A visit with Nicholas Wilton – founder of Art2Life By Parinaz Ziai Bahadori
My life literally changed this past spring when I took an art course online. Incredibly, there were over 2500 students in the course!
Hard to believe, I know. But I can honestly say that Nicholas Wilton’s Creative Visionary Program has changed the way I practice. It all started two years ago when my dear artist friend and yoga teacher, Conni Kunzler, told me about Nicholas’ generous method of sharing his “tips“ for artists in Art2Life and his free YouTube talks. Check them out if you need an occasional tip or art pep talk.
After a few years of receiving a weekly link to these talks, I decided to try his free mini-workshop this past February, but then I wanted more. So I signed on for the Creative Visionary Program thinking “we are in COVID lockdown - so why not?” The three months of the CVP program taught me so much.
A few weeks ago I was in San Francisco and I figured it would be great to meet with Nicholas Wilton himself. Since CVP is all about the generosity of spirit, he was kind enough to meet with me to share a bit about his life and his mission.
Nicholas Wilton and Parinaz in the Art2Life Headquarters
First a little background on the founder of Art2Life:
Even though Nicholas Wilton attended art school in Santa Barbara and Pasadena and was a successful illustrator and painter, he found that the art world was missing a support system for artists to understand basic principles, practices and even reminders for why we create art. His teaching method is a mix of creative coaching, with the mantra: “the practice of art is the practice of becoming ourselves” combined with lessons on basic principles, techniques, discussing limiting beliefs and how to remain dedicated to the practice of our art.
Nicholas Wilton on Zoom – with thousands of students across the world
Six years ago, well before we all became familiar with Zoom, Nicholas started the Creative Visionary Program as an online course with about 200 students. He packed in all the information and inspiration he had had offered in various live workshops over the years. He was thrilled so many artists signed up that first year, but the enrollment grew every year, so he asked some artist friends to join him as coaches. This formula has worked well because the coaches also offer insight into their process, answer questions online and adjust some student images that are shared with the group.
A screenshot of a typical coaching call – where I learned so much from the Art2Life Team
The Creative Visionary Program was intense - for twelve weeks we watched videos chock full of content: from finding our own unique voice to basic ideas of design, value, color, texture, risk and soul. We were encouraged to paint on small 12” x 12” boards for twenty minutes and then move on to another to keep the energy fresh. Working in series, experimenting with tools that could lead to happy “accidents” and keeping a playful mindset was the only requirement. My favorite part of the coaching calls and live video lessons was when Nick or his wonderful coaches would select a few samples from the class work for Image Adjustment Critiques. It didn’t matter if my work was selected or not or that I could only comment in a webinar sidebar. I was so mesmerized by the alteration of the images and learned so much from seeing others’ work be adjusted.
CVP opened my eyes to these things – they apply to life as well as to art:
Differences: we come alive when we experience things differently. The special moments stand out next to the routines of our lives. Art works the same way– it makes us feel alive because it juxtaposes differences – be they in scale, color, shape, or texture.
Call and Response: the way we create art is always a back and forth between what is in front of us and how we want to move it forward. And life is the same: by practicing often – even in short spurts - we hone our instincts for what to do next.
Discernment: choosing what to do next or what needs to change. As in life, we need to choose how to spend our time and what needs to be done next... Again, the creation of differences is key.
Abundance: don’t be stingy with paint. Pile it on and create a thick base painting to carve into as you move forward.
Generosity: the art community only thrives when all the members want the success of others. Because we all have our own unique “voice” there is room for everyone to succeed.
I got to tour Nicholas Wilton’s studio and see his current work – he always works on a few panels at once. He also gave us a tour of the Art2Life headquarters where we met a few members of his team. Most have been with him from the beginning. The large space overlooks the marina in Sausalito. He showed us a new audio booth for podcasts he hopes to launch soon and also told us how we can find his favorite playlists on Spotify (look under Art2Life). Music can be such a wonderful way to block out other distractions and to get “in the zone.”
A photo of his Studio from Instagram - @NicholasWilton
I asked Nicholas to share something with us that would surprise those who studied with him and he said he raised a crow for a year! When he was an art student, he ran across a crow that had been abandoned by its family. This was a long time ago – today we would be advised to leave the crow alone - but Nick took care of this bird for a year and then it reintegrated itself into a flock. I somehow feel the artists who took CVP are a bit like that crow. Maybe if we didn’t take this course, we would eventually figure out how to fly, but a little extra coaching and nourishment has helped us fly higher and with more grace.
Parinaz Ziai Bahadori, July 2021