Friday, November 22, 2013

Violence and Love

The anniversary of JFK's assassination has me thinking about violence and familiarity. Bear with me. 
 You have undoubted seen the news clips recently like this one about the brutal "game" that bored teenagers have been "playing" on innocent strangers. (Side note: I realize that there is controversy regarding the potentially racist lean of these clips in filming only African American teenagers. Black, White or Purple aside, I believe that we can all agree though that this is brutality.) 
I think that what so many of us can't wrap our heads around is the WHY of this violence. WHY would someone use deadly force on a complete stranger minding his/her own business? WHY are these teens laughing about their friends smashing the skulls of fathers waiting at bus stops, and teachers walking home from work? WHY can't these kids see how easily the victims could be someone that they love?
 I think that the answer has less to do with hate than with numbness. I'm talking about the kind of detachment and apathy that comes from being removed from the other living human beings around you. We all know how much easier it can be to yell some obscene thing at another a driver than it is to say the same thing to the person who cuts in front of us in the grocery store line. Zipping past, behind the anonymity of our car windows, we don't need to have the same accountability for ourselves. Lets face it: when we live/work/learn in unofficially segregated neighborhoods, and then spend so many of our waking hours communicating with even the most familiar people through the screens of our personal devices, we can become a little detached. Maybe a lot detached. Maybe even detached enough to laugh about real live people being murdered in the name of fun.
I think that we all wish that we had some easy solution to violence. I wish that I did. I do know though that familiarity breeds respect. It is harder to scream and punch when you've shaken someone's hand or looked in to her eyes. That is why I love this photography project.
Talk about faking it until you make it. What do you say, Friends? Can we try to look at each other with the compassion of the familiar? There are bigger things at play here, but I believe that really seeing the people around us can go a long way.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Warming Up

OK, so its an odd post title for one of the first chilly days of the Fall. I wanted to talk a little bit though about that thing that we all do before we get into the meat of a day's work. We warm up with some little, less demanding tasks. Maybe we check email or read the news. 
Before I dive in on one of my commissioned projects or on a new body of work, I spend my first twenty minutes or so in the studio on something loose and simple. I force myself not to think about the end result. I try to just play--to just make marks on the canvas, or to experiment with some new way of thinking, without caring about how completely atrocious or ridiculous the finished project might look. Sometimes I make big, looping gesture drawings. Sometimes I collage a bunch of left over materials onto an old canvas. Today, I tried to see the world through my grandfather's eyes.
He was an architect and artist too, and I am lucky enough to own a few of his paintings. He painted the large canvas in this picture, and it just rocks my socks off! I brought it into my studio to color match and fill a few of its scratches.
The little canvas on the far left is the beginning of a commissioned painting. The tiniest canvas in the middle was my quick attempt to translate that into a Ernest Daly-ish view of the scene. 
I think I might need to be clear here that I am fully aware of how sub-par my efforts are, but that is really beside the point. It was a fun, quick challenge, that primed my mind to take on a day's work.
What's your warm-up routine?

Monday, September 9, 2013

Thank you to everyone who came out to the Yoga Arts Market on Saturday! Gorgeous weather and fantastic company.
For those of you who asked about commissioning a painting to give as a holiday gift, stay tuned. I am booking my Fall project schedule this week and will be in touch soon!

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Snag a Slice of Summer (before it slips away!)

 Friends, if you are in the DC area this Saturday, you should swing on by the Circle Yoga Arts Market!
 My painting studio is on the treetop floor of the building, but every Fall my awesome landlord calls off all of her yoga classes for the day and invites a bunch of artists and craftsmen to come show off their latest work!
I always snatch up some good deals on creative gifts for the holidays.
 I usually show limited-edition prints and greeting card packs of my DC cityscape paintings, but this month I've been saying goodbye to summer with a few quick little paintings of the salty sea air! 
The weather is supposed to be glorious, so I plan on pitching my easels right out front in the courtyard. If you're free, stop by and say hello. I'd love to see you!

3838 Northampton Street, NW
Washington, DC 20015 

Saturday, Sept. 7, 1:00-4:00 pm


Friday, August 23, 2013

St. Andrew Apostle Church recap

I really need to get better at actually photographing commissions before they leave my studio. Luckily, this one is at least in a public location, so I stopped by to snap a few (very poor quality) pictures for you.
As part of the church's visual revitalization, I was commissioned to paint two angels on the seven foot panels of a newly-constructed alter wall.

It was truthfully a very challenging project. I did a lot of research into the Catholic Church's teaching on angels and tried to create a composite of information written by those who have claimed first-hand encounters. 

A bunch of super-generous folks helped me out by posing for different sketches during the planning stage of the project.

The hardest part was working around a few pretty jarring visual elements in the church, some of which will eventually be changed, some of which must stay.
Working in the movement and color palette of the stained glass windows was a particular challenge.

There are still a few changes that would really go far in terms of making this a beautiful church (a.k.a.-ripping up that terrible carpet.) All in all though, I think things are moving in the right direction.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Taking Risks

OK, I'll admit it: I am a retiring perfectionist. I'm prone to wanting to make the absolute BEST decision every time. A simple question about what materials I should use for a certain project has me acting out the tired role of "artist who doesn't actually produce art" from time to time. Not to mention how badly the bigger decisions can paralyze me. 
If you are allergic to decision making too, you might want to check out this article from lifehacker.
The simple tip of treating a choice as an experiment vs. a final, life-altering act has me breathing a sigh of relief. There are some choices that we can't take back, but most are reversible. And that little fact might just allow me to make some great art today...or some terrible art. Either way, I'll be making work, and that feels a whole lot more productive than making nothing at all.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

"It isn't enough to just make beautiful objects. Real art inspires other people to make art too." 
This gem from my husband over coffee this morning. And he's right. The best art that I have experienced leaves me a little breathless and itching to dash to my studio.
Lately, I've been thinking a lot about the work of

Every few months, when I am feeling kind of artistically stale, I peak at her website. It's like gulping down fresh cool air after being buried in sand. I feel suddenly so alive that I can't contain it all. I have to go make something rightthisminute or I am just going to explode with the fullness of it.
Do you know what I mean?
Now, if you'll excuse me, I've got some art to make. 

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Thank you, ARTSMART!

On Monday, I had the privilege of leading a workshop for a group of children in NE DC. One of the funniest moments came after instructor Erika Bowman presented the group with a slide show of my urban portrait project, AS IS, and opened the floor up for questions. One child asked me how I found inspiration, another wondered if I had a favorite color that I used in my work. Then one little girl eagerly shot her hand into the air. "Do you like chocolate?!"

Can I just tell you how deeply I admire the teachers of the world? Especially art teachers. With the slashing of art education programs across the country, and the often inadequate compensation that teachers receive, it is a wonder that there are still so many quality people going into the profession.
Though, while I have absolute respect for these noble individuals, I myself sadly seem to be missing the gift for teaching. When Erika contacted me about leading this workshop, I was torn between the knowledge that I am no teacher, and remembering how thirstily I had soaked up the visit of a working artist to my own elementary school. Ultimately, I agreed to lead the program. 

Flash forward to Monday-- There I am absolutely melting/panicking as one child tears-up in frustration over her own portrait. "But YOUR paintings are so much prettier" she trembles. I try to no avail to explain how much easier oil paints make painting the details of a face. Then, in a last ditch effort, I tell her how proud I am of her work and gave her one of the dried paint palettes that I have brought along as a teaching aid. 

As I leave for the day, the little girl asks me how to spell my name. Beaming, sharpie clutched in her fist, she flips the palette over and scrawls

 "july 22 2013 given to me by real artist nicole bourgea"


Saturday, July 6, 2013

Looking for the Perfect Gift?

It's that time of year when yards are bursting with growth from all of that good spring rain and the sun is shining down on cute little houses everywhere! It's the ideal time to start thinking about booking a house portrait commission to capture your own home at its peak, or to give the perfect goodbye gift for a friend or family member who may be moving on. 
 As you pack that pool bag or sip a cool summer cocktail, it may seem a bit early to be thinking about the winter holidays, but this is the perfect time to begin taking reference pictures for those Christmas and Hanukkah painting gifts. I am now booking Fall commissions for house portraits and more. Let me know if you are interested in working together to make something beautiful!

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Step Away from the Coffe Pot!

I confess that I slide out of bed every morning like the next girl and hightail it over to my coffee pot. I need that jolt to get me to the studio and give me the necessary creative focus for whatever projects I have in the works.
Every once in a while though, I find myself a little too focused on finishing one of those projects, a little too intent on filling in that row of storefronts in a cityscape. The concentration is there. I am a frackin machine! And maybe that's the problem.
This New Yorker article claims that all that caffeine could be killing my (and your) creativity. In the words of the author, "we do know that much of what we associate with creativity—whether writing a sonnet or a mathematical proof—has to do with the ability to link ideas, entities, and concepts in novel ways. This ability depends in part on the very thing that caffeine seeks to prevent: a wandering, unfocussed mind."
So I am interested, Friends: Do you do your best creative work with a cuppa joe in your system?  Or do you find that caffeine gives you a type of intensity that keeps you too busy to create?

Monday, June 10, 2013

Can I get an Amen?

I am not often hired to created a religious-themed work, but these past few months, I have been commissioned to paint several. Can we just be honest here? The religious art sold in many of the christian/catholic shops around DC can be pretty terrible. These are not the worst ones out there by a long shot, and it is possible to look past a superficial image to the content behind it. That said, I weep a little bit each time I see a stale religious image hung in a place of honor. (Tad dramatic, but true ;) So, despite the intensity required to work on such a weighty subject, I was super excited to be commissioned to make these little paintings: 

*P.S.-- I showed my sister the Sacred Heart painting after it was finished, because I was wondering if I had made Jesus a little too good-looking. Her response? "Well, He is supposed to be the ideal man!" :)

Monday, June 3, 2013

Keith Cook posing with his portrait at the Corcoran Community Gallery at the THEARC in Washington DC. The portrait was painted as a part of my AS IS series during my time collaborating with Habitat for Artists. The painting is featured on the Hudson Valley Seed Library's Genovese Basil art pack.
I was very sorry not to be able to make the show! Working on this series was one of the most amazing experiences that I have ever had, and the man featured in this portrait just glows with wisdom and goodness!

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Art + Heirloom Seeds

DC Friends, have you been to THEARC? It is this amazing oasis east of the river. I had the privilege of spending a month or so there this summer while working on the seventh portrait for my AS IS project during a residency with Habitat for Artists.
That painting is now featured on a seed pack as part of Michael Asbill's beautiful project with the Hudson Valley Seed Library. Now Michael is bringing the original artwork back to DC to display as part of a traveling exhibit. Below is some information on the show.

Art of the Heirloom: Cultural Seed Savers
Presented by the Hudson Valley Seed Library

Artists are cultural seed savers, selecting which kernels of beauty, color, and form to keep alive and pass on to future generations. Every year, the Hudson Valley Seed Library commissions new contemporary artists to interpret a distinctive selection of the heirloom varieties in their seed catalog. Artists range from the undiscovered to the up-and-coming to the world renowned. Mediums include oil painting, paper, collage, encaustic, botanical illustration, printmaking, and more.
Each work of art becomes a unique seed pack. The artwork celebrates the beauty, diversity, and stories of the heirloom seeds held within each pack. The original works, twenty one of which are displayed here, form a traveling art exhibit called Art of the Heirloom.

Exhibiting Art of the Heirloom in the Corcoran Community Gallery at the Town Hall Education Arts Recreation Campus (THEARC) holds special significance. The design for our Genovese Basil art pack was inspired by a community collaboration between HVSL, Habitat for Artists, The Corcoran ArtReach Program, The Washington DC Commission on the Arts & Humanities 5 x 5 Temporary Public Art Project, and THEARC. The pack features a painting of THEARC’s own Keith Cook, Sr. by artist Nicole Bourgea. Nicole painted the portrait as a part of AS IS (an urban portrait project) during her residency with Habitat for Artists. The show also contains works by HFA/HVSL artists Michael Asbill, Simon Draper, Jessica Poser, and Molly Rausch.

Art of the Heirloom on view June 1- 30, 2013
Corcoran Community Gallery
1901 Mississippi Ave SE DC 20020
Monday-Friday: 11 AM - 7 PM, Saturday: 10 AM - 2 PM
Thank you to our Art of the Heirloom Sponsors Horticulture Magazine and Great Performances.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Grow Time

It's no secret: Juggling a career and all the other demands of life can be tough. How many of us scramble around trying to pack it all in, only to fall into bed at night feeling like we could have used just a few more hours in the day?

Combine that with the demands of owning your own business, and you may find yourself running around like a chicken with its head cut off, dashing between business and personal tasks. Everyone functions differently, but my sanity solution has been to block-schedule everything. I do not combine work and home. At all. I literally have a separate location for work, a wardrobe for the studio, and a separate name that I use in connection with my art. I pull on my painting jeans every morning and drive into my studio as Nicole Bourgea. Then I come home, change into my Nicole Gleason clothes and pick up my kiddlets from school. 

I realize that this is not for everyone. I have friends who love working from home. For me though, being able to separate career and family ensures that I can dive full-heartedly into each. I can be more present, more engaged and more productive when I block schedule. That may be why I appreciated this blog post from Penelope Trunk. She is a very successful entrepreneur with Asperger's, so her advice is very literal and intense. 

So I'm curious, any advice for packing more quality into the day? How do you handle the work life balance?

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

When Advertising Gets It Right

Most of the time, I daydream about moving to a place like Bhutan where I won't have to spend mental energy dodging the push and pull of companies trying to sell me happiness. Then today, I came across this ad:

This is why I love painting portraits. This is why I spent a year on my AS IS project.

There truly is a flame of life at the core of every person. It is so much more intensely beautiful than we let ourselves see. 

So try to look at yourself kindly today. You are alive and you are beautiful.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Ignoring the Price Tag

The first painting that I ever made was done with car touch-up paint on my bedroom wall...yup, most laid-back parents ever. There was something so freeing about using cheap, left over supplies to create. Mess up big time? No big deal.
 Flash forward a couple of decades, and I am sort of tip-toeing around these gorgeous, seven-foot maple panels with my expensive paints and gold leaf, scared to make any move that I can't take back. Maybe if this weren't a commissioned project for a public space, or maybe if the supplies didn't cost as much as my car, I'd be slinging paint like a machine.  As it stands though, knowing that those enormous wooden pieces were cut and hauled all the way up to my studio just for this project has me shaking in my boots. So send your brave thoughts my way Friends, because this alter wall is not going to paint itself!

Monday, March 4, 2013

Monday Match: Exhausted Edition

It has been a while...
This painting by Ramon Casas reminds me of this room via Living Etc and both images are straight up taunting me right now. So much work and yet so exhausted!  

Tuesday, February 26, 2013


Do you know what happens when you are an artist who happens to think that her spouse is one good looking dude?
Every single male figure that you paint or draw starts to look vaguely like him! 

I'm serious. This 'generic' angel that I sketched out in preparation for a large sanctuary wall that I am painting, could be my husband...or at least a relative of his...eesh.
Time to call in some models.

Seriously though, thank you to the friends who have let me cajole them into being angels. You guys are the best!

Monday, February 25, 2013

Thank you to everyone who came out to the National Museum of Women in the Arts on Sunday to hear me speak about my Urban Portrait Project and Anna Ancher's work!
It was an absolute honor.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013


Have you ever found yourself charging into a project...
with what you believe is an incredible attack plan...
only to find yourself suddenly in the dark and not so sure anymore?
It is a sad place to be.

Sometimes though, when you're lucky, a new light brightens a little of the darkness.
Then everything that you see glows with it...
 and you feel like singing along.
Thank you Kay Nielsen and Ivan Bilibin for the unexpected inspiration!

Friday, February 8, 2013

Boring Headshot or Painted Profile Pic?

 Colette Marvin has the most fascinating job. She is an art forgery expert, meaning that she researches art crime and cultural heritage protection for the government and for private clients (including consulting on this case)! She also teaches a course at DC's Duke Ellington School of the Arts on Art and Social Media.
I met Colette when she invited me to come speak to her class about my Urban Portrait Project, AS IS. As part of a revamp for her art forgery website, she commissioned me to paint a loose portrait sketch (like one of these.)
In an online world awash in corporate head shots, I love the idea of opening an "About" page and finding a bright, loose painting sketch instead! There are so many creative companies out there who have the most stale staff photos on their websites. Having a piece of art in place of all that blandness is a fresh way to shake things up.
Colette's work requires her to do quite a bit of analyzing and discussing particular artworks, so she will also be including this colorful little painting somewhere on her site. We took this one in more abstract direction--focusing on a dynamic composition of color blocks and lines versus a descriptive representation of facial features. 
This was such a fun project! Thank you, Colette!

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Congratulations Fluerir!

 A couple of years ago, I was lucky enough to be introduced to the dynamic duo behind Fleurir Chocolates who literally sweet talked me into creating the above installation for their first shop in Georgetown, DC, and then a variation of the tree for their new Alexandria, VA shop. 
Today, Robert and Ashleys' caramels were named on the New York Times "Best in the Box" list! Cheers, Friends!
(Want to order a box for yourself? You should. I can personally vouch for their deliciousness!)

Monday, February 4, 2013

Future Art Professionals

Thank you Bailey and Girl Scout Troop 3441 for inviting me to speak at your meeting yesterday about being an artist! Bailey and her mother heard NPR's story on my Urban Portrait Project, AS IS, and asked if she could interview me.  I really appreciated the tough questions about my sources of inspiration, and about other professions that I find interesting. 
Thank you girls--I look forward to hearing about some of YOUR artwork in the news one day!

Thursday, January 31, 2013


 Seeking inspiration for the church sanctuary wall that I will begin painting later this month, I headed down the the National Gallery of Art yesterday to check out the icons and fifteenth-century Italian paintings. Artists older and wiser than myself often stress the importance of recognizing that you are standing on the shoulders of those who came before you...even when you choose to buck the traditional trajectory. 
SO! I went to the gallery seeking a sense of history. What I walked away with was flat-out wonder at the really MODERN pattern and color combinations from this period! Don't get me wrong, this was not my first time seeing this work, but for some reason, I have always missed how truly brilliant they are. I mean, look at that coral next to that persimmon! How have I not noticed this before?
 Can I be honest with you, Friends? In the past, I may have unfairly thought of iconography and some older religious painting as historically rich, but visual dusty and well, a bit boring. I know, I am terrible. Will you forgive me? My eyes have been opened!
P.S.--Speaking of things that I was not expecting, I went to a chiropractor for the first time today. I'm sure if you were anywhere in a two mile radius you would have heard me scream when he popped my neck--surprised does not begin to explain my state of mind. SNAP, CRACK, BAM! Someone is standing two inches taller at her easel today. 
Have you ever been? What did you think?

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Midas Touch?

Golden thumb by Mahtab Hanna
Has anyone out there ever worked with gold leaf? Well, I am working on a humongous triptych for a church using a heck of a lot of it, and let me tell you Friends, stuff is no joke! It is all "Hi, I'm shiny and beautiful" and then you go to apply it and its all "Oh, what I meant to say was that I'm actually the most fragile, temperamental, flat-out moody material on the planet!" My studio is covered in gold, Friends. I mean...there are pieces of it stuck to my hair. Things were looking that bad by lunch today.
Good news though! Turns out that I was sold the wrong adhesive. After a few hours of general huffing, puffing and stomping around this morning, I took a look at the bottle and discovered the mistake. Lucky for me, I had been working on a practice surface, and things have been looking up since I went back to the store for a trade in.

Plus, these guys were there the whole time to keep me in check. One of my now friends/past clients recently stared making them and stopped by my studio yesterday to let me pick two for myself! Aren't they fantastic?
 They've joined this guy...
and this guy (made by my awesome sons) and formed their very own little Greek Chorus to cheer me along and keep me smiling. Somehow looking over at this little brood when I had ripped wads of gold stuck on every finger helped me take myself a little less seriously. 

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...