirmation of the single most important message in the world,” she says. “We are not separate from the animals and plants.” The works are a celebration of—and a powerful reminder—that we can't forget it. This is in light of global warming that threatens our planet’s livelihood more now than ever.

We spoke with Scott about her artistic process and Ritual In Painting, which will be on view at Filo Sofi Arts in New York City from May 4 to May 30, 2019. Scroll down for My Modern Met’s exclusive interview.

Iris Scott is known for her incredible finger painting art. Learn about her artistic process and a new exhibition in New York by scrolling down.

Finger Painting Art by Iris Scott

Photos: Erik Nuenighoff

You've said that you came to fingerpainting on accident. How do you foster a studio environment where happy accidents like this can happen?

I allow myself to PLAY!

The number one way to have a happy accident occur is for me to say to myself, “Iris, okay, this canvas in front of you, you're not going to sell this canvas, this is going to be just a mushy gushy mess of ugly paint when you're done, your job right now is to just P-L-A-Y like a kindergartener that doesn't know right from wrong, mud from purple, up from down. Ironically these ALWAYS end up being some of my favorite works. BUT THIS IS THE EXCEPTION NOT THE RULE. You can't just be playing every day in the studio. The rest of the week I'm working on my painting systematically from sun up to sun down, I'm putting in the hours, I'm trudging through stretches of boredom, I'm resisting the temptation to be distracted, and I'm following through with a plan. Being a professional artist is 90% honing the craft, and 10% playing to allow for creative and imaginative impulses to yield happy accidents.

Iris Scott Finger Painting Art


Finger Painting Art by Iris Scott

“Mayura Peacock”

Is painting with your fingers slower or faster than working with a brush?

I find it to be faster for applying thick dabs because I never have to clean a brush between colors, I just swipe my fingertips through some paper towel and grab a new fresh color. So it's fast, it's clean, it's crisp color, one after another.

Many of your works are done on a large scale. Why is this?

For the same reason that a dancer can accomplish bigger, and potentially more dramatic gestures and leaps on a large stage vs a tiny one. Giant canvases are a whole body endeavor, I climb a step ladder, I lay on the floor, I have to strong-arm the painting into existence. It's way harder and more time consuming, however, and with these new large sizes, I can include multiple subjects and build a narrative like never before. My works to come will take on mythological concepts and I can't wait! I've finally cracked the craft I think and figured out how to take finger painting quite large.

Finger Painting Art by Iris Scott

“Mada Saluki”

Finger Painting Art by Iris Scott

“The Poetess”

Your exhibition Ritual In Pairing opens in May. What has the preparation for this show been like? What can viewers expect to see and feel?

For eight months I've been working my fingers to the bone. No vacations, hardly any socializing, or breaks. I've locked myself in my studio for nearly a year and the result will be just under 20 new pieces. The energy of “peacocking” is key to the show. I believe the New York art world has for far too long excluded plants and animals from their galleries. This collection is my effort to ignite in the art world what has been missing for so long: nature and beauty. Beauty has been a bad word for so long to art critics, but that's about to change. I want to make people gasp.

Iris Scott Finger Painting Art


The subjects of your paintings run the gamut of realistic compositions (such as groups of cacti or still life) to fantastical scenes. What is the inspiration for your latest series of work and how do you see them fitting together?

The body of work I’ve made for Ritual in Pairing is my first full-blown solo exhibition of all new original work built around a singular theme. The catalyst for inspiration came from watching a documentary featuring the mating rituals of Bower Birds local to Australia. The combination of nature’s overwhelming beauty along with the innate drive and manner that this particular species of bird has at its disposal to entice a mate warmed my heart and got my creativity flowing.

My new show features a lot of portraitures, which draws attention to a figure’s gaze (be they human or animal), posture, and ornamental garments. I wanted to explore the profound connection between personal identity in human relationships and pairing rituals found in the natural world. Both humans and animals “peacock” for attention. In pairing rituals, nature flaunts its beauty in displays that overflow with exuberant, jaw-dropping spectacle. I express this through my color choices and the unique mark making that finger painting creates/renders. I’ve adapted past works in a fresh style of visual collage. The show strives toward a synthesis of old and new that offers, I hope, a bold vision of what is possible when we reconnect with the natural world with love and optimism.

Finger Painting Art by Iris Scott

“Tiger Fire”

Do you have a painting you find most memorable? 

I have a new painting called Tiger Fire, I think it's one of my strongest pieces. It’s also my largest work, and it will go into my upcoming show this May 4th in Chelsea at Filo Sofi Art’s pop up space at the High Line Nine. It's so weird to me looking at that particular work, I feel like I couldn't have painted that. Like what the? Who did that painting? There is not one tiny square inch of that painting I can find to revise. In my mind, it's what I've always wanted to achieve in a work. The work is also important to me because it takes on a decidedly environmentalist politics that reminds audiences what is at stake when we lose touch with the natural world.

Finger Painting Art by Iris Scott

“The Visitor”

Iris Scott Finger Painting Art

Scott with “Exodus of Pisces.” Photo: Erik Nuenighoff

Iris Scott: Website | Facebook | Instagram

My Modern Met granted permission to use photos by Iris Scott. 

Related Articles:

Iris Scott’s Solo Show Features New “Cosmic Patchwork” Finger Paintings

New Large-Scale Finger Paintings of Vibrant Animals in Action by Iris Scott

7 Innovative Painting Techniques That Don’t Require a Paintbrush

Sara Barnes

Sara Barnes is a Staff Editor at My Modern Met, Manager of My Modern Met Store, and co-host of the My Modern Met Top Artist Podcast. As an illustrator and writer living in Seattle, she chronicles illustration, embroidery, and beyond through her blog Brown Paper Bag and Instagram @brwnpaperbag. She wrote a book about embroidery artist Sarah K. Benning titled 'Embroidered Life' that was published by Chronicle Books in 2019. Sara is a graduate of the Maryland Institute College of Art. She earned her BFA in Illustration in 2008 and MFA in Illustration Practice in 2013.
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