Tag: contemporary art

Artist Profile: Nicholas Wilton - Building Communities of Creatives One Workshop at a Time

Being a career west coast abstract artist would not be possible without the help of talented teachers.

When I first started this journey of becoming a professional artist, I was running solely on emotion and old, ignored art supplies.  I didn’t have a goal.  I didn’t know that this would be my career.  I was merely trying to express feelings of remorse, anger and agitation that were alarmingly amplified when I decided to quit drinking.  No longer comforted by simply burying these discomforts under the weight of alcohol, I unearthed them and then needed a tool for dealing with the difficulties that bubbled up.  

I had leftover paint, paper and some brushes and so I started.  I had never done abstract painting before, but sobriety was just about all my brain could handle.  Thinking about realistic details of a still life, or…let’s be honest here…trying to do anything with any specificity at all was really difficult.  I just began to move my brush-holding hand and abstracts are what sprung from my fingertips.  And it saved me.  

Finding art again was an unexpected gift given to me by my willingness to let go of old coping mechanisms and being open to getting to know myself.  Self-awareness had never been my strong suit.  So, discovering that I am an artist was amazing and at the same time, a “well duh” moment.  I knew it all along, I just ignored it because I didn’t think it was practical road to travel.

Guidance from an established west coast abstract artist and teacher was the inspiration I didn't know I needed.

Nicholas Wilton West Coast Abstract Mixed Media Artist
Nicholas Wilton is a Sausalito, CA based abstract artist and teacher whose workshop I attended flipped me into action.  I have been painting consistently since.

 

A year into my self-administered art therapy adventure, a good friend suggested that I take an Art 2 Life workshop taught by Sausalito, CA based abstract artist, Nicholas Wilton.  After briefly checking out his website, I was immediately attracted to Nick’s art.  His use of shape, repeated pattern, movement and vibrant colors widened my eyes and motivated me to learn more.  I signed up and drove to California for 5 days of art making.  It was the best thing that I have ever done for my art, my confidence and my career. 

Nicholas Wilton Art 2 Life Workshop Westerbeke RanchDay #1 of Nicholas Wilton's Art 2 Life Workshop at Westerbeke Ranch in Sonoma. 

Nick taught his 6 art principles which included color, harmony, value and design.  Many of these had been introduced to me in my long abandoned fine arts schooling but not thought of since, and they were important reminders, but his 6th principle was the most important and influencing….Soul.  Heeding soul was not taught in art world academia and wasn’t that what I was really working on?  Cleansing, listening, being receptive and responding to my soul?  Without knowing it, Nick was reiterating what I had been learning over the past year…to thine own self be true. 

Nicholas Wilton Art 2 Life WorkshopDay #4: My works in progress at Nick's Art 2 Life Workshop.  The finished version of the one in the right corner is at the top of this blog post.

Nick also believes in the importance of having a community to lean on as well as contribute to.  Over the past couple of years, he has continued to be a huge support and inspiration to me through his art, blogs, video lessons and willingness to make time for students like me.  He recently made himself available for a 15-minute interview so that I may share some of his wisdom with you. 

If you are an artist needing direction, I highly recommend his workshops and if you can’t afford those, just sign up for his blog "The Artlife".  He often sends out videos discussing his work, process and problem solving.  Read on for our conversation about his influences, challenges and maneuvering through the business of art. 

A 15 minute interview with west coast abstract artist, Nicholas Wilton.

MG: You seem to be a master of creating patterns without making the painting have a “wallpaper” feel.  Is that something that you have to work for or does it come naturally? 

NW: People always say to make exciting design, you have to have a variety of sizes and shapes and things, and you can, for sure…but you can also [work within] a pattern.  If the pattern is repeating, that can be somewhat monotonous because when we look at one part of the picture, the same kind of feeling occurs in another part of the picture, so that’s the recipe for sort of boring somebody.

Nicholas Wilton Color-Field-1 Abstract Painting Mixed Media ArtNicholas Wilton, Color Field One, 36x40, Mixed Media on Panel, Caldwell Snyder Gallery

But if you can offer differences within that context, that can become really interesting.  So, for example, maybe the pattern repeats, but the color is different on different parts of the pattern. Then that becomes noticeable and interesting.  Or maybe the texture is different.  (Pointing to the painting above.) That painting looks like little chips of color [in rows].  That’s not a very particularly exciting pattern because the pattern isn’t really anything…just a bunch of colors…but I’m talking about colors and the conversation about color.  All of the sizes are the same and they are in a line but I’m really paying attention and offering the viewer something that’s different.  There are contrasts that happen to be in the [different] colors.  Patterns can be wallpaper like but when you change things within that, then it becomes exciting.

MG: The first artist you studied with was a stained-glass artist Ludwig Schaffrath.  How did working with glass influence how you paint now?  What was the biggest lesson that you learned from him as a new artist that you carry with you today?

NW: Well I entered into it more as a craft.  I liked making things, so I was learning how to make stained glass.  The thing about stained glass is that [you start with] incredible pieces of glass.  Some are translucent.  Some are transparent. There’s glass from Germany that’s really beautiful. What you learn pretty quickly is that maybe it’s the materials that are so amazing. 

Let’s say you pull out this amazing piece of glass that you love. It’s so beautiful just on its own. Then you cut it up and you make a flower out of it... So, I became interested in the questions of why do I keep taking this amazing material and turning it into pictures that happens to be made out of stained glass, but really weren’t very good?  When you think about a picture of a stained-glass flower, it’s kind of bric-a-brac. It can be kind of cheesy.  So, I started to look around at different artists that were doing work as good as the materials.  

Nicholas Wilton Art 2 Life Workshop Work TableAn Art 2 Life Workshop table.  The raw materials are just as important as the finished product

 

Ludwig Schaffrath was making these incredible modern day monastery windows…very contemporary and very much in alignment with the glass. I was seduced by the materials because of the caliber of the finished product.  The materials were so good that it upped my game to get better at designing and using it. What I learned from this gentleman when I was 15, is that the only thing you can really do is something personal and unique.  If you want to copy reality, that’s fine but you have to do it in a way that’s personal. He was the first one to press that idea that I still teach today and try to do in my own work.

MG: I recall you saying in a workshop that you can try to make your art look like another artists’ but it’s never going to.  It’s always going to look like you. 

NW: Yeah.  We can try on different ways of working.  I can copy an artist for a day and try to make my art look like theirs but you won’t stay there very long because it’s not very interesting because they’ve already done it.  But it is important for you to pull out and discover the reason why you were attracted to their work.  You might love Mark Rothko but you don’t want to be Mark Rothko.  You just want to understand the way he’s using color because that’s what you love.  I wouldn’t want to do a Mark Rothko painting because he already did them all.  People learn that eventually and they move on. 

Nicholas Wilton Bone-Yard Abstract Art Mixed Media PaintingNicholas Wilton, Bone Yard, 12x12, Mixed Media on Panel, Caldwell Snyder Gallery (I LOVE this one.)

MG: What is the most challenging part of being an artist at a professional level?

NW: I think there are three parts: 1. Isolation 2. Not having all of the information to do this…it takes time to have all of the information, how to paint, what to do when you get stuck, all of that technical stuff and then 3. Having the right place to do it.   I couldn’t make these paintings in a small room anymore.  I had to move to a bigger space and it was scary.  I had to pay more, I wasn’t sure I could do it… Having a practice that works…that’s something you have to learn.  They don’t teach that.  Having a good community and a solid art practice or approach and just the basic information.  That is what I teach in my online courses and workshops.  If you can give that to people, that does it…. especially the community part.

Nicholas Wilton Millwork Abstract Painting Mixed Media ArtNicholas Wilton, Millwork, 60x60, Mixed Media on Panel, Caldwell Snyder Gallery

MG:  So creating a community of artists that you see regularly and having people that you talk with often…

NW:  Yeah and even connected on a Facebook group or whatever.  I’m really interested in creating community…that’s why I’m talking to you right now. We are staying connected.  We might not have talked for a long time but we’re connected and I just believe that’s a path that allows me or anybody to do this rather unusual activity and pull it off successfully. 

MG: You teach workshops as well as painting.  Do you enjoy one more than the other? Do you feel that teaching and painting complement each other?  How? 

NW: They work in conjunction.  I don’t think I could teach if I wasn’t doing the practice.  I have my own personal practice and then I’m helping people develop theirs.  I do these Sunday blog posts and those are done completely spontaneously.  I’m painting and then I learn something new or I’m getting new perspective and I just share that with people. Certainly, the teaching is derived from the painting. And teaching clarifies my own practice.  The best I ever paint is after 7 days of teaching a workshop.  I go home and I can pretty much guarantee that I’m painting more confidently and probably a little bit differently than I was before I left.  So, it’s a win/win as far as I’m concerned.  It works for me.

Also, you can’t forget that by teaching I’m getting inspired by all of these other people.  When I see your painting and what you’re doing…you’re painting larger now…I get that juice from you.  There’s been an exchange because we’ve worked together a little and I see what you’re doing and it’s bigger and it’s “wow!” and that fires me up and my day is just a little bit better and I use that energy to go do this challenge (pointing around the studio). 

Nicholas Wilton Pin-Point Abstract Art Mixed Media PaintingNicholas Wilton, Pin Point, 12x12, Mixed Media on Panel, Caldwell Snyder Gallery

MG: You had a gift line business adventure at one time.  How did you feel when that opportunity came along and why did you ultimately decide that it wasn’t for you? 

NW: I created the opportunity in a way because I was tired of doing illustrations…you get paid for one and then do another one and another one and another one… I would make some really good art but it would just disappear so I thought “how can I make some of this art stay around?” and the idea of putting it on products, gifts specifically, like trays, boxes and tote bags, came along and I worked with some friends and we created a company. 

What happened though was that the momentum, the need, the desire to sell, that directed the company, of course…that’s the whole point…to make money.  But my direction was partly that, but to also make the best possible work I could.  And at one point, one of our biggest sellers were basically little tiny cheap reproductions of paintings that you could get at Walmart or Bed Bath and Beyond for like $5. I saw my own personal work [reproduced] but I was uncomfortable because I’m also a fine artist and I had done a lot of work to keep my work at a premium, to keep the prices high, to make it prestigious, because it is. It’s what I do.  It’s really important.  But I saw that this was cannibalizing that and I didn’t like that.  It didn’t feel good to me.  And when something doesn’t feel good to me, regardless of the money, I know from art, from my life, you don’t do continue doing that.  You do something else. There are alternatives.

Nicholas Wilton Blue-Storm Abstract Art Mixed Media PaintingNicholas Wilton, Blue Storm, 12x12, Mixed Media on Panel, Caldwell Snyder Gallery

MG: Spring is almost here.  Seeing as nature is such a big influence for you, do you notice that your paintings and pallet choices change when the seasons change? 

NW: Yeah.  I think so. My studio isn’t heated and I’m warmer now, which is half the problem.  I get so damn cold in here because these ceilings are so high so I’m bundled up in the Winter and it’s just a hard road for a few months.  Also, I think Spring is more of an opening and unfolding and Winter is a closing more.  There is an ease to it and a looseness and more color.  I think there tends to be, over the course of an artist’s career, to go from control to more and more loose and more and more exploration and an opening or broadening and I think that relates to seasons as well.

MG: What piece of advice would you give a young artist starting out and does that advice change if someone is starting out as a young artist vs. an older artist? 

NW: I just think it’s important to realize that each person, old, young, whatever, whoever, if they’re interested in doing this and if they can pay attention to what they love, and really focus on that and look within themselves, that’s really the path to making personal, authentic, sellable, desirable work that you love.  That’s the path and that’s available and they have everything they need they just may need some guidance.  Everybody’s unique and everybody can therefore make unique and personal work.  They just have to pay attention to themselves.

Learn more about Nicholas Wilton on his website.

The painting at top by me is "Original Bubble" 12x12 Acrylic, Paper and Graphite on Birch Board and was one of the pieces I created while attending Nicholas Wilton's Art 2 Life Workshop in 2014.  

Want to Make a Living as an Artist? Better Learn to Hustle!

As I dive into a professional career as a West Coast abstract artist, I am caught in the balancing act of finding time to make art and also figuring out how to get my art noticed.  

I have been in my office today thinking about my job in advertising sales.  I sucked at it.  I had to cold call all sorts of different businesses, from architect firms to gift shops, by phone and in person, in attempt to sell ad space for a New Orleans city magazine.  I didn’t like it at all.  My boss would say things like “We don’t take no for an answer!”  In my mind, I’d be thinking “but they said no…wtf am I supposed to do about it?”  I’m not a pushy person and talking about circulation and demographics just sounded like a hustle.  I didn’t like the hustle.  Now that I’m following my passion, all that has changed. 

Self-promotion is a MUST if I want to get my abstract art noticed.

I had been working on my art biz for almost 4 years when I finally decided to become a full-time artist.  I have enough business background and had done enough research to know that self-promotion was going to be necessary and I was NOT excited about it.  My past experience in sales showed me that I didn’t enjoy it and in turn, I wasn’t very good at it.  

I have never been a person who enjoyed the spot light.  Alcohol used to help with that but when I gave that up, I felt as though I was an introvert who had been pretending, my whole life, to be an extrovert.  The last thing I wanted to do is stand in front of you and tell you how awesome I am.  I realize now that the issue was that I didn't think I was worth much, and how can you self-promote if you have no confidence in what you’re selling?

Finding creative ways to market myself as a West Coast abstract artist is half of my day.  The other half, I actually make art.

As I’ve been diving deeper into what it means to be a professional artist, I find that “hustling” is about half of my day.  I have to figure out different ways to promote my art. I don’t mind talking with people about my art.  I don’t mind sending emails and making phone calls, starting dialogs on Instagram and whipping out business cards without being asked.  In my prior sales experience, my cheeks would burn red and I would get embarrassed talking about the magazine.  It all felt so phony.  But now I believe in what I’m selling and I’m finding out that’s half the battle.

I know there are people in sales who are true artists of their trade.  They can sell anything to anyone at any time.  Hats off to them.  For the rest of us, the most important ingredient to getting noticed is to, first and foremost, believe in your product.  If you’re selling yourself, you’d better like yourself ok or you’re going to have a really hard time.

When I joined Instagram, I stumbled across an artist from Miami named Ronald Sanchez who recently had a show called Word Play.  I am attracted to his use of reclaimed objects and stencil work.  I love his strong typography use and mixed media projects, but what I am really attracted to is his message.

 

My Hustle Has A Hustle Ronald Sanchez Art Miami Florida

After I saw Ronald’s above piece, it became my mantra.  I’m not kidding when I say that every person I see, I’m wondering if they could be a potential collector or influencer.  If I meet you for the first time I’m sizing you up and I can’t wait to tell you I’m an artist.  When I see that spark of interest flash in your eye you can bet that what I’m thinking is, “how can I engage you further?”  My hustle really does have a hustle.  And when I’m feeling so confident about myself that I feel I can do no wrong, I look to another one of Ronald’s pieces that speaks out to me:

 

Humble Hustle Ronald Sanchez Art Miami Florida

 

I can’t forget that staying humble is sometimes as endearing as oozing confidence and the two working together, well it seems a balance that I’ll strive for the rest of my career.  So, thanks to Ronald, for giving me my work mantra.  Because even on days like today, when my hustle feels pretty small, I just have to remember that that the squeaky wheel gets the grease and that I’m not going to reach anyone without making a little noise.  

And with that, look out because I’m off to hustle you, your Grandma and anyone else that might buy my art.  (Note the link?  That's right...I'm hustling you right now!)

The piece at top is Submerged 36x36 Paper & Acrylic on Canvas and it is for sale in my gallery.  Buy it before someone else does...

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How the Tortured Artist Persona is Actually the Process in Motion (even if it makes me want to puke.)

Pain and Art

I woke up this morning feeling defeat.  My painting is not coming along easily.  I’m running out of regional interior designers to email and art consultants to contact.  I still haven’t made that first sale to a stranger that I have put so much importance on.  My day job is ending in about a week.  I have to make it to the blasted grocery store today.  My scalp is itchy and my knee hurts.  Bitch, bitch, bitch… 

Suffering is Part of the Process

This part of the process isn’t easy.  The part where I am nearly physically sick.  The part where I doubt myself.  Every time I go through the same panic; the same nausea; the same “it will never come easily again!” feeling.  I will fail!  I will fail! I will fail!  I was actually walking around my studio saying “It’s awful! It’s terrible!  The most horrible I’ve ever done! I’m doomed!” (Enter thunder clap here.)  Oh, the drama!

mixed media abstract painting
 This is where it started.  I like it at this point but it is too "wall paper" like.  Time to take chances.

I have been through this process enough to know that over this hump is a real step forward.  Past this point, the painting has a history.  History ain’t always pretty, but it sure makes things more interesting and it allows room for learning and growth.    A painting has to have a past before it can have a present.  It is a gestation; a metamorphosis.  Even if it makes me want to vomit.  I mean…I got morning sickness while pregnant, right? 

 mixed media abstract paintingWell that's kind of cool...but still, something is missing. More chance taking ensues. 

Pain Brings Depth to Art 

When people ask me if I miss New Orleans, I say that I miss the architecture and the history.  I miss the oldness of the place.  I miss the ghosts.  New Orleans has lived so many lives, both beautiful and frightening.  It has so many layers and it is these layers that create fascination and mystery.  The ghosts of my frustration bring tension to the party.  It creates a mystery to unravel.  Otherwise my paintings are just pretty things on a wall.  

mixed media abstract paintingDetail of the "Oh Lord what have I done" moment. 

I figured all of this out while going through this painting’s grueling process. Prior to this painting, I have ridden out this feeling thinking that something is wrong with me.  There is nothing wrong with me or this blasted piece.  I know that I shouldn’t look at it as a crappy painting…it’s not even done yet. Without this step, the place beyond does not exist.  That doesn’t mean that it’s any easier to witness.  I still feel like I’ve been punched in the stomach.

 mixed media abstract artSwitching directions is nerve racking but often necessary. Even though it is now muddy and I'm not sure where to go, I already feel better.

Philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre said, “Suffering is justified as soon as it becomes the raw material of beauty.”  So, I begin today with a cup of coffee and some blog post writing in order to step away from the perceived piece of poop on my easel.  I know that with just the right amount of space and by allowing this God-awful feeling to have a role, a thing of beauty awaits.  It is part of my process and if I have to shed a few tears sometimes to get there, so be it.

 mixed media abstract painting artHere and at top is The Bus 48x48 Mixed Media on Canvas.  Sometimes you just have to get on and take the ride.

I’m not saying that all artists are tortured or that pain is necessary to create art, but it seems to be the case for me and that’s ok.  Anyway, the only thing that’s really wrong with me is that I think something is wrong with me.  That has always been the case and if that isn’t a tortured artist quote then I don’t know what is.

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If Opinions are Like A**holes, is Advice Actually Helpful to Artists?

I’ve been pushing this painting around as if I’m rearranging a room.  No huge, OMG changes but slowly the composition has been coming together and while I know it’s not done yet, I’ve been having fun with this one instead of feeling the dread “why isn’t this coming together?” feeling.  I’ve been thoughtful with my brush strokes while still letting my heart guide me.  It’s a balance that feels so good when it’s present.  Too much heart and the composition tends to get lost and the pallet is all over the place.  Too much thought and the painting is tight and has a feeling of being bound.  So, I’m feeling pretty good…

…Then I send the in-progress picture to my Mentor.  She likes it but says to be careful about being too tidy and that I need to be looser with my brush strokes.  I feel frustration coming over because it had felt so good when I was doing it and now I’m questioning that I actually know when I attain that important balance of heart and head and maybe I can’t really recognize it and if I can’t recognize it then maybe I’m not doing it right and if I’m not doing it right then maybe blah blah blah… and now my brain is off to the races.  I only need one little bit of doubt to creep in and everything else, all the hard work and that wonderful feeling of balance is, in my mind, shot to shit.  Not to mention I’ve already forgotten that she said she liked it.

abstract, art, expressionism, painting, contemporary, wip, work in progress, artist, mixed media
Too Tidy...?

I have a tendency to lean towards insecurity so by default I take things way too personally and generally assign too much importance to what other people think.  This, of course, has absolutely nothing to do with my Mentor.  She is a wonderful artist and a lovely friend who gives terrific advice.  She has a wealth of knowledge and experience.  She has guided me to the place where I am now.  She is invaluable and I don’t know what I would do without her.  That being said, I think that as an artist, I need to be able to draw a line between the soul of the art, and other people’s advice.

Artist, skeptisismWilamena and I are skeptical of opinions

When someone gives me advice, I tend to take it.  Especially when it comes from people that I love and/or respect.  Why wouldn’t I take it?  They know more than me.  They are further along in their careers than I am.  I should take the advice…right?  I’m thinking the answer is, not always.  And that’s the tricky part.  How do I know when I should take the advice and when I should continue on as I have been? 

 safety first, mask, sanding, good adviceMy carpenter Husband says that I should use a mask while sanding...that sounds like good advice from a reliable source.

I’m an emotional person who tends to think in extremes.  I go from smiling and being amenable to everyone’s advice to feeling resentful and vowing never to take anyone’s recommendations ever again.  (Blog on being a tortured artist forthcoming.)  I make the best decisions when I can remove my insecurity from the situation and ask the simple question “Is that right for me and my art?”  For instance, I’m looking at my piece 24 hours of cool down later and now that the comments are not so raw, yes, I can indeed see that there are areas that are too tight and tidy.  That doesn’t mean that the entire piece is bad, for Pete’s sake!  Breathe Girl!



Cross Town Traffic 24x24 Mixed Media on Canvas...and she was right...it was way too tight and tidy.

I suppose that what I need to learn is to do is to say “Thank you” and then give my emotions time to chill before making the decision to fully heed the opinions of others...or not.  There is a practicality about advice when it comes from a trusted, experienced source but there is also a point at which I know what’s best within my own process. So, I need to practice getting my Om on in order to find my own voice within this sea of people that know more than me.  And let’s face it, sometimes a painting needs a little crazy to balance out the practical. That may just be the contrast that this painting needed.

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