Thursday, October 29, 2020

DPW Spotlight Interview: Nigel Williams

Each week we will spotlight a different DPW artist who will give away one of their best paintings. To enter to win Nigel's painting "Aubergines Study #3" go to Daily Paintworks and click on the link at the top of the page announcing their interview.

From Nigel's DPW Gallery Page:

Acrylic painter and guitarist from St Maarten. Trying to capture the magic of the sunny Caribbean regardless of subject matter.

Tell us a bit about how you first started painting.

I grew up on the island of St Maarten at the Little Bay Hotel. My dad was the head electrician and on-call 24/7, so we lived in a little house on the premises. I used to roam around the place all the time and befriended a watercolor artist who used to sit outside her room and paint scenes of the ocean. She lived in the Netherlands but would visit the island regularly because her husband worked for the hotel. She would bring me brushes, paint, and paper and showed me how to paint with watercolor. Before that, I used the old staple, the Crayola Crayon, and colored pencils. When I was around nine I was headed to the beach one day and saw a guy painting these 5x5 beach scenes in watercolor. He would knock them out real quick and stick a $15 price tag on them. $15 to a nine-year-old in the ’80s was a lot of pocket change. With that kind of dough, you could be king of the arcade. I never realized until that point that you could earn money from your art. I had learned to paint the same type of scenes from my artist friend so I figured why not try to earn some pocket money from something I did every day anyway. I figured I would do better than that guy if I sold my art in the hotel lobby at night instead of infringing on his territory at the beach. The market couldn’t bear two guys painting the same subject matter right? And besides, who went to the beach with extra cash to buy a painting anyway? The lobby was perfect because there was a casino and it seemed to be a place where people left with untold riches. So I set up shop one night and started selling my work for $15 but was convinced by the manager of the hotel, whose son was my best friend, to sell them for $1. I wasn’t selling anything and he told me I probably needed more experience. A real nice way of telling me my art wasn’t worth $15. :) I looked at him like he was crazy. One dollar? After my bruised ego recovered, I realized here was this grown man sharing some wisdom with me so maybe I should listen. I dropped the prices to $1 and sold 20 paintings in a couple of hours. I wouldn’t trade those experiences for anything.

Aubergines Study #3
(click to view)

Enter to win by clicking on the link at the top of the DPW home page announcing Nigel's interview.

Did you have any stops and starts in your painting career?

Yeah, I became a musician. Hanging out in the lobby I was eventually exposed to live music. I would hear the sounds of various bands that would perform in the lounge right across from the casino. I got bit by the music bug and art became kinda boring. I was making good money painting. Enough to start buying musical instruments. I started off on drums but ended up on guitar eventually. I attended Berklee College of Music to study Music Education and still painted over the years but the music was my focus. I think I took my art for granted because it came so easy and I felt I could get back into it at any time. I would get inspired to paint every couple of years and get totally obsessed with it. I took some life drawing classes at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. A lot of my older pieces from my oil and pastel period are on display at several banks and government offices on the island. I used to date my work so I see the huge gaps in time from period to period. I look back at some of those pieces and cringe but they had a certain innocence I guess. My style is so different now.

What mediums and genres have you experimented with?

When I lived on the island I was into pastels and oils. I’ve dabbled in colored pencils and oil pastels also. I never did still life’s back then now that I think of it. Mostly landscapes, seascapes, and market scenes. I remember in my early days I made a still life in oil in a very classical style. It was grapes in a bowl. I did it because I wanted to break away from painting the same things all the time. I tried to sell it along with my other work but nobody cared for it. It probably wasn’t very good because I wasn’t passionate about it.

Cleaning Today's Catch
(click to view)

Which ones have "stuck" and which ones have fallen away?

I think I’ve officially given up on watercolor because I can’t get that loose bold look. It’s funny because I had a watercolor book by Charles Reid and was always thinking wouldn’t it be cool to paint like that in another medium. I think I’m actually better at colored pencils than all the other mediums I’ve used but I find them tedious. If I can figure out how to really fix oil pastels I might get into those a little more. I thought they would be a good alternative when I have to travel but the paintings don’t travel well. I also love pastels but for health reasons, they aren't very good for me. When I moved to Los Angeles in the early 2000’s I lived in a small apartment with my wife at the time and the smell of oils wafting through our place wasn’t an option so I started exploring acrylics. I got a cheap set and took some lessons but it wasn’t until I took a course called Painting Fast, Loose, and Bold with Patti Mollica that I discovered their beauty. I sing her praises every chance I get because she literally coaxed out of me the style of painting I always wanted to create but just didn’t know how to. There was no formal instruction on painting loose and bold at the time that I knew of. We had a painting in the house by a Dutch artist and I remember when I stood close to it, it just looked like a cacophony of colors but from a distance, everything blended together perfectly. I remember finally getting the concept on the last painting, on the last day of the course, after I had mentally given up. I just started painting and not really worrying about details and the things that I would usually get hung up on. I had a eureka moment. Don’t think, just paint.

Ti Punch
(click to view)

Which ones are you looking forward to exploring?

I’ve been seeing a lot of artists doing amazing work with Gouache. It’s such a luminous medium. I might just treat myself to a set for Christmas and see what happens.

Who or what inspires you most?

I’m inspired by life. There’s so much beauty in everything. For me, it’s good music, good art, and good food. I guess I like creating things. I grow my own food and I also make things like bread, mayo, and pasta from scratch. My fiancĂ© jokingly asks me when I’m going to start churning my own butter all the time. Challenge accepted. Everything is a blank canvas in my world. When it comes to art I’m inspired by Sir Roland Richardson. He’s a Caribbean Impressionist and a national treasure. Crazy enough I’ve never asked him for advice on how to paint like him. I always felt his style was sacred. In fact, I was the same way with the other great artists who mentored me like Ruby Bute and the late Cynric Griffith. I never tried to paint like them. Mr. Griffith and I would go fishing and never really talked much about art. When I visit the island I always make time to check out Sir Roland’s gallery and Ruby has a couple of my paintings for sale in her gallery. Three distinctly different styles of artists but each had a profound effect on my development as a person. Be yourself at all times.

Ripe Guavas
(click to view)

What does procrastination look like for you?

Getting caught in the social media vortex. IG, FB, and Youtube are all-consuming. I’m always watching “how-to” videos but have to be careful not to “study” so much that I don’t actually get anything done. Then I end up telling myself it’s ok because it’s for research.

What techniques work to ensure that you make time for your art?

I’ve been trying to get up early, exercise, and paint first thing in the morning. Life has a way of getting in the way so if I do it before my day officially gets started I have a better chance of accomplishing something. When the phone starts ringing it’s all over. If you truly take time inventory you’ll find that there's always 15 or 20 minutes of time throughout the day that you just kinda waste. I started walking with a really small sketchbook everywhere I go and if I have a spare minute standing in line to shop or whatever I try to sketch something. I try to do something creative every day. Even if that means cooking a fancy meal and trying to plate it as a master chef would.

Avocado Trio
(click to view)

How do you generally arrive at ideas for your paintings?

I feel like I have so much to learn. I choose subjects based on my mood. When I’m feeling nostalgic I'll paint something that reminds me of home. I love the Flamboyant Tree and making studies of them brings a smile to my face. They produce bright red flowers in the summer and the image of a stately red tree against a green Caribbean landscape is nature's basic lesson in how complementary colors work. I don’t think there’s any scene occurring naturally in nature where pure complementary colors are working in harmony like that.

I am trying to get better at subjects that I’ve shied away from because I always perceived them as being impossibly difficult. I was hiking one day with my fiancĂ© and her friend and the subject of my art came up. Her friend challenged me to make a painting of a wine bottle and glass. I made all kinds of excuses like “I’m a Caribbean artist and I don’t do that.” I was having flashbacks of my failed classical grape painting. Besides, glass is about as hard to paint as hands and feet and so on it went. She said, “But if you don't practice, how will you get better at it”? Obviously, she had a great point, so I searched Youtube to see if I could find a video of Patti Mollica painting the same subject matter and the good ole internet didn’t let me down. Turns out it's not as difficult as it seems. It’s all about painting the shapes you see. Glass is now one of my favorite subjects to paint. I posted the painting on FB and 3 people reached out to me about it right away. I recently got a commission to do a portrait of a friend but I let her know that I wasn't really a portrait artist and explained how difficult it is to capture a likeness and blah blah blah. She told me “Nah, you can do it.” I agonized over that thing forever. I was constantly on Youtube watching every video I could about painting skin tones. I attempted it 3 times without success. I kept mixing this weird purple skin color no matter what I did. I got it on the 4th try after I relaxed and just painted as if I was a kid using paint for the first time. Portraits are definitely a harder subject matter to tackle but are really good exercises to see if you are paying attention to detail. You never know what you're capable of if you never step out of your comfort zone.

Flamboyant tree study #3
(click to view)

How do you keep art "fresh?" What techniques have helped you avoid burnout and keep your work vibrant and engaging?

I feel like a kid that’s seeing the world for the first time so everything excites me. I read a great book called Effortless Mastery that puts a lot of how we get these mental blocks into perspective. The author observed that musicians seemed to have the most fun when they are just messing around on another instrument that isn't their principle. His theory is that if you call yourself a guitarist but are jamming on the drums, for example, you don’t have that pressure of sounding great because it’s not your principal instrument. You don’t call yourself a drummer so mistakes don’t matter but the minute you get back to playing your principal instrument you feel the weight sounding like the great musicians that have come before you. In your mind, you must be as good as so and so or you’re a failure. He had a piano teacher that made him play one note each lesson for a half hour. Just one note. The idea was to treat that one note as the most beautiful sound you’ve ever heard. The one that got me was when he posed the question: If you had a plastic bag over your head, after 20 seconds what’s important? After a minute? After two? Are you thinking about music at that point? His point was to not take what you do so seriously. Just have fun and enjoy the journey. That philosophy changed the way I approached the guitar and now I’m using it in my art. It’s very Zen.

Self Portrait: Trini’s Son
(click to view)

What do you feel you are learning about right now as an artist?

I’m truly learning to see better. With music, you have to learn to listen, with art you have to learn to see. 

What makes you happiest about your art?

I paint pretty pictures because that's how I perceive the world. I grew up in one of the most beautiful places on earth in my opinion and I try to convey those memories and feelings in the paintings I make. I believe that every color, like that one note, is the most beautiful thing I've ever seen. I’m very happy when I paint something and it brings someone else the same joy that I felt while painting it. When someone feels so moved by something you created to purchase it, hang it on their wall, and look at it every day, that to me is an honor.

Thanks, Nigel!

© 2020 Sophie Marine

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