Landscape painter Heidi Annalise in her kitchen, which doubles as her art studio: “Where normal people would put two chairs and a small table, I’ve got an easel and a hodgepodge of other potions and art supplies.”

Stephanie Wolf/CPR News

When Denver artist Heidi Annalise started painting on itsy-bitsy canvases — ones you can hold in the palm of your hand — she didn’t realize at first where the urge came from. Then it dawned on her, “this is what I did when I was a kid.”

The painter confesses to being obsessed with her Lego village, which “reached its peak” when she was about 10 or 11. One of her favorite Lego minifigures was an artist.

“I created tiny paintings, based on some calendars around the house, that I would stick up inside the Lego house,” Annalise says.

If you find Annalise on Instagram, you’ll see a little Lego artist making cameos throughout her feed. That would be “Lego Heidi.” Her alter-ego lives in her kitchen/makeshift art studio, surrounded by miniature paintings, to remind Annalise “where this all came from and not to take myself too seriously.”

Denver painter Heidi Annalise keeps “Lego Heidi” in her makeshift art studio to remind herself “where this all came from and not to take myself too seriously.”

Stephanie Wolf/CPR News

Her childhood artistic pursuits were short-lived, and her foray back into painting was recent. A few years back, she was living in Washington D.C., working as a public affairs analyst. She decided she needed a hobby to break up the 9-to-5 monotony. About six months into a 2013 oil painting class, she had a surprising thought.

“When I created my first painting that was halfway decent, my next thought was ‘I wonder if someone would want to own this,’” Annalise says. “It was a little ridiculous at the time. I was like, I just got into this and now have the audacity to think [I can] make something out of it.”

Something pulled her toward art — and out West. Two years after that class, she moved back home to Colorado. Inspired by the outdoors and nature, she shifted her focus to plein air landscape painting. But outdoor painting equipment can be expensive, and, she says, “it’s really heavy and I’m kind of self-conscious, maybe I don’t wanna lug it up a mountain and be super visible.”

 

Hence the “epic vistas” painted inside of mint tins, a process born out of practicality. She says she saw another artist on Instagram who was doing color studies of sunsets using a mint tin. That was her lightbulb moment.

“The first time I tried it, I was hooked,” she says. “I started using it to develop my style and to create... little windows into what I was seeing that day.”

It took off. Annalise has more than 129,000 Instagram followers and sells those miniature masterpieces online. Each tin comes with a painting when it’s purchased, and the petite palette of paints she used to make the artwork. So Annalise goes through a lot ‘em. She’s giving back to the internet economy almost as much as she’s earning off it.

“It’s great when one of those really hardcore mint addicts gets in touch and says, ‘I got a box full of these things,’” Annalise says, “otherwise, I’m basically subsidizing the habit of eBay users who sell them empty.”