Alumna gives advice to aspiring artists

By Emily Irvine

Nancy Nichols, a Cal Poly art alumna, spoke to students Oct. 9
at the Bronco Student Center about preparing their portfolios and
striving for success in the art world.

Nichols recommended the students get involved in their
communities and network, which is how she has achieved a great deal
of success. Some students were concerned about how to combat
boredom in their current positions or careers.

“You must keep working. Your career will guide you,” said
Nichols. “If you are getting bored, take the next step and try
something new.”

Nichols discussed how important it is for students to let
themselves evolve as artists and let their in-progress work evolve
as well. She stressed that they can’t be afraid to change, take
risks, and support their own decisions when it comes to their

Nichols took this advice to heart in 2002 when she began
teaching graphic design at Westwood College in Upland. Though she
never thought she would enjoy teaching, her experience proved

“There is a surge of energy in the classroom that I have never
felt with any other job,” said Nichols.

Nichols refers to her style as non-figurative artwork, a blend
of impressionism and abstract expressionism. She gets inspiration
from her life experiences, current events, and the suffering that
joins people together in times of crisis.

Nichols referred students to the Buddhist philosophy that there
is no true happiness without suffering. She said that is what
brings people to the same level, whether it’s the “rich guy in a
Beverly Hills mansion or a citizen of a third-world country.”

Some of the pieces from her “Disintegration” series depict
abstract images of cancer cells and surgery scars, which were borne
of this philosophy.

The underlying message of the series is how the suffering
Nichols and her partner endured because of disease made them

Another series about the Iraq war ties in with this philosophy
as well. Nichols stressed that everyone has been touched in some
way by the events of the war, whether it is a U.S. soldier or an
Iraqi citizen.

“The suffering that we go through makes us all human on the same
level,” said Nichols.

Nichols’s most important advice for the students is to let their
ideas develop over time and use different methods – don’t just go
from the idea to the canvas.

Her own creative process begins with a photographic image, which
she scans into her computer as a digital illustration. She then
lets her work evolve with the different tools she uses, so her
ideas have time to develop full-circle.

Nichols then uses the digital illustration as her inspiration
for work on canvas. This process can take anywhere from four weeks
to six months to finish, but the satisfaction from the end result
is the most rewarding feeling.

As for the state of modern art, Nichols believes artists have
reached a point where they have rebelled against everything and are
now in a state of regurgitation.

Nichols is also concerned that people are so bombarded with
visual communication through advertisements that they are ignoring
everything they see – even art. Her hope for the future of modern
art rests in graffiti and shock art. Nichols’ work can currently be
seen at the Bronco Gallery in the BSC, as well as Falcon Interiors
in Los Angeles and the Hall of Justice in the civic center in San
Francisco until January 2008. Nichols is a non-figurative painting
major at the Academy of Arts, and will host her final dissertation
for her master’s in fine arts as an online gallery in December

Reach Emily Irvine at

Alumna gives advice to aspiring artists

Nicole Agostino

Alumna gives advice to aspiring artists

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