Artist: John Nagridge

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Painter

John Nagridge is another accidental find I stumbled across on the net. The first thing that I appreciate about John is his support of Cidtalk.com. From the first time we crossed url’s he has been a loyal visitor to the site and the same goes for me. I enjoy his artwork, and appreciation for movies, and general sense of fun that he and his wife Tammie share on their site.

I am a sucker for drawing and what I like about John’s drawings is a strong sense of whimsy and attention to, or lack of attention to detail rather, that captures an often gesture oriented interpretation of a moment in time. With a limited use of lines and shading, the figure drawings on his site are deliberate, simply stark and effective.

Artists are often inventors and magicians as well as craftspeople using a mix of traditional techniques and innovative ideas to get their ideas out of their minds and into the world for the rest of us to examine. The ‘phoney wood cuts’ are one such magic trick. Nagridge says, “This is a technique I use to simulate woodcuts without having to actually carve one.” He describes the technique here and offers these two (the images to the right) and several others to illustrate the wood cut illusion.

Graphic art is a place to explore bold colors, shapes, lines and ideas. The image to the left was used for a Christmas card he and his wife sent out to family and friends, it’s one example of how art is not limited to a canvas in a gallery. It’s important for creative people to share their ideas, emotions, sentiments using there favorite language, art. According to Nagridge, he has not been doing much artwork as of late. I for one am looking forward to the time when John comes back to the creative table and comes up with more striking images for us to enjoy.

Printmaking is a multi-layered effort. It involves focusing on a vision of what the work is meant to look like all through a process of carving, etching, chemical etching or other methods while getting the image printed just the way it’s meant to be. While some might think printmaking is limited to less expressive images, any medium is only as limiting as the artists imagination. The print to the right is titled The Burden of Wisdom described by Nagridge… “This two-color woodcut was made from two blocks. The image was inspired from a gesture done at a figure drawing session. The title came from a fellow artist after she told me what the print meant to her.” Not only does the process for this print involve multiple steps, but even the title and ultimate concept is a joint effort.

Micro pointillism is yet another technique that involves steps, planning and an element of bravery. You can read more about the process on John’s site or even more detailed description and tutorial at Steven Goodfellow’s www.goodfelloweb.com.

You can read about the subject of the painting to the left, Baba Yaga’s house, farther down in the interview. His fascination with fantasy, fiction, imaginative ideas and colorful worlds adds character to his work that makes it engaging, perks the eye and mind to wonder “what is this image all about?”. I appreciate that sense of freedom and license to create.

We can only hope that John hits the canvas again soon and shares the end result with us. All of that creativity and all of those new ideas need a place to go!!

Read on for the interview that John was nice enough to participate in:

Featured Artist Questions:

Cid: When you were growing up, did you feel that your creativity got special attention?

John: Oh yeah. I remember doing a lot of cartooning in grade school and having a reputation of being the best Snoopy artist in the class. For the most part, I got lots of praise for my art growing up.

But one thing still sticks in my mind where the attention wasn¹t positive. In Art Class, the whole class had to make portraits of the 3 Wise Men with glued macaroni and gold spray paint. The teacher showed us an example of what it should look like. I did parts of mine a bit different and got a lower grade for that assignment because of it. Looking back at that today, I realized that the teacher had no background in Art and didn¹t understand it. She probably felt that Art was just copying pretty pictures, as opposed to self-expression.

She¹s not alone. A lot of teachers still give better grades to kids who color perfectly in the lines with the “correct” colors than to those who see the world in a special way where you can make the grass red if you feel like it. I shudder today at that kind of teaching which promotes conformity instead of individuality when it comes to Art. I still think giving a child crayons and a blank pad of paper is much better than giving them a coloring book that instructs them what to color and how.

Cid: I admit to the lack of better phrasing for this question, but: Is Art the way you make a living?

John: Yes, I get all my income through Art ­ fine and commercial. It¹s difficult to make a living from fine art, so I am also a graphic designer at an agency. Luckily, I love both commercial art and fine art.

At the agency, I work on print brochures, posters, flyers, as well as web set design and creation so I rarely get bored. Sure, I¹m told what to create, but I still get to put my mark on it.

And then at 5:00, I go home and have the opportunity to make whatever kind of art I want, whether it¹s a woodcut or painting or even just a stepping stone for my wife¹s garden. Plus the subject matter is of my choosing. It doesn¹t matter if anyone likes it.

Cid: Have you been a part of the “art scene” where you live? Do you attend gallery openings, check out the latest offerings of local talent, hang out where the creative community migrate to? How would you describe the art community where you live?

John: Not as much as I used to or as much as I¹d like to, which is too bad. Detroit is a very vibrant art community. It¹s a blue-collar auto town, which adds a raw earthiness to a lot of the art produced here. The auto industry also figures prominently in a lot of artists¹ work. The city of Detroit lost a lot of their population to the suburbs in the past 3 decades and a lot of the art addresses the concerns of the abandonment of the city, as well as its rebirth in the last few years. Plus we have two terrific art schools in the heart of the city (where I had the pleasure of attending both at one time or another) ­ the Center for Creative Studies and Wayne State University.

I¹ve shown in galleries throughout the Metro Detroit region, as well as Michigan print shows. I had one of my woodcuts in a Michigan print exhibit at the Detroit Institute of Arts. I participated in an art crawl in Detroit and a studio crawl in Hamtramck (a predominately Polish city surrounded by Detroit). There used to be a terrific gallery I showed my work and hung out at often called the Michigan Gallery. It was in an old neighborhood a mile away from the former Tiger baseball stadium. It had two sections ­ the gallery with local art where figure drawing sessions were held twice a week and a bar where fellow artists would gather and talk about art. The art opening receptions were the most fun and talked about in the city, complete with a live band at the end of the night. Sadly, the gallery closed up a few years ago and I miss it greatly.

Although I haven¹t shown in an exhibit for a few years, I still enjoy attending the gallery crawls in the suburb of Birmingham or the many galleries in Detroit like C-Pop and the Detroit Artists Market. And I get together with friends who are artists for feedback, as well as interesting debates on what is and isn¹t art.

Cid: As an artist, do you feel people see you in any certain stereotypical way?

John: Yeah, I¹ve been thought of as weird or elitist but it doesn¹t bother me. In fact, I think being called weird is a compliment, even if the person calling me that meant it as an insult. If it¹s meant as an insult, it¹s usually by someone who is very boring. My definition of weird is something or someone that¹s different from everybody else. The most interesting people around are often called weird by so-called “normal” people.

The stereotype I don¹t like is when people think only talented people who draw well can be artists. I¹m of the notion that anyone can be an artist, no matter what your skill level or experience is. Just pick up a pencil and draw on a piece of paper and you¹ve made art. It may not be very good art, but it¹s still art. To me, becoming an artist is very noble. It separates us from being just an animal because it requires intelligence and emotion. Everyone should try to be an artist. I¹ll bet there¹s a lot of great artists in the world that don¹t even know it because they¹ve never tried to make art.

Cid: Do you feel there is a stigma or blessing attached to being an artist amongst the “normal” people of the world? Hahaha

John: It¹s definitely a blessing in the sense that it¹s easier to express individuality and stand out when most of the people around you hate to stand out too much. Sometimes, it bugs me that some forms of art like movies and music cater to a lowest common denominator by pandering to a mass audience with blandness and/or a dumbed-down message. But at least I don¹t have to worry about a show I want to see selling out.

Cid: Are you an adventurous artist, trying new tools, mediums, ideas to keep your passion for creating alive? Or, are you reserved, preferring to stick with what you know, what makes you feel comfortable and safe in your skill “zone”?

John: I¹m pretty conservative when it comes to media. I don¹t try as much new stuff as I should. My favorite media is the kind that¹s very difficult to correct, such as woodcuts and micropoint paintings. I have this unexplainable attitude where I know I¹m going to screw something up while working in these media, so I might as well just dive in and work in it vigorously. In media that¹s easy to work over, I seem to “correct” all the life out of it.

I work well with a graphic approach, emphasizing contrast and line. Although subtle and painterly effects have their place in my work, I love drama and impact.

I took to relief printmaking (woodcuts, linocuts) very quickly and it¹s still one of my favorites. When I work with my tools in a piece of soft pine, I find I reveal more of myself, not only by what image I¹m cutting, but by the way I cut it. The soft wood discourages fine lines and forces me to avoid superfluous detail. Relief printmaking is the best type of printmaking to do at home because it doesn¹t require special equipment or tools like acid baths or a heavy press. All I need is a piece of wood or linoleum, my gouges and knives, paper, ink, and a wooden spoon to rub the ink from the wood to the paper.

The way I paint micropoints also discourages fine detail. I spray the paint with a mouth atomizer instead of using an airbrush so my dot pattern is very grainy. This also reduces the number of colors in the final work since it¹s harder for the eye to mix larger dots of color. It helps to tie the color scheme together. I use a large bamboo brush to keep me from being too fussy and let it dance all over the canvas as I dab on the screen block out before I apply a layer of paint.

I keep my passions for creating alive by doing different subject matter. I don¹t work in series that much, because I get bored of a subject after only a couple works. I may work from a model one time, then out of my head the next. I¹ll do a landscape, then an image of my cats, then work figuratively. Sometimes I don¹t know what the subject matter is until I start working on it!

Cid: Are you interested in computers and the internet? If yes, how does the technological world come together with your creative thinking?

John: I LOVE COMPUTERS! They¹ve made my life a lot easier at work. Technical drawings or the production aspects of my job are quicker and much more accurate. The downside is clients know how fast they are and want their layouts quicker than they used to.

I also love the Internet. I¹m a bookworm and enjoy gathering instant information on many different subjects like art, movies, design, literature, food, science, history, or whatever quickly in my home or work area. I get a kick working on my web sites and getting feedback from complete strangers from around the world.

I don¹t integrate it with my fine art, although I do use the Internet for reference for subject matter and technique tips. When I actually create my art I make a point of using paper, ink, paint, and canvas where I get to touch raw materials with my hands. Using a mouse to make art is too indirect. Plus computer art is too easy to correct and my end results often look too sterile. By avoiding a computer for my fine art, I also let my gears unwind from what I do at work. I feel more of a part with nature and people. It¹s more personal and emotional. My commercial art comes more from my logical side and love of quick information, but doesn¹t express my individuality as well since I¹m working with a client¹s product.

Cid: What plans do you have for the future? Any new mediums or areas of the artistic world that you would like to explore?

John: ¹d like to do more sculpture and get back into oil painting. Although I work with base raw materials like paint and canvas or wood and tools with my micropoints and woodcuts, it¹s still a bit indirect. Plus I find that after I work a little in sculpture, my drawing improves. I¹d also like to work on a larger scale than I¹m used to. I once did a painting about 3 foot by 6 foot. It wasn¹t successful, but I think I¹ve learned from it. Since I like impact, a larger scale would enhance that.

About Your Work:

Cid: It¹s clear that acrylic micropoint painting is something you feel strongly about. Do you experiment with a lot of different methods and does having a different experiences with a variety of styles and methods build your confidence as an artist?

John: My university concentration in art was drawing and printmaking. When I first learned micropointillism, it was like working on an aquatint etching, but using screen block on canvas instead of masking out a copper plate. The territory was somewhat familiar, except now it was in full color. I worked more monochromatically with printmaking. Color is still the most challenging part of art to me. I try to work it out with harmonies and theories, but I usually end up choosing a color instinctively for its expressive qualities.

The advantage to micropointillism is that the colors are far more vibrant than if I painted them directly onto a canvas. Plus I use only three primary colors of paint without mixing them to create any color in the spectrum.

Cid: How did you discover micropoint painting?

John: In Detroit galleries and periodicals, I discovered the artists Stephen Goodfellow (http://goodfelloweb.com/) and Lowell Boileau (http://bhere.com/). Their paintings were bright, full of life, and were created in a medium they invented called micropointillism. At the Michigan Gallery, Stephen would give an occasional workshop. I took one of them and fell in love with it immediately. Basically, it¹s a painting made of small sprayed dots of yellow, magenta, and cyan where different areas have been masked off in the painting process. Although the finished painting consists of dots of these 3 pure colors, your eye mixes them together and you see many different colors.

Cid: Who is Baba Yaga and what inspired you to create such an interesting character?

John: I didn¹t create her. She¹s a character out of Ukrainian and Russian fairy tales. I used to read them in books that I borrowed from the library when I was a small boy.

Baba Yaga was a witch who rode in a mortar that she pushed along with a pestle and lived in a hut that sat on top of chicken legs that walked round and round in the yard when she wasn’t home. She had sharp metal teeth and would eat disobedient children. Although I don’t remember the books having any illustrations, just the descriptions in them conjured wild pictures in my head. This witch was unlike any other I’d read about! She didn’t have a pointy hat like the typical ones you see in stories. She didn’t even wear black. Plus I was enthralled with her fence made up of the bones and skulls of her victims.

As I grew older, my reading tastes change. I found myself reading about Abraham Lincoln and Mark Twain tales and Robinson Crusoe and lots of Encyclopedia Brown. Soon I thought I was real cool because I read books that didn’t have any pictures. By then, I’d forgotten about Baba Yaga.

Cut to my college days a decade later. I was getting into classical music now, thanks to getting my ear trained for it with lots of John Williams soundtracks. The Romantic era was (and is) my favorite time period for the music and I quickly got into Wagner and Grieg. Their music “illustrated” tales of gnomes, dwarfs, gods, and mountain kings. Being that I am of Ukrainian descent, I got into the Russian Romantics and discovered Modest Mussourgsky after a re-release of FANTASIA in the early 1980s. The coolest part of that film was The Night On Bald Mountain, which I found out was based on old Ukrainian mythology. I immediately checked out more music by Mussourgsky and discovered his most famous work called Pictures At An Exhibition.

As I listened to it, the part I fell in love with immediately was the one called The Hut On Chicken Legs. After reading the title to it, it occurred to me that this was the same tale I used to read as a kid. I immediately when to the library and bookstores and read every story of Baba Yaga I could find. I dreamed of illustrating a book of one of her tales. I started working on it in the late 1980s, but so far never got much further than a sketchbook, some black and white drawings, and a few paintings.

Cid: You say you are getting lazy and need to get your drawing skills back into shape. Do you believe that an artist can lose his or her ability to express themselves creatively through the trials and tribulations of life? Or do you feel that it¹s an innate instinct to create visual expressions of our understanding of life, something you never lose completely.

John: No, I don¹t think you lose the instinct of visual expression. But you do get rusty in keeping that instinct in tune, as well as the basic skills of drawing, composition, design, and color. I think I¹ll find myself expressing my creativity differently, but that¹s because I¹m older and don¹t think the same way I did when I made a lot more art years before. That¹s fine. I¹m looking forward to seeing what I come up with.

Cid: Are you working on any new projects at the moment that you would like to reveal to us?

John: I forced myself to take an advanced figure drawing class at a local college just to get back into the groove. It was an enlightening experience since I was surrounded by kids almost half my age with the same wide eyes and fanciful ideals I had when I first took art in college. Their drawing skills had a lot of room to improve upon, as is expected for beginners. This helped restore my confidence in that my skills hadn¹t deteriorated as bad as I thought.

Taking it was a good discipline. Because of it, I¹m concentrating on drawing skills but once I get my skills to a point I¹m happy with I¹d like to simplify my forms and become more expressionistic. Now some of my fellow artists are asking me if I¹m taking any more classes and if they could join me. If we keep this up, the community college art classes will be filled with us old timers with university degrees!

I hope to spend many hours in my backyard slapping lots of color on canvases. Micropointillism is fun, but I¹d also like to get back into oils and experiment a bit with watercolor. Who knows? Maybe in a year, I¹ll be ready to show again in galleries.

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2 comments for “Artist: John Nagridge

  1. July 3, 2010 at 2:30 PM

    Hi – John Nagridge created my illustrations website and now we’re going to do a fine art site for my paintings and drawings. I enjoyed reading this interview. I also had a school teacher who punished me for illustrating my science note book “the wrong way”. As to getting back to oil painting, John, just jump right in. The skills come back almost immediatley. I switched to acrylics because I don’t have the patience to wait for paint to dry. Have fun! – Cheers, Christina Senkiw

    • July 7, 2010 at 4:59 PM

      How wonderful to have great memories of learning art..I recently got in contact with my high school art teacher after 25 years and she still makes me feel good about my creative mind:)

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