If you’ve ever been to the beautiful town of Hood River, Oregon you’ve experienced the Art of Mark Nilsson he’s sort of a big deal! You’ll find his art in Cafe’s, Restaurant’s, at the Hospital, on the street’s and you may even see Mark in action. We met Mark around the year 2000 he has a vibrant, loving and kind personality. Definitely a local celebrity!
Mark painted by artist Cathleen Rehfeld
At what age and how did you begin your journey into art?
My father tells a story of me drawing 10 angels at the age of around 6. He says that they weren’t just stick figures, but that each angel had a different outfit and hairdo in the drawing! (Duh, they had to be fabulous!) He also mentions that friends of his would ask to keep many of my drawings early on. I guess that means that I’ve been doing some form of art pretty much my whole life.
How did you decide to become an artist?
Art for me turned more serious in 6th grade while living in Bishop, California. My awesome teacher, Mr. Beach, took our class outside to draw trees. Afterwards he had a meeting with me to say that I had a gift for art and let’s explore this. He had me do more drawing exercises and eventually enter a contest where I took first place. I was very shy back then, so this was wonderful for my self-esteem. I continued to do art through high school, where I had my first art show at age 16. After high school I lived in Tehran, Iran for 6 months and learned to appreciate the beautiful Islamic art. After that came two years of junior college and a few art classes, but mostly I did art on my own. It was pretty much a hobby through my 20′s while I refinished furniture, but it became more of a career in my early 30′s when a co-worker basically told me to stop comparing myself to others and go be an artist already! I’ve been a full-time artist since 1994.
Tell me about your work? What are you currently working on? How is this different from your past projects?
My work runs the gamut from paintings on canvas, to murals to mosaics. It can vary from realistic, whimsical, abstract or mixed media. Currently I’ve got a show at a local restaurant that is comprised of brightly colored paintings on canvas. I’m also just about to begin painting whimsical murals in a children’s dentist which will take all of February. It’s not really too different from projects I’ve taken on before.
What inspires you, what gets you excited?
People ask me if I have to wait for inspiration to paint. It is important to be inspired, but I believe an artist must create inspiration rather than sit around and wait for it! I do that by looking through art or design books, getting outdoors in nature or a vibrant city, or taking a trip. Traveling gets me the most excited and I have been lucky to be able to travel to some great places in the world.
Did you go to art school or were you self-taught, and did you have a mentor?
I didn’t go to art school; I just took a few courses in junior college but even those I ended up dropping. I’m not big on formulaic instruction, instead I’m a visual learner, and then I like to just simply do it and learn as I go. My mentors have been the teachers I had that let me create on my own terms instead of going through the steps of an assignment. My parents also were very supportive of me being an artist and not pushing me to “get a real job”!
What mediums and techniques do you use?
Early on I painted mostly with oils and watercolors, but these days I use mainly acrylics. They are now amazing in their quality and versatility, and I like how quickly they dry. There has always been a certain prestige of an oil painting, but I find that most clients really don’t care. It’s the final result that’s important. A very nice complement that I’ve received a lot is that many people think that my acrylic paintings are actually in oil. I use a lot of techniques, sometimes adding a gel medium for different textures, but mostly the paint is applied with a variety of brushes. There are a lot of layers of paint, going from dark to light which gives the art depth.
Do you have a piece you are most proud of?
Every once in a while I see one of my very early paintings, such as at a relative’s house, and I cringe at how awful I think it is. But they love it, and that’s just fine. Nowadays, I’m happy and proud of most of the art that I have accomplished, but some are standouts. My favorites are the world map painting I did a few years back. It was a large 5X8 ft. piece. I love travel and geography, so it was fun to do. I also really liked the large butterfly I did for an art show with a theme of “Urban Art”. It was created from all recycled wood, paint and metal and it symbolized the rebirth of urban areas through the work of artists. I also am really happy with the mosaic wall in Hood River because it’s so public for everyone to enjoy.
What kind of art would you like to do that you haven’t done and why?
I can never understand how anyone can possibly be bored. For me, there is so much to learn and create that there is not enough time in this life. There is a lot of art I would like to do that I haven’t done and if I had more hours in the day, I would be getting into sculptural/3 dimensional work, metal work, glass blowing, and jewelry design. Recently I painted an old black dress for a friend, and people loved it, so that means I might be participating in the local fashion show with my hand painted fashions! Bored?? I don’t think so!
What artist’s inspire you?
I am so very inspired by many, many artists, both living and dead. After seeing original Van Gogh paintings in Paris a couple of years ago, I nearly wept, they were so moving. I also love Botticelli, Michaelangelo, the impressionists, Picasso, Andrew Wyatt, Rothko, O’Keefe, and the list goes on! Locally I adore the paintings of Ellen Ditterbrandt, Judith Cunningham and Cathleen Rehfeld who all have such a fresh and free style that inspires me to make every brush stroke count.
Many artists struggle to find ways to sell their art. How do you sell your work? How do you market yourself?
I do show my art in galleries and shops, but I really love showing in cafe’s and restaurants. It’s great exposure and they normally take a very low or no percentage cut. My marketing is mostly word of mouth, but I do have a website and I market on Facebook which has been great. Art is like any other business, so I always say to other artists, do good work, under promise and over deliver, if there’s a problem, fix it. This will get you a good reputation and repeat business. I have many clients with multiple pieces in their homes and businesses.
What was the best advice given to you as an artist?
Best advice given to me was to stop negating my work and stop comparing myself to others. Take the compliment. To this day, I still don’t think I’m the best technical artist by a long shot, but I think I do a pretty damn good job! And always keep learning!
Click on circles to see full photos