That pretty much sums it up!
N. C. Winters is an artist based in San Diego, and is on a non-stop creative roller coaster of drawing, painting and sculpting. He took time out of his hectic schedule to have a chat to us, and is nothing short of delightful and insightful.
What did you want to be when you grew up?
Honestly, I can’t remember. I’m sure it was the usual things one wishes to be, before they know what they enjoy. Astronaut, Firefighter, those sound about right. Once I figured out that I enjoyed drawing, I pretty much knew that no matter what I ended up doing, I would always also draw.
What do you find is the most challenging part about being an artist?
The discipline. It’s too easy to write off “being an artist” as one who simply draws or paints for a living. But as a working artist, I have to do all the parts that are not just pure art-making. Promotion, posting, writing, selling, billing, materials, filing, balancing costs, not to mention trying always be a good husband and father. There’s this weird balance to it all and still finding time to make art and maybe even sleep. I’m still struggling to find out what that balance is.
What does art mean to you? Is it therapeutic? An outlet? A compulsion? A hobby? A career?
Trite as it sounds, it’s actually some combination of all of those, though I might draw the line at calling it a “hobby.” It’s very therapeutic in that I find myself taking “breaks” from projects to work on other drawings and paintings. It can be an outlet as I try to practice my meditation while drawing (which is not the proper way) and allow myself “free time” to just work on something for fun. The compulsion part is obvious, as if I go too long without drawing or painting something, I get… kinda weird and cranky. And definitely it has become my career, I’m not sure I’d be suited for much else besides art-making. I rule out calling it a “hobby” because the term implies that it’s done for pure enjoyment, when time allows and I just don’t see it that way. The entirety of what I’m doing is building towards being a better artist with a career, and thinking of it as a “hobby” rules out the discipline required to focus and always strive to get better (and pay the bills).
What’s your process for planning out a piece and do you use any reference imagery?
I usually start out with the kernel of an idea, and then it turns into something else along the way. I use reference imagery when I want to get a specific handle on a subject, but I find myself using less and less reference. Most of my work evolves at it gets created, and I almost never plan anything out completely in advance. I definitely lack the discipline to carefully sketch out in advance or transfer a rough to a final surface. Whenever I try to draw something more than once, I find that I lose all interest. I’m often diving into inks and paint in the middle of drawing out an image. You could say I’m…impatient.
You work is famous for being mind-bogglingly detailed. What’s your secret? Do your eyes have a magnification lens?
No magnification lens yet, though as the years keep ticking off, I’m sure I’ll need one someday. It’s a matter of focus, how tight in I zoom on a particular area. I’m currently trying to incorporate a better balance of macro with micro scale. That, and I just really, really enjoy detail. I like making a feast for the eyes that might reward the viewer who would take longer than the average couple seconds to look at a piece.
How long does it usually take you to complete a painting?
Tricky question, as I usually have a few dozen pieces going on all at the same time. At last count, the studio has around 56 pieces in various states of process. My mind wanders, and I tend to lose interest, and want to start something new. I’m trying to get better about following through sooner on new projects with a tighter focus on the current piece I’m working on. But at the same time, I used to get bent out of shape trying to “force” myself to complete one thing at a time, and the work suffered as a result. Working on many pieces at once is just the best way (for now) for my creative method. That being said, the hyperfocus can kick in sometimes (if I’m tired enough) and I can marathon nonstop on one piece and get it done in a day or so. Does that help? I don’t think I answered the question. Maybe a week or two? It depends.
It seems that a lot of artists’ work ends up resembling themselves in some way, do you think your characters reflect you at all?
Much as I hate generalized statements about “what artists do or think” I would think it impossible to not see some aspects of a creator in the embodiment of their work. That being said, my work is not so much autobiographical as it might be a manifestation of ideas, concepts or themes that occupy my brainspace. Often the images are metaphors, but very often the images go through a sort of verbal filter where I translate ideas that have been on my mind through wordplay and create an image that might be more lateral to the original concept than just a direct interpretation. And also lately, drawing mushrooms.
Have you found an amazing technique or approach that you wish you’d discovered earlier?
I think the entire process of figuring out what works and why, through trial and error is the key to making the whole pie. Every new method or technique becomes relevant through experimentation. If ‘future me’ could go back in time and hand ‘present me’ the “right” method, ‘present me’ wouldn’t know what to do with it. It’s kind of my issue with those who always ask what materials I use. It isn’t so much as finding the right materials, so much as finding the right materials for YOU. The only way they become the right materials that work best for you, is by trying and figuring out the materials that don’t. That being said, the biggest “revelation” I’ve come to in the past few years is the understanding that success takes time, and that this is all one big process. And also to maybe put a little less emphasis on things that are out of my control. Understanding that the most effective way to make your best work is by doing it, and doing it every damn day is something I would hope young hopeful artists could take away.
Who’s your favourite artist at the moment?
Far too many to list. Every day a new favorite grabs my attention. Some of my faves have been Dan Quintana, Greg “Craola” Simkins and James Jean. Very recently I’ve been entranced by the monotypes of artists like Grady Gordon (joaquindead), Christian Rex Van Minnen (also a phenomenal painter) and Albert Stern (stick rust). Gonna have to give monotyping a chance again, haven’t done it since college.
Do you have any artistic plans or goals for the coming year?
I am currently grinding away on a big solo show at Last Rites Gallery in NYC. It’s my best and most ambitious work to date, and an amazing opportunity to showcase what’s been in my focus this year in a cohesive way. The show is entitled “Overgrowth” and refers to both the unstoppable force of nature and the unstoppable force (and tendency to clutter) of the mind. Drawings, paintings, sculpture, all sorts of stuff coming together in one show. November 22, 2014! That, and I’ll be at San Diego Comic Con officially in a booth (shared with Color Ink Book) this July. Working on lots of stuff for that. Other than that, the usual- constant creative experimentation and the drive to be more focused.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
That’s a great question. Probably from my old college professor: Dave Christiana, when I was first starting out with watercolor. I’m sure I’ll butcher his words, but here’s the gist:
“Want to learn to watercolor? Step 1, make 100 watercolor paintings. Do this and then we can talk about Step 2.”
This applies still daily to everything I do, and boils down to the essence of my belief in art education: trial and error and experimentation are your best teachers. In trying to learn something, you figure out how to break it down, make mistakes and find out what works. Only by trying and failing over and over can you truly get an understanding of how to do something right. Try, fail, look with a critical eye, and evolve.
In other words: ‘get better at failing faster.’
If there was a movie made about your life, what would it be called, and why?
“Overdrive.” The story of one man’s overactive mind, and his quest to try and survive it. Coming this summer to select theaters.
You’re a new addition to the crayon box, what color would you be and why?
I’d be clear- a handy tool to help blend the other colors better. Seriously, why doesn’t this yet exist?
What’s the weirdest thing in your studio right now?
A tossup between two different gifts, both from my best friend. A taxidermied squirrel mounted to a piece of plywood, and a tribal African hand-carved wooden mask.
Thank you for the interview, and the efforts to showcase both the beautiful and bizarre in this world!