Interview: Making Authentic Art with Lily Johannah Nicholson

Lily Johannah Nicholson is an artist based on the far south coast of New South Wales, Australia, whose work explores colour palettes and mark making techniques using a range of mediums including watercolour, gouache, acrylic, house paints, crayon, pen and pencil.

When did you first begin making art?

I started making art when I was very little, after every trip to town, to my cousins farm, to the sea, I would draw a map. My love of watercolours began throughout my primary studies at a Steiner School here in the area I grew up in. I studied Printmaking at uni, learning a range of mark making processes but found it challenging to continue printmaking without access to materials and equipment once my studies ended. It was then I began painting and enjoying it’s more gestural and immediate qualities.

Were you always confident you could make a living from it?

In short, no. But I’ve worked hard over the years, to keep my work as authentic as possible and I’m finding that in the last year or so, that consistency is really paying off.

Are you ever apprehensive about how it will be received?

Of course! Always. But I guess, with time, you learn to accept rejection, take it on board as “constructive criticism” and continue to do what you enjoy, aside form other people’s opinions. It is hard though and sometimes easier said than done but I guess the cliched saying “get back on the horse” exists for a reason.

What inspires you?

My son, my life as his mum, here on the farm. Also, my incredible bunch of creative friends, whose work ethic never seems to waver, despite the challenges faced by navigating a career and motherhood. And of course, the act of making.

Do you feel creating is a spiritual act?

I wouldn’t say I’m a ‘spiritual’ person, however, there is a certain amount of focus one needs in order to make work and if things aren’t running smoothly in other areas of my life, I can find it difficult to give my art making process the amount of attention it needs.

Is making art essential to your wellbeing?

I think it has become so. I go through stages of having this mad desire to make work and all I want to do is be at home in my studio, day after day, with no distractions and then others where I can’t even look at my desk.

Do you ever feel blocked and how do you deal with it?

I think when my life is cluttered elsewhere, both literally and figuratively, I find it difficult to sort through what it is I’m wanting to make. At times like this, I try to clear away the other things, spend time out on our property, around our home with my family. I may go back to my original inspirations, artists I love such as Cy Twombly, Mark Rothko, Agnes Martin, Joan Miro, Helen Frankenthaler, Georgia O’Keefe, Etel Adams, Henri Matisse, Tony Tuckson and of course Emily Kame Kngwarreye. But the thing I find most helpful, is by just beginning something, even if it’s just sitting and making drawings of whatever it is I’m looking at, usually my son, Dusty. This usually gives me a lead, a starting point for the next body of work.

How do you balance your urge to create with being the mother of a little one?

Ha, not well I don’t think and it’s definitely something I struggle with. I find myself often torn between wanting to be the best mum possible but also wanting a career/ life of my own, which I believe is quite a common situation for many women in this day and age. I work late at night and when dusty sleeps and I have a super supportive partner who is very hands on with Dusty and while he works a lot, both at his job and on the property, is accommodating of my work schedule, taking on a bit extra if I have deadlines.

What do you hope people experience when viewing your work?

To be honest, I don’t really think about it that much. I guess I would like them to enjoy it, but of course, you can’t please everyone. It’s nice when someone is able to understand whatever it was I was “working through”, both conceptually and structurally as I experiment with mediums but if it’s simply something someone appreciates aesthetically, then I’m fine with that.