Iris Scott, Artist

Bears in the Wild: Iris Scott, Artist
Posted on 04/08/2022

On a warm fall day in northern New Mexico, Iris Scott stood in her new art studio staring at one of her vibrant finger paintings. She and her partner Sasha had recently built the studio and a house on their new, secluded property, and the dust they kicked up during construction sprinkled onto the canvas. Iris could’ve wiped away the dust, but she’s an artist, so she opted for a more creative route. She picked up one of the air compressors that was laying around the studio floor to spray away the dust. She pulled the trigger of the compressor and…


Iris accidentally sprayed air on some wet paint, and the paint spread on the canvas. Some might’ve seen it as a mistake. But Iris took a step back and examined her happy accident (any Bob Ross fans out there?).

“It blew out a design, like a cell,” Iris said. “I looked at the cell and I went, ‘oh, Lord, what's that?’ A funny little voice in my head was like, ‘okay, you need to explore that right now.’ And so I got a new canvas, and I started playing with thinned oil. I started blasting it with the air compressor gun, and covered it in these cellular patterns.”

What Iris described was something you’d see through a kaleidoscope lens.

“The way that the cell would blend with the cell next to it was extremely organic. It was like it was molecular in a way that looks 3D. And with almost no effort, I’d squeeze a trigger and it would go “POP!” All of a sudden, what would take many minutes of hand painting to create that effect is literally done in a millisecond.”

An example of air compressor art

A fun moment in time, maybe a new side project, but this is Iris Scott. She’s a renowned finger painter whose magnificent originals cost buyers the price of a new car. Back to finger painting, right? Right??

“I recognize this as being superior to finger painting. So, I have dropped finger painting after 11 years of exclusive work with it.”

Mind. Blown.

A brief moment of dust falling on an almost-dry painting has completely changed the career trajectory of one of the world’s best finger painters. A moment of serendipity, no doubt, but what were the moments that led to that life-changing millisecond? How did Iris Scott, Tahoma High School graduate, end up in New Mexico with an air compressor in her hand, contemplating how a molecular splatter of paint would change her already wildly successful career?

It started as a student in the Tahoma School District, where she learned from wonderful teachers who welcomed her artistic curiosities every step of the way.

“I was lucky enough to be taught in elementary school for three years in a row by Barbara Quirie, who's famous in the district for being an artist. She was a professional artist before she went into teaching. I later student-taught fourth grade in her classroom. When I was in junior high, I had Mr. (Mel) Brooks. And when I was in high school, I had Ms. (Suzanne) Gardner. I was supported completely by really engaged teachers. They were aware and excited about the effort I was putting forth as a little artist, and they encouraged me greatly. Tahoma was very dear to me.”

If you’ve walked through the Tahoma High School commons, you can’t miss Arctos, a phenomenal painting of a bear running through water with determined eyes looking right at you. It was an original that Iris created specifically for the high school’s new construction, and it’s a stop-and-stare landmark of our high school.

Iris Scott stands with "Arctos" in the THS PAC

“I never really knew Principal Terry Duty. He was always there, but I just never went to the principal's office. But it's really nice to have a relationship with him now that's been so special. To be remembered and looked up and asked to do a commission was such an honor that I wasn't expecting. I just didn't even know they were aware of me. Even after you graduate, they're still loving and supportive.”

Iris graduated from Tahoma, went to college with the dream of becoming a fourth grade teacher, and in Iris Scott fashion, she packed up and moved to Taiwan. She didn’t have a master plan or even a job that drew her there. Iris just did what felt right, and her serendipitous path to success continued.

She hadn’t planned to lean into painting, but she noticed that Taiwan was filled with shops and galleries and thought she might be able to make a few bucks too.

“It was so inexpensive, and lovely, that I was able to paint every day. And quite accidentally, I stumbled upon being a full-time painter, because I was selling online and utilizing FedEx and Facebook to operate a small business.”

And with all the different styles to choose from, why finger painting?

“For lack of a desire to clean brushes.”

Fair enough.

Iris in the process of painting "Shakin' off the Blues"

“What started as a $100 painting became a $200 painting, which became $400. Really slowly, I would raise the prices when I couldn't keep up with the demand. So instead of pricing high and trying to convince people about how important the art is, I priced the work lower than is normal for the market of comparative pieces. So they would just all sell right away. I did not learn that in art school by the way. That was taught by my real estate uncle who said, “let the market tell you what it's worth.””

As you might know, the market spoke volumes.

Iris brought her work back to Maple Valley, where her parents let her continue her dream from their basement. Soon she was in a Phinney Ridge apartment, and eventually Brooklyn, New York, where she said, “things really took off just like in the movies.”

Iris’ shows were getting bigger and bigger, and she was creating her best work yet. She met a novelist named Sasha and fell in love. In the cultural capital of the world, Iris was living her dream. Six years later, Iris and Sasha decided to find more space to spread out and get away from the noise of NYC.

They landed in New Mexico… built a house… and a studio… and shuffled a bit of dust onto one of Iris’ paintings. And that’s how she got there.

“I’m in the Club of Now. The best time to do something is now. It's not next year, it's not even tomorrow. If you have a good idea, and you believe in it, jump in immediately before you lose your nerve.”

Iris Scott poses in front of her artwork

For those a little less spontaneous, or hesitant to test the waters of an art career, Iris provided some words of wisdom.

“Whether it's art, film, graphic design, acting or production, I now understand that those careers have so much money. When you’re in a small town, it just seems so far away. It seems like those names on the credits are not real people. But I know those people now and I now realize that the arts are where it's at. It's not a bad decision. It's not irresponsible to go into the arts. There's a lot of potential in the arts. It doesn't fall in your lap, though. You have to pay your dues.”

Visit Iris Scott's website at:
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