Featured Artist: Nicki Traikos

Nicki Traikos has been an artist at heart her entire life. The mediums may have changed greatly over the years, but the goal has always been the same - to have courage to try, and to find joy in the moments exploring. Known best for her ‘Watercolors Made Simple’ online classes and new book, Nicki has a casual and approachable philosophy about making art and inspires other artists to adopt it too. As a mother to two grown children who are also on their own creative paths, Nicki enjoys watching them flourish and is inspired as they pursue their artistic paths as well. While traveling with her husband, Nicki also loves photographing and capturing moments with her phone that will then inspire her next painting, class or maybe even new book!  

To learn more about Nicki visit www.lifeidesign.com  

 

Can you tell us a bit about your background and your practice? Did you always know that you wanted to be an artist? 

Growing up I have always loved art and expressing my artistic side but never had the opportunity to go to art school and pursue art full-time. So, I took to my sketchbooks and would sketch and explore ideas to stay creative. It wasn’t until my 40s actually that I leaned into my dream to be a working artist and what that would look like. So, I started to work on my art full-time and was open to whatever was to follow. I enrolled in local studio classes, took online courses and taught myself what I wanted to explore in that moment, whether it was dip pen calligraphy, mixed media art, or watercolor painting. During the last 11 years I have enjoyed showing my art in group exhibitions, selling original art as well as prints, and have even had my art and designs printed on products such as home decor and greeting cards. The last few years I have really enjoyed teaching online classes and most recently have had my first traditionally published book. I have really enjoyed sharing my love for making art with others and if I can help remove limiting beliefs and empower fellow artists to make more art, then I consider that a huge success. I am always looking for ways to explore my personal art practice and create something new and exciting but also how I can share it with others to help them on their artistic path as well.

 

 

Do you remember what your first experience of art was? 

I remember visiting our main gallery in Toronto as a child during a school trip, the Art Gallery of Ontario, and thinking wow, to be an artist you must be a master painter and dead. Really! I thought that art class growing up was just something that came easy to me, and I was really good at, but to be “an artist” was not something available to me. Art class was like gym class, we took it because we had to, and it was just part of those classes that gave us a break from academics. Art was something that always tugged at my heart but wasn’t something I could do with purpose. It wasn’t until I was in my late 30s and I picked up a canvas and some acrylic paint from an art supply store that I really started to feel like I could do something with my art. I painted a large piece that was expressive and abstract with a unique perspective of looking up into the canopy of a large tree and becoming lost. It hung on my wall for years before I picked up a paint brush again but every time I looked at that painting, it reminded me of how much I loved the process of mixing color, putting brush to canvas and creating depth and soul in a painting. That piece is what encouraged me to learn and grow my art skills and exhibit in my first group exhibition in my early 40s.   

 
Can you tell us about the most exciting project that you’ve worked on?

There are a few big moments that stand out for me; the first is my very first group art exhibition. It was both thrilling and scary to show my art in a local gallery for the public to enjoy and critique. I’m sure many artists can relate to the vulnerable feelings of sharing your art publicly, especially when first starting out. I was relieved and excited to get positive feedback and to sell my first original piece of art.  The next big moment is more recent, it was when I signed my first book deal. As a child, I dreamed about one day writing and illustrating children’s books. It was a dream that was far out of reach at that time but at the age of 50, I was to sign my first book deal!  Although my book ‘Watercolor Made Simple’ is not a children’s book, it is one that was meant to be and I enjoyed pouring myself into. To see it on bookshelves in bookstores is still a bit of a dream for me.

What do you find exciting about the materials you use?

I really enjoy working with a big variety of mediums and love that each medium offers a different experience from the other. These days I use watercolor paints with my few favorite round brushes and enjoy the predictability that my tools and paint provide when I am exploring things like landscapes or botanicals. I also love using pencils and charcoal to make expressive marks in my sketchbooks especially since I have been teaching myself portrait drawing as of late. But I get most excited when I use a variety of tools like old hotel key cards, cake decorating knives and even drywall spatulas to create texture using acrylic paint as I explore painting large abstract paintings. Sometimes I have to force myself to focus on using only one or two mediums, but creativity and art are best explored when there is freedom and room to play!  

Do you have a typical routine when you start a new piece or begin a day in the studio?

Yes! I almost always start by making sure my desk is tidy and that I have room to explore. Mornings are when I have the most energy and enjoy being at my desk with a hot oat milk latte in hand. I normally start sketching ideas and thumbnails in my sketchbook when I am working on a new piece. I look for color references through my color studies that I explore when I am working on new color mixes or when I bring home a new color that I haven’t used before. If I am painting a new subject, I tend to look for photos in books that I collect or online. This is where I can make a plan, work on composition and then see what issues I may face when I am painting a more finished piece. I like to also make line drawings that I can trace onto watercolor paper as it becomes my template, and I don’t have to worry about my drawing being skewed. I am all about saving time and getting right to painting, which is the best part for me!

Do you have any ‘studio hacks’ that you’d like to share, any items you repurpose? 

I love vintage shopping and rummaging through second hand and antique shops. I most often come home with far too many items and especially if I can use them to store my paint tubes, brushes or even use them as pencil holders. I get creative with old bowls, baskets and pottery and use them to house my art supplies.   

 

What is your favourite tool in your studio and how do you use it?

I would have to say my round brush(es). I can paint almost anything with a single, good quality round brush and watercolor paints. A round brush allows me to paint thin, delicate lines as well as bold, expressive brush marks. I have far too many paint brushes that I barely reach for and currently use about 6 or 7 max at any given time. If you treat your brushes well, they will last you a lifetime!  

What inspires you and how do you stay motivated? 

Being in nature is a big inspiration for my art, but it also charges my physical and emotional energy as well. Walking in trails, amongst the trees, I often stop to take photos of light, shadows, color and texture. You really don’t have to go far to find interesting color palettes and imagery to paint when you are in nature! It also is where I get my moody, light washes of color ideas from. I like to travel and take a number of photos for me to use as references for what to paint next. This way I have an emotional connection to what I am painting and being able to revisit the feeling, or moment in time is magical for me as I express it using paint and document it in my sketchbook.

 

 

What’s the best thing about being an artist today?

I’ve said this for a while now, “there hasn’t ever been a better time to be an artist than right now”. Modern technology and internet access connect us to information, classes, and even fellow artists worldwide. You can learn and develop your skills from literally anywhere or sell to collectors all over the world without even meeting anyone in person. When I was growing up, I didn’t know a single artist, or even anyone in a creative field, so art to me was held in galleries and museums created by master artists.  I had no idea what “jobs” I could have or how I could earn a living if I followed my passion for art. Art was just something that I was good at and I had to get a “real job” to make money and make a living. When I started my art-based business called ‘life i design’, I was 40 and I was determined to debunk the whole “starving artist” persona. I was set on finding ways that I could make a full-time living from making art, selling art, and even licensing my art. The more I explored ways to make money from my art, the more ways I found available, and I just leaned into what made me feel excited to pursue! As the years passed technology has helped me learn the art and business skills I needed to practice, in order to become more adept at my art but also more confident and connect me to people who are looking for my art or my classes. 

Do you have one piece of advice for artists just starting out? 

Yes! If you have a passion for art, and have always had a passion for art but have never had the opportunity to try your hand at making art - whatever that means for you, whether it’s music, photography, painting etc., - then you must sit down and make the art. That’s it! Practice. We are often paralyzed by the idea of not being good enough or not knowing what to create.  I design my classes and books so I can empower my students with confidence to just get started and put brush to paper. I want them to be ok with painting things that they don’t like or don’t turn out as expected. I show them that everyone paints things that doesn’t turn out exactly and that we learn the most from those moments and experience the most growth from those experiences. That we need to practice and build the muscle memory and work on observational skills so that we can experience success with our paintings. Just start and try, and enjoy the tactile experience that painting offers, and enjoy the boost of happy hormones that we get to experience as artists when we are creating.  

   

Are there any current or upcoming projects that you’d like to share? 

I’m excited to work on my personal art practice and create a collection of artworks that I will be showing and selling this coming year. I am also very excited to be hosting my first creative retreat in France this fall as I want to share with others my personal process for how I stay inspired to paint and how to never run out of ideas for what to paint.  Two important aspects for every artist I feel. I am excited to share my new book that has just come out and am working on a brand-new set of classes that I’ll be offering online later this year. I try my best to balance what I give to fellow artists in terms of instruction and what I give to my personal practice - both are hugely important to me. It keeps me busy, but I feel the more I lean into my creative practice, the more energy I have. I just want to encourage others to not wait like I did to follow their passion for creating art and have the tools and courage to just try! Afterall, you never know where it’s going to lead you! 

 

Why I decided to partner with Winsor & Newton… 

I remember buying my very first watercolor palette when I decided that I wanted to be a full-time artist. I knew that to feel confident, I wanted to have quality art supplies and tools. I went to my local art supply store and was in awe by the choice and selection and also a little intimidated of course! I selected a few key brushes, a small variety of substrates and some paint.  Being someone who is a multi-passionate artist, my paint selection included inks, acrylics and a small pan set of Winsor & Newton Cotman Watercolor paints. The one thing that I still have to this day is that set.  It has been everywhere with me.  I have refilled it multiple times, washed it and filled it again! As I became more savvy with choosing art supplies and more confident with what I needed and wanted as an artist, the brand I kept going back to was Winsor & Newton. I could rely on the quality over and over again especially as I upgraded to their professional line of paints. A few years back I had the pleasure of working with Winsor & Newton on a collaboration and since then I have enjoyed witnessing their passion for artists, for sustainability and for their work to deliver quality supplies to artists that will stand the test of time. Working with a very passionate brand that has such a vast history inspires me to learn more about pigments, traditional methods of painting, and why quality art supplies matter. Artists’ tools are very important but what we do requires a lot of passion and soul, two things that I have personally felt from Winsor & Newton and the people that I have had the pleasure to meet there along the way. 

Thank you!! 

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