Carrie Nenstiel and her family have always been water people. She thought she said goodbye to the water after leaving Mobile, where she was born and raised, but the creeks, rivers and lakes around Vestavia Hills have now become important and inspiring pieces of her home.
Naturally, when Carrie dedicated more time to painting in 2015, water became her main subject as her style developed. “A lot of my inspiration is not just drawn from South Alabama, but from Central Alabama,” Carrie says. “I’ve lived and experienced both—bay, gulf, other parts of the river system.”
Carrie works in oil paints and watercolor in a range of sizes, all capturing abstract scenes of water. When she sees people walk into her booth at an art show, they let out a few deep breaths and feel the peace from her work—all light, soft and airy.
Parker, her husband and a biologist for the state, also grew up in Mobile and keeps Carrie informed about Alabama’s water and river systems. “Alabama has the most miles of rivers, creeks, and streams of any other state,” she says. So, even when she left the bay, the water was still close by, as it is for so many Alabamians.
Her watercolor technique flows and brings a watery nature to her work to her oil paintings and larger canvases. Sometimes, she thins and loosens her oil paints in order to create the fluid movement and the many textures of a coastline. Foamy waves, brewing storms or reflective light all come to life in her work.
For as long as she can remember, drawing and painting have always been a constant in her life. “The first thing I ever wanted to be was an artist. That was my kindergarten request,” Carrie says.
She’d always find herself in the “art barn” of Murphy High School in Mobile, painting murals and creating club decorations as a student. She received her bachelor’s degree in art from Auburn University and then painted on and off until she had her first child in 2015.
As a new mom, Carrie dedicated more and more time to painting and moving through different subjects and styles. “This was a way to keep a piece of myself as I learned the ropes of being a mom,” she says.
Along the way, she built up a body of work and began to get picked up in local galleries, first from Amber Ivey Fine Art in Mobile and then from Four Seasons in Homewood. She loves having her work in both the Mobile and Birmingham art scenes, representing both of her homes.
Some pieces go darker or richer than other light and transparent work, but Carrie’s vision of landscapes brings her oil and watercolor work together as an earthy series of abstracts. As her style continues to grow, she tries new techniques, like stretching out canvases or using different washes for a new kind of texture.
Her work captures the way light interacts with the water, often shown through her use of gold. The glimmer of gold in her paintings adds a striking new dimension to each piece, something Carries always resonates with when she’s in front of the water. As she reflects on all of her favorite memories on the lake or the bay, in all different places around Alabama, the way a space is illuminated is what sticks in her mind.
“When my son was young, we’d go look at the Cahaba Lilies. The light would shine just right, I was with my family and they were really idyllic moments,” she says. “A lot of those moments where I can remember how the light hit the water is how I use the golf leaf,” she says.
The more she shows her work, Carrie realizes how everyone has some sort of connection with the water and the landscapes around it, just like she does. Onlookers will see snow banks or beachy coastlines in her work, even if that’s not what she sees. Carrie often begins with a set of colors and then creates her subject from there in a flowing, expressionistic way that allows for viewers to see these different terrains.
Of the many shows she’s done and galleries she’s had her work displayed in, her three years with the Market at Pepper Place hold some of her favorite moments, especially as strangers become more familiar, and then familiar faces become owners of her work. “It means so much for someone to make a connection with you long term. Your work evolves, they stick with you and, in a way, you’re invited into their home,” she says.
And in that relationship, Carrie invites each individual to see themselves and their experiences in her colors, shapes and movements that she explores in her art. “People see what they’ve experienced,” she says. “Chances are, living in Alabama, around either rivers, streams, creeks, bays, ponds or gulfs, you’ve experienced or have a memory tied to the water. It’s comforting and universal.”
Learn more about Carrie’s work at carrienenstielart.com or @carrienenstiel_art on Instagram, or find it at Four Seasons Gallery in Homewood.
Vestavia Hills Favorites
Moving to the Vestavia Hills community was always the dream for Carrie. About a year ago, she and her family moved into their home from Alabaster so they could be closer to friends, as well as all of the incredible businesses and fun they find here.
Restaurant where you’re a regular? Martin’s Bar-B-Que Joint. It’s perfect for a family dinner night. My kids love the outside area!
Go-to shop or boutique? The Lili Pad. Such sweet clothing options for kids!
Favorite activity in town? Finding new plants at Andy’s Creekside Nursery.
Best dessert? I love anything from The Heavenly Donut Co.
Outdoor space to spend time? McCallum Park. We love the walking paths and the creek!