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In today’s episode, Tim introduces Nick Davis, a digital artist from St. Petersburg, Florida. Nick creates striking, vibrant portraits with a masterful use of color, and does it all while working on his iPad. Listen as he talks to Tim about his inspirations, his working methods, and the stories he is trying to tell with his art. Full Episode Transcript Below.
Tim: Welcome to Art Ed Radio, the podcast for art teachers. This show is produced by The Art of Education University, and I’m your host, Tim Bogatz.
I have an awesome artist that I want to introduce you to today. His name is Nick Davis, and he is a digital artist from Florida. He will be on in just a minute to talk about himself and his work, but before that, I want to give you a little bit of an introduction, tell you a little bit about his work, and just kind of set the table for the conversation that’s going to happen. I was first introduced to Nick by an AOEU writer, who coincidentally is also named Nick, but Nick Gehl the writer shared a video and some images of Nick Davis’s work, and I was fascinated by it.
Nick creates these absolutely striking portraits of people with rich, deep, dark colored skin and colorful backgrounds and clothes. And most of the time, they are simple portraits of everyday people, images of everyday life, but the way he captures them is just spectacular. The work is sharp, there is a focus on the eyes in almost every image, or at least I should say I am drawn to the eyes. And then the accessories and the details are masterfully done. And more than anything, the way Nick uses color, both selecting and using the palette, the color scheme, is second to none. And for me, I think more than anything else with the work, I see the beauty and the joy coming through.
Now, I want to read you something from Nick’s website about his art, something he said. “I am inspired by Jean-Michel Basquiat, Kerry James Marshall, Kehinde Wiley, Kara Walker and others. I use my art as a way to express everyday life, as a person who deals with anxiety and depression my goal is simply to encourage my community and others that you’re not alone.” And that sums it up beautifully, not only who influences Nick, but the reasons he creates and the reasons he makes art. I see the influence of Kerry James Marshall come through most clearly, but I see the influence of all of those incredible artists, who I love by the way, which maybe is the reason that Nick’s work resonates with me so much, but I think everybody’s going to enjoy it when they see it. So if you want to check out his work before we chat, just to give yourself a little more context as you listen, his website is ndartlife.com. That’s N-D-A-R-T-L-I-F-E.com, NDArtLife. So go ahead, you can pause the episode, go check it out, get yourself some visuals, and Nick and I will be waiting for you when you come back.
All right. And Nick Davis is joining me here. Nick, how are you?
Nick: Hey, I’m doing good. Yourself Tim?
Tim: I’m doing really well. I appreciate you joining me. Welcome to the show. To start with, can you just kind of introduce yourself, and can you tell our audience about yourself and about your art?
Nick: Well my name is Nick Davis, and I’m a digital artist from St. Petersburg, Florida. I love art in itself, and my hopes is just to encourage my community that their black is beautiful.
Tim: Yeah, I like it. I like it. Now I want to ask you, we can talk a little bit about your work if you want to describe it for us that would be cool. But can you also tell us I guess how you first got started as an artist? Have you always been the creative type throughout your life, or is this something that you picked up a little bit later on?
Nick: I would say I always loved art, so it’s always been impacting my life. I come from a lot of painters and artists in my family, so I just always love to create and just to build different ideas, and just make them come to life. I would say I started with digital art about two years ago, when my wife gifted me my first iPad. And then I just started creating, and I just started taking different steps. So yeah, I would say it’s always been an impact on my life.
Tim: And before you were doing digital art, was it drawing, was it painting for you, sculpture? What types of things did you enjoy?
Nick: I would say for myself, I’ve never really been a big painter. I never really liked hands messy and stuff like that. I’d say I started with just sketching out different portraits of different celebrities, and just combining different ideas, and then I would say about a couple years ago, I just started having seizures which kind of just switched everything for me and it just changed my focus and my ideas. And ever since then, I’ve just been trying to formulate different ideas, and just putting together a new way to encourage the community.
Tim: Yeah, that’s cool. And you feel like you found your niche with the digital art, being able to create on the iPad? That’s what’s taken off for you?
Nick: I would say yes, in a sense. I don’t think it’s what’s taken off for me, I think it’s just the taking the chances on showing emotions, and just showing that who you are is good enough, and everyone has a purpose. But I love art. I would say in a way it just keeps me sane, just keeps me focused every day.
Tim: So can you tell us a little bit about your experience with art when you were in school? Because everyone listening to this is art teachers, so we love to hear about people’s experiences in school. Was it good, was it bad for you, was it somewhere in between? Did you have an art teacher somewhere along the way that affected you one way or the other?
Nick: I would say I didn’t have many art teachers. I wasn’t the best kid in school, so I wasn’t there much. But I would say the most influential teacher I would say was Mr. Henderson in elementary school. I went to Mount Vernon, and he just allowed us to create, and just let our mind flow.
Tim: All right, that’s cool. I always appreciate when teachers can do that, let kids be creative, let them kind of do their thing and kind of find themselves, find who they are as artists. I think that’s always a worthwhile goal. And I guess the other thing that teachers are always curious about, we love to know kind of behind the scenes what it looks like when artists are creating. So can you tell us about your working method? How do you get started with your work, what does the process look like for you? How long does it take you to create a piece?
Nick: I would say my mind is always going. Ideas just come from seeing what’s outside, seeing what’s around me, trying to find different ways just to encourage everybody. But in the process, I always listen to music. It can range from gospel to rap to jazz, to all kinds of different things. And I kind of find the emotions, and just find what they’re trying to say and their ideas and stuff like that, and then I just start off with a sketch. And then I would say the thing that takes the longest for me is just finding the right colors. There’s so many colors I believe that represent the emotions, and it’s just you can never have too much color. And I think our community is so impacted by color.
I said this before, we see men with pink and we think they’re not strong enough. People are judged by colors, people are judged by the way they show emotions. Certain people can’t cry. I just want to show an outlet, it’s okay to be you. But I’d say the drawing part is just the colors, and it’s just I always try to find a quote at the end of them. The quotes, I try to show that everybody is the same in a sense. We all have the same problems, the same trials. But if we believe in ourselves and we have that same thing that anything is possible, we can succeed. And I think that’s the biggest thing.
Tim: Yeah, I like that a lot. And I just wanted to ask you a little bit more about just kind of what you want people to get from your work. Because you’ve talked about encouragement, about positivity, about the idea black is beautiful, about the idea that who you are is good enough. And I think all those things are kind of worth exploring, but I guess the question is, how do you want people to react to your work when they see it? What kinds of things do you want people to think about when they’re looking at your work?
Nick: I think my biggest focus is just to encourage. I don’t want to just be focused on just… I want the black in my characters to represent everybody in a sense. I want it not just to be focused on my black community around me, but the whole world. Black can show emotions, it can show darkness, but it can also show love in a sense. I think we show, when we see black it just has a negative feeling to it. And I just want to encourage that we all have this same hope. And I think that’s why I combine all these different colors with the black colors, to show that we all have these different abilities inside of us.
And I think, yeah, I think that’s why I use the saying black is beautiful, just to show that it is a beautiful color. I use black is encouraging, black is inspiring, black is love. I think the biggest focus in our community is what we lack is love. And if we can put more focus on love, that can shift the whole community’s mind, and just create a new focus.
Tim: Yeah, I like that thought too. I also wanted to ask you, because you do have a very distinct style with your figures, with the colors you use. But can you talk a little bit about your artistic influences? Who are some of the artists that you admire or look up to? What kind of connections do you make between what you see from those artists that influence you, and what you do in your work?
Nick: I would say one of my biggest role models are Jean-Michel Basquiat. Jean-Michel Basquiat, Kerry Marshall, Kara Walker, Kehinde Wiley. But see, I see myself in a lot of their work. Such as Jean-Michel Basquiat, he was just his self. He just, whatever the first thing that came to his mind, he wasn’t afraid to put that on, to show that to the world. He showed his emotions, his thoughts through his work, even to a point where you have to get to a point… I would say he encouraged me to a point to not care about what people would say, and just be myself. With Kerry James Marshall, I would say he encouraged me most with the black characters. He always says that there’s a lack of black characters, there’s a lack of black people in artwork, so the biggest way to change that is to put black people in your art. And that just, it took my mind to another level, and it just encouraged me to be myself and see the change that I wanted to see in the community.
And I would say with Kara Walker, she just with the silhouettes, it lets you know that there’s so much more to people. When you see somebody, you always have a first thought of somebody. But if you actually imagine what they’ve been through or what they’re dealing with, there’s so much more to everybody’s story. And I think that’s what kind of combines my artwork, into a sense where if I can show silhouettes of people, or I can show people struggling or people crying, or even the black characters, it will show that it’s okay to be you. And we can also not judge people by what they’re going through, or what you see at first sight. Because in a sense, we all struggle. And if we can focus on love and change, that can make I believe the world a different thing, and that’s my biggest focus, just to make a difference.
Tim: Yeah, yeah. Wise words for sure. Then I guess just one last question too, to kind of wrap it up here. Just curious about what is on the horizon for you, what do you have planned in the near future? Any new ideas, any ways to push your work, start doing things differently? Or do you think you’re just going to continue creating more of what you’re doing right now?
Nick: My biggest focus is just to, right now, just to create. I just love to draw. Like I said, dealing with the health and everything, it’s just a way for me to stay focused, and just to keep focused and stay sane. I keep saying that, but I hope to see my artwork all around the world in a sense, and hopefully it will encourage everybody just to show their emotions and not to be judged by it.
Tim: That’s perfect. All right well Nick, thank you so much for joining us. I appreciate your time, I appreciate everything you had to say. Like I said, a lot of wise words. So thank you for sharing everything with us.
Nick: Thank you so much for having me.
Tim: Thank you so much to Nick for taking the time to talk to me today, to share his work, and to give us a little bit of insight into his inspirations and his art making process. Again, make sure you check out his work at ndartlife.com, follow him on Instagram and on Facebook, and we’ll make sure we put links to everything in the show notes so it’s all really easy to find for you.
Then just one last thing before we go. I would say that Nick’s work is definitely worthwhile to show in the classroom. Whether you are talking about portraits or color, or design and detail and pattern, Nick’s work has something to offer and can definitely be inspirational to your students. So make sure you take a look at everything he’s doing. Give your students a chance to do the same.
Art Ed Radio is produced by The Art of Education University with audio engineering by Michael Crocker. Thank you for listening, and we’ll talk to you next week.
Magazine articles and podcasts are opinions of professional education contributors and do not necessarily represent the position of the Art of Education University (AOEU) or its academic offerings. Contributors use terms in the way they are most often talked about in the scope of their educational experiences.