Thursday, September 2, 2021

DPW Spotlight Interview: Nils Gleissenberger

Each week we will spotlight a different DPW artist who will give away one of their best paintings. To enter to win Nils' painting "The Obligatory Apple" go to Daily Paintworks and click on the link at the top of the page announcing their interview.

From Nils' DPW Gallery Page: 

I've been an artist for a long time, but only picked up physical media about a year ago. Until then, all I knew were computers! I've spent much of my life in front of a screen, surrounded by electronics, making video games, films and commercials in computer graphics.

I picked up oil painting because I (like many people here, I assume) read Carol Marine's book and got hooked on daily painting. So I bought some paint. Bought a brush. Tried to figure out where the batteries go. Turns out you don't need any! How crazy is that!

What did you want to be growing up?

I was really into computers and video games as a kid. My brothers and I always dreamed of making our own video games. We would divide up the work and I’d always end up creating the art. My mom’s side of the family is very artistic - my mom was a painter herself - so anything artistic was well supported. In fact even though my mom was the more artistic of my parents, it was my dad who always reminded me to find something I enjoy doing with my life.

It is hard to really know what you want to be when you’re young. Apart from maybe a Lego-building astronaut who plays video games all day, I only had a vague idea of doing something creative involving computers. Looking back, I hit that goal pretty good.

When did your artistic journey begin?

I got interested in computer-generated art in school, and carried on doing it into my career. I spent about a decade as a digital artist working on video games and TV commercials. If you’ve ever seen a talking animal on TV trying to sell you frozen food or a mortgage - chances are that was me (and a lot of very talented people).

I got lucky in my first job and found a great mentor who taught me how to draw. Until then all I knew were computers. So I guess that’s where my traditional art journey began. I kept drawing for a few years but never made the jump to really enjoying it as a hobby.

The Obligatory Apple
(click to view)

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

Did you have long periods without creative expression? How did you get back on the horse?

After working in commercials I dropped art altogether for a long time. It’s an exhausting industry, and I guess it would be fair to say I got a bit burned out. I think I didn’t touch anything art-related for about 5 years.

My only contact with art at that time were some blogs I followed. Then one day I had one of those “wait a second…” moments when I realised Carol Marine had written a book about something called “daily painting”. I read the book, bought some oil paints the next day and I’ve been happily painting ever since. I built an easel out of a kitchen table with a smaller kids table balanced on top, with a shoebox sticky taped on top of that and a tiny wooden frame to hold my canvas stuck on top of that. Very stable, very safe (not). I haven’t bought a proper easel yet.

Which mediums and genres do you gravitate toward? Which ones don’t appeal?

I’ve spent most of my time with oil paints - I love the brilliant colors they offer! I also love that every painting requires a strategy: Painting in the right order to preserve the most vulnerable colors, planning out values beforehand. Even mixing colors needs some planning since everything gets contaminated eventually. All that I really enjoy.

The fact that oil paints take forever to dry turned out to be a great plus as well. I can paint, walk away for a day, and then pick up where I left.

I’ve tried gouache too, but I tend to panic when my paint dries too fast. It felt a bit too hectic for me, and I have the greatest respect for everyone who can master it.

I also very rarely draw anymore - it’s something I know helps me with my underpaintings, but it’s not something I enjoy very much.

King Fisher
(click to view)

What was the process like of pinpointing your personal style or finding your voice?

I follow a lot of talented painters so whenever I see something I like, I try to incorporate it. I very much like bold, simple, confident styles with great color.

It’s not something I feel I can really do yet. I don’t have enough confidence yet to be really bold, and I can’t stop fiddling with details so there goes the “simple” right out the window. But it’s great fun to have an idea of where I’d like to be a few years down the track. And who knows, by the time I get there I’ll have found some other styles I’d like to try!

Name an artist (or artists), well-known or not, who you admire. Why?

Easy peasy - Carol Marine. Thanks again for writing that book, it made a big difference in my life!

I also admire a lot of classical painters, both for their incredible skill and the sheer ambition of their work. The idea that they worked hundreds of years ago, without the internet to do research - it’s beyond impressive. The Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam is one of my favorite places in the world.

Deep Freeze
(click to view)

If you could offer one piece of advice to your younger, creative self — what would that be?

That’s an easy one: relax! I’ve always been pretty driven and focused on results as opposed to enjoying every day as it comes along. It’s only been over the last year that I’ve managed to slow down a bit so I could enjoy the journey. Painting has certainly helped me with that because the part I enjoy most about it isn’t the result - it’s the painting process itself. I don’t know what it is about it, but time just flies by.

Do you utilize any habits or tricks for winning the distraction and procrastination battle?

Absolutely! Anything goes when it comes to beating procrastination. For me, procrastination is mostly about anxiety, so I try to manage that with a few tricks:

For example, I break up my painting sessions into underpaintings and final paintings. The idea is that you can’t really make unfixable mistakes at the early stage, so it can be done without pressure.

I’ll do 2-3 underpaintings (base color and sketch) at once in a session, and then let them dry before I do the final paintings in a session each. That gives me a window where I can look at the sketch while I’m going about my day, and I’ll sort of plan out the actual painting in my head. By the time I start the final painting I’m usually feeling pretty confident in my approach.

I’ve also found that it helps me to mix most of my colors first, before I start painting. So typically I’ll spend about an hour mixing colors, and I’ll try them out on a little canvas pad. This is another “safe” phase where I can’t really make a mistake, so it builds up my confidence.

In terms of habits, I do have one day a week when I always paint no matter what. It wasn’t an intentional thing - it sort of got established over time and now my family knows that on that day I’ll be painting. It helps to know that I’ll have time that day (unlike most other days), and it also sets an expectation for myself that I'll paint, which keeps me from procrastinating.

Chiaroscuro Watermelon
(click to view)

In moments of self-doubt or adversity, how do you push forward?

This is a hard one for me because I get discouraged easily and then tend to give up.

When painting, it’s helped me to stop worrying too much about my mistakes. This is where daily (well, twice-weekly) painting has really made a difference. Because the paintings are fast and small, it doesn’t matter so much if I mess one up. When I do fail at a painting I’ll usually do two things:

* I’ll put it away to dry, out of sight. This way I’m not constantly reminded of it.

* Every now and then, throughout the next few days, I’ll peek at it and try to figure out where I went wrong. If it’s something obvious, for example a bad value choice, I’ll figure it out sooner or later and then I’ll at least have learned something (which puts me back in a good mood).

It gets a bit harder when I mess up several paintings in a row. That usually happens when I try something new, for example the first landscapes I painted. They were pretty bad. In those cases I try to find something else to paint altogether, preferably something I know I’m pretty good at. It’s all about rebuilding my confidence at that point instead of trapping myself in a downward spiral.

What are some of your long and short term goals for yourself or your art?

I’ve only been painting (with traditional media) for about a year, so I’m very much enjoying the day-to-day improvements I can see.

Long term it would be great to build up my confidence so that I can try some different styles and media. I’m not there yet and for now I prefer to stick to safe ground with my oil paints.

Shire Of Ashburton
(click to view)

What does success mean to you personally?

A year ago that would’ve been a very complicated question, with a complicated answer. The last year has been a lot about trying to find a happy place, and painting has really helped me with that. I guess at this point, success for me means being in a place where there is something to enjoy every day.

What is one of your proudest moments in your creative life?

You mean apart from this interview?

I’d say it was when my wife and my son picked some of my paintings to frame for themselves (“You can’t sell it, it’s mine now!”). It’s awesome to feel that something you’ve made is making someone else happy.

Thanks, Nils!

© 2021 Sophie Marine

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