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Painting Is A Journey

Everyone comes to painting in their own way and everyone has their own journey.  For me painting has been an integral part of my life from the time that I was very young. It means more to me than a business or a contribution to the art historical dialogue.  For me it is a lifestyle and a record of my life, like a journal.


My mother is an artist and was an art educator.  In fact she was the art teacher at my school.  We have a family of girls and we very happily did art projects all of the time.  A favorite was to go to Descanso Gardens, a local botanical garden and do plain air painting there.  When I was 14, my mother took me on an art vacation to Art New England, which was workshops at Bennington College, Vermont.  She was a watercolor painter and so we took a  watercolor workshop.  However the next class was being taught by Wolf Kahn, a landscape painter known for his intense palate.  So that was it really, when I saw his work and the work of his students, I was like "I want to be him."  And so from then on I was a high-chroma landscape painter. He just passed away in March at 92 and he was still having shows.  He was a real influence on my work.  



I started painting daily around 3, my mother tells me.  I really painted everyday until I had  small children.  Then my mind was blocked and I couldn’t do it as much.  As soon as they were in preschool I started the daily practice again.  This is what has shaped my work the most.  The constant work.  I still have more work.  I still feel like I could get infinitely better.  I don’t feel like I have arrived at a place that I can rest at and make lots of the same thing.  I feel like I still have a ways to go.  I learn everyday.  I push myself everyday.  

As a high school student, I studied at Art Center College of Design, with Ray Turner.  He is a figure painter.  He taught me how to paint with oil.  I learned the strokes and movement from him.  I went to BYU as an undergraduate mostly because my parents wanted me to.  I wanted to go to RISD.  Anyway, it was still a great experience and I got to work with Bruce Hixsom Smith who is an amazing friend and mentor.  He taught me how to make paint, which has had a profound impact on my work.  This is how I get the intensity of the paint.  

From BYU I went to the School of the Museum of Fine Arts Boston, where I had every intention of completing my MFA.  It turned out not to be a good fit.  It was not a positive experience and so I only finished one year and got a post Baccalaureate certificate.  I really floundered around in my graduate school experience. It was shocking to me how critical of me they were in every way. I appreciate constructive criticism, because I definitely always want to improve, but this was not.  In a nutshell they basically said to me why can't you be like everybody else?  Well I just can't.  I don't believe it is authentic and it is not in my nature to adapt to others expectations.  So I left.  I was totally disillusioned. Art was not fun or natural to me anymore.  I just shut down.  After 6 months of wandering I decided to become a nurse. That way my income was not dependent on art and I could think about something else.  It was very good for me because it forced me to reach out of my comfort zone and use my brain in other ways.  I worked with many indigent populations and that helped me have a better understanding of life in general. Because of that I have more to give in my work. I have something to talk about and draw from. I still work as a hospice nurse with the dying population 2 nights a week.  It is so great to be able to associate with every type of person and help and grieve with them.

If you don’t know what to paint, just take the first step. I did a small painting everyday for a year when I didn’t know what to do.  This naturally led me to other things.  I have hundreds and I literally mean hundreds of bad paintings that I would never show.  This is part of the process.  I feel like it is very important to follow your own voice.  I think that is what makes great artists great.  They have listened to their inner dialogue and created something unique.  That is why we remember them.  So I have tried to do this in every way and not let other voices push me one way or the other.   Another thing that I think is important is to look at new art that is being made everyday and know what is going on around you.  This is another important part of my daily practice.  But I think that it is important to not copy or emulate anyone else.  Look inside yourself to see what is unique to you and what you can contribute.  Things will develop naturally as you do this. The one risk with this is that your own voice can lead you astray.  This happened to me for many many years.  Don’t worry about it, it’s part of the process.  Great work is not always measured by sales or shows or by what others think.  It is great because it has that ethereal quality that cannot be measured.


Tell me about your journey.  How did you become a painter? And why is painting important to you?

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Nancy Andruk Olson

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Phone: 702-499-3966

Email: nancyandrukolson@gmail.com

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