Plymouth Artists Liz Ansley, Kris Holtmeyer and Charlotte Ruth Mason

Three professional artists find success by redefining the rules.

Visual artists capture beauty. They click a shutter, paint a canvas or sculpt a stone and encapsulate a perspective. Their efforts provide a vision for viewers to behold, contemplate and appreciate. Some are self-taught. Others are classically trained. But all, through their work, are creators, capturing a vision through the creation of art.

A Picture Covers 1,000 Words

Photographer Liz Ansley of Elisabeth Ansley Photography creates artwork for book covers. It was her particular vision that led her to book-jacket photography. She is predominately self-taught, having taken weekend classes, reading books and participating in online critique groups. While living in Australia from 2008 to 2011, she won photographer of the year 2010 award with the Northern Exposure Photographers Group.

Ansley was shooting portraits and landscapes without really settling on a genre. People complimented her work, saying things like, “Your pictures are creative and artistic. But your subjects don’t always look happy. Sometimes they even look uncomfortable.” Others said Ansley’s pictures looked more like illustrations. “Tone it down,” said some. “Your photos look unnatural.”    

            But Ansley was feeling tugged in a different artistic direction than typical posed portrait photography. She wanted to stay true to what she saw as an artist. To take pictures that are beautiful but distinct. Her photographs have an ethereal and esoteric quality. They are romantic in kind of a haunting way. They are not what many grandparents are looking for when perusing pics of the grandkids.

            No matter. When an Australian author saw one of Ansley’s pictures and offered to pay money to use it for a book cover, the penny dropped. Ansley began her search for an agent. She now has two, one in England and another in Spain. “I shoot whatever I want,” she says. “My work goes into a catalog of stock photos from which authors and publishers can choose what they like.”

Many of Ansley’s pictures are shot right in Plymouth with her Cannon 7D semi-pro. “I like that camera because I shoot a lot of variety and movement and can’t take too much time changing lenses,” she says.

Ansley’s pictures capture the exact right vision of beauty for book covers. And after so many years of being told that she’s not following the rules, Ansley says that she is happy her work is finally being appreciated.

Painting Upside Down

Artist Kris Holtmeyer, owner and lead instructor for Artistic Moments, had a similar experience. At 6 years old she had an art teacher throw away one of her paintings because it wasn’t quite right. She says that old-school art teachers show students a picture and then ask them to duplicate it. “I knew at age 6 that students should be allowed to draw what they see,” she says.

Today Holtmeyer travels to schools, businesses, corporate events, senior centers and scout troops to teach art. “I’ll teach anyone who wants to learn,” she says. “I have students bring in a picture that they want to create. Then I have them draw it upside down. Get them to use other parts of their brain—see different perspectives.” Her theory is that everyone has artistic ability. But some need to be taught with a creative approach. The secret, she feels, is being in a peaceful environment where they are willing to take risks.

“I want students to make mistakes,” Holtmeyer says. “Art is self-expression. Mistakes are a learning tool. I tell students not to throw anything away. But to rest, come back to it later and problem solve.”

With a background in public relations, advertising and studio arts, Holtmeyer had volunteered in the visual arts before being asked to teach. She acquired more specific skills through a University of Minnesota Extension program and North Hennepin Community College earning both bachelor's degrees in studio art.

Holtmeyer enjoys creating surreal, impressionistic paintings as well as garage door murals. She is skilled in folk art like Norwegian rosemaling. And she prompts students to be creative with a variety of mediums and supplies like duct tape for sculptures. Holtmeyer used to show at local art fairs—and still promotes them—and is on the Minnesota Council for the Gifted and Talented (

“The Twin Cities is a hotspot for arts,” Holtmeyer says. “Plymouth in particular is headed in the right direction with its grass roots support for the arts. That’s what I’m excited about—teaching art as well as promoting local artists and talent.”

The Group as Art

Charlotte “C.” Ruth Mason also teaches art in Plymouth. Her mother was a painter and her father a reporter, so Mason comes by her artistic inclinations naturally.

She also has a strong love of nature and the environment. Mason studied natural science and dreamed of becoming a medical illustrator. But when that degree faded from academia, Mason pursued video arts. For 15 years, she has worked in television, filming bands and shooting commercials, films and documentaries.

After a  hiatus from “regular art creation,” Mason came full circle, becoming a painter like her mother. Only different. Mason’s work incorporates the natural world in artwork referred to as assemblage. The results are textural, three-dimensional paintings that integrate branches and other found objects.

Mason also has discovered a love for teaching graffiti art and murals. “I’m drawn to working with people,” she says. “I love working as a group to create art. I also appreciate the impermanence of graffiti and murals. They beautify a building or space for a time, but like nature, the scene changes.”

Mason is clear about the difference between graffiti as personal expression and vandalism. She teaches her students about private property laws as well as the history of graffiti. “There is a time and a place for public artwork,” she says. “But studies show that in cities where murals are allowed in designated spaces, vandalism goes down.” Mason says her dream is to have a local building owner allow her to create a mural on their building that would beautify the area and be changed each year. That would be her way of capturing beauty for the public in Plymouth to behold, contemplate and appreciate until yet another vision is cast.