Forgiveness, Not Permission: Inspiration & Advice for Living Your Best (Creative!) Life

published Oct 28, 2016
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(Image credit: Liz Calka)

Inside an old box factory in Baltimore, in a loft apartment with minimalist decor and structured industrial features, lies a studio bursting with color, erratic splatters of paint, and a kaleidoscope of paper scraps. This is artist Nicole Mueller‘s think space, a celebration of paradox.

After an inspiring house tour with Nicole and Dave, I wanted to learn more about Nicole’s artwork and her relationship with the apartment as a living space, a working space, and a revolving gallery. She works in multiple materials, mostly acrylic paint, spray paints, and collaged paper (scraps leftover from previous pieces, and repurposed into new ones). Her recent show near Washington D.C. explored collage as both medium and metaphor, with large mixed media paintings, collages, and a “stained glass” window installation. In short, it was about time, movement, and potential. Nicole speaks to the studio inside her home, the art scene in Baltimore, consistent creation, and asking for forgiveness instead of permission.

(Image credit: Liz Calka)

What inspires your artwork?

Movement, music, dance, cartoons, shapes found in nature, flashes of color seen driving down the street at night, space, relationships, spirituality, etc.

“Well… let’s just say our mantra has been to ask for forgiveness, not permission.”

As renters, how do you handle customizing your home for art creating?

Well… let’s just say our mantra has been to ask for forgiveness, not permission. I made sure to layer and secure multiple tarps to the floor, and will have to repaint the wall when we move out. I have to take extra precautions when I’m spraying paint, for example (not that I ever spray paint inside.) Fortunately, I work mainly in acrylics so ventilation wasn’t a huge issue. I also like to work large! Since the layout of the apartment is fixed, the size of the room wasn’t really negotiable, but neither were the size of my paintings! I’m also lucky to have nearly 200 square feet of space to work in to begin with.

(Image credit: Liz Calka)

How does having a space for making art at home fuel your creativity?

Because our schedules are so packed with our full-time jobs, freelance projects, studio work, and personal lives, the convenience of having an in-home studio has been really pivotal this year. I have to intentionally schedule studio time in advance of my week, or month, and something as small as not having to commute across the city, or being able to do laundry while painting in the next room, is a bigger blessing than it seems!

(Image credit: Liz Calka)

How do you balance your day job with your artistic career?

It’s a constant negotiation, and is always evolving. At one point in time I was freelancing, working various creative jobs, and my schedule was a lot more flexible. I had at least one or two designated “studio days” throughout the week that I worked like any other job, so I was consistently getting into the studio.

Since I’ve been working full-time, my output has become more seasonal (the demands of my job are also seasonal.) For example, when things slowed down this summer I was able to shift gears and focus on making the work for my solo show. I also apply to things, like residencies or shows, to give myself deadlines to work towards. I don’t think I would have produced nearly as much this year had it not been for the show.

“Keep making your work! Your whole life. I believe this is the most radical thing you can do! Because it’s so challenging. Insist on being an artist.”

(Image credit: Liz Calka)

Best advice for fellow artists?

Keep making your work! Your whole life. I believe this is the most radical thing you can do! Because it’s so challenging. Insist on being an artist.

Practically, the book Art/Work has been the singular most useful guide in navigating the start of my own career. I also love Sharon Louden’s Living and Sustaining a Creative Life, which includes short essays from dozen of established artists, talking about how they do just that.

Even if art isn’t a full-time pursuit, create consistently while not being too hard on yourself in the short-term. Keep the long-term creative life you envision for yourself in mind.

(Image credit: Liz Calka)

Baltimore art scene vibes:

Bmoreart is a wonderful art blog, and guide to the local art scene. MICA, the art school that I went to and now work at, has a strong presence in the city. Baltimore is very supportive (with individual artist grants like the Baker Artist Awards, Sondheim Prize, and Rubys Artist Grants), and the city is a more manageable and affordable place to live and make work as an artist.

I don’t know if people realize how cool, creative, weird, and dynamic Baltimore is, because it’s not self-promoting. But there is so much happening here! Not just within visual arts, but theater, music, performing… Artists seem to have a strong voice within the city, most of the galleries are artist-run, and the artists here are as diverse as the city itself.

Thank you for the creative inspiration, Nicole!

(Image credit: Liz Calka)
See more of Nicole and Dave’s creative home →
Read how to make your own sliding art wall →