DANIELLE NILSEN

CH.89: If you were to categorize or describe the style of your artwork, what would it be and why?

DN: I would describe my work as colorful, playful, shape-based abstraction. Color is my number one love, but I’m also very drawn to shape, line, texture, pattern, and repetition. I make collages, paintings, and fabric pieces that are all very vibrant, sometimes featuring geometric shapes and other times more irregular fragmented shapes. Currently I am obsessed with the circle, so my work is full of them.

CH.89: Where do you draw your inspiration from?

DN: I have always been inspired by my surroundings, finding interesting compositions or captivating colors wherever I go. I tend to zoom in and look for the small details, examine ordinary objects, or just find beauty or intrigue in things others might overlook. I love the Mary Oliver quote “Pay Attention. Be Astonished. Tell About it.” I feel like that’s what art-making is all about. Right now, I’m very inspired by children’s toys, games, and clothing–as a mom to two kids under three and as an elementary art teacher, I am surrounded by those things. I love the primary colors, bright and fun patterns, playful shapes, all of it. I’m also inspired by landscape, things I see on walks, color combinations I see in magazines or on Instagram, and of course the art of other artists. I really love abstract expressionism, the Bauhaus, fauvism, pattern and decoration, and the supports/surfaces movement. I also draw inspiration from textile design, quilting, fashion, and interiors.

CH.89: Can you talk a little bit about what your creative thought process is like when starting a new project/ piece of artwork?

DN: I always start with experimentation and play, then I look back at what I’ve made to see what is most exciting to me, what common threads are present, etc. and use that information to propel myself and my work forward. I work in a sketchbook creating collages almost daily. It’s a very automatic process and I don’t think too much about it, I just dive in and start cutting and gluing. Sometimes I might have a general idea of a composition or color scheme in mind, but for the most part I just go for it and I make a lot just to see what happens. My philosophy is that quantity begets quality. For example, if I make a hundred, maybe I will end up with 20 that I think are really good. In the past two months actually, I’ve made over a hundred collages and I’m currently looking through them to determine which ones are going to be translated into larger paintings or fabric collages. 

CH.89: Is there anything in particular that you would want people to take from your artwork?

DN: I’m interested in the idea of comfort and escape, and how color can create a space for both. I want the act of looking at my art to be a moment of joy. I want viewers to get lost in the color, to find satisfaction in the pattern, and to want to look closer and ask questions about what certain shapes might represent or reference. 

CH.89: Can you talk a little bit about your lifestyle as an artist and what that is like?

DN: In addition to being an artist, I am a full-time elementary art teacher and a mom to two young children, so art-making usually happens on nights and weekends. Of course, the pandemic has forced me (and my family) to carve out new live/work routines. Teaching from home has afforded me a lot more studio time. It was actually the beginning of the pandemic that led me to  develop my collage practice and learn to sew, both of which have been so pivotal for my art practice.

CH.89: When starting out an artistic task, do you think it is better to have a particular direction/set plan guiding your way? Or, is it better to act on impulse and go from there?

DN: I think there is certainly time for both. I usually keep a running list of possible studio tasks but I allow myself the freedom to choose whichever one feels most inviting on any given day. Of course, if I was working towards a show or something, I might be a little more focused, but either way, allowing room for play and experimentation is so important to me. I don’t usually have a plan when it comes to my collages, though I might have a particular color combination or a compositional idea in mind sometimes that will jumpstart my explorations. Other times I just cut and glue down shapes willy-nilly and see what happens! When I work on a painting, I usually create sketches first, which are based on collages I’ve made. When I work on a fabric piece, I improvise a lot but work with a color or pattern idea in mind. I let the material guide me.

CH.89: What is one major lesson you’ve learned as an artist thus far?

DN: That it’s okay to change gears and try new things. For example, I have been drawn to abstract work forever, but I fought it for a long time because I felt like I had to keep painting landscapes. I felt like I was a landscape painter and that was that, just because that was all I had ever done, and I knew people liked that work. Well, who cares what other people think – follow your passions and whims, I say! I think if you are drawn to something, it’s certainly worth exploring.

CH.89: Do you regard personal style & taste to be of highest importance?

DN: I think it is definitely important to be true to yourself, and to like what you make/make what you like. But I also think there are more important things in life and if I make some bad work it’s not the end of the world. I also think personal style and the things you are drawn to can evolve over time.

CH.89: What do you consider to be the hardest thing about being an artist?

DN: Well, the hardest thing about being an artist and a teacher and a parent is finding enough time to devote to artmaking while also ensuring that my other jobs/roles get enough of my attention and effort as well. As far as being an artist specifically, I think knowing how to advance my career has been the hardest thing so far. None of my courses in college taught me about applying to shows, approaching galleries, selling my work, any of that. I’ve always kind of made art just for myself but I am starting to get more serious about getting it out into the world and I’m having to research and learn a lot about how to actually do that.

CH.89: What is one thing you love about being an artist?

DN: I love my ability to see the world in a different way and find beauty and intrigue in the most mundane things. I love creating things that did not exist before my hands and body started moving around to make them. I love seeing work accumulate and being surrounded by color and shapes, as well as a sense of pride and accomplishment. I love that my studio is a space just for me and I always feel better after I spend time in there.

CH.89: Is there anyone in particular, any artist’s that inspire you in any way?

DN: So many! Sheila Hicks, Helen Frankenthaler, Ruth Asawa, Rebecca Morris, Amy Sillman, Polly Apfelbaum… I could go on and on.

CH.89: What do you think of technology in terms of being a useful tool for artists today?

DN: It is a blessing and a curse. I have learned a lot and made many great connections online, but I have also fallen into the trap of comparison and doom scrolling way too many times. I’m trying to spend less time online and more time being present in my everyday life. I’m definitely more at peace and more creative when I spend less time looking at screens.

CH.89: Do you think being an artist allows you to view the world differently from those who don’t follow creative paths?

DN: Yes, I do. Although I do think that creativity is innate within us all if we nurture it. Though it does seem that seeing the world in an artistic way comes more naturally to some than to others. I do think it can be learned through practice and I hope that in my roles as teacher and artist I’m able to guide people toward the benefits of art-making and creative play.

CH.89: Do you enjoy traveling? If so, do you have a favorite city?

DN: I do. Of course, it has been a while since I have been able to! The last trip I took before Covid was to Nashville and that was very fun. When I was in high school, I had the opportunity to travel to Spain and I always dream of returning there. I loved the museums in Madrid, but my favorite town was Salamanca. 

CH.89: Do you have a favorite author or book?

DN: I love Mary Oliver’s books of poetry. I used to be a voracious reader, but unfortunately since having children I have hardly read anything! I tend to devote all my extra time to art-making instead. And listening to podcasts.

CH.89: Any future goals or plans for your artwork?

DN: Yes! My biggest goal right now is to get a solo show sometime in the next couple of years. This summer I would like to work on scaling up my collages and experiment with dyeing, printing, and painting fabric to use in my work as well. In the future, I would like to venture into installation and creating colorful, immersive room environments.

CH.89: What does being an artist mean to you?

DN: Being an artist is all about how you see the world around you and what you want to do with what you see. Even when I wasn’t making paintings, I was still an artist. Noticing things around me, taking lots of pictures and making photo collages, blogging, sketching – it was all part of my creative practice. I think play and experimentation is also very important as an artist.

CH.89: What’s the last song you listened to?

DN: Take the Night Off by Laura Marling.

CH.89: Any last words on the aesthetic of your artwork?

DN: I don’t think so. Thank you so much for having me!

CHECK OUT MORE ON: DANIELLE NILSEN

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