With its ability to inspire and enrich our lives, art provides an unparalleled respite from the constant distractions and troubles that we face and allows us to reconnect with our spirits in a profound way. It’s an incredible gift to be able to create art, but it’s not always easy to find the time or inspiration to do so. In this interview, ink and watercolor artist Noel Badges Pugh shares his thoughts on the artistic process and what we can do to cultivate our creative abilities.
Tell me a little bit about your background as an artist. Did you always want to pursue art as a career?
Noel: At a very early age, I remember becoming enchanted with drawing cups. It was, and still is, amazing that you could make something look three dimensional simply by connecting an arch to a circle. As soon as I figured out how to create a handle by drawing two parallel arches, my mind and feet were set upon the path of an artist. I went through a phase around the end of high school during which I strongly believed selling artwork would corrupt and poison my artistic spirit. Deep down, part of me still believes this. Art should be made and given freely. However, besides my parents and a couple close friends, few people in this world are offering a free lunch. I’m determined to make my living as an artist now, trying to continue it in hopes of serving educational purposes, while inspiring as many others along the way.
How would you define your artistic style, and how did you develop it?
Noel: At this point, I’m mainly focusing on botanical art in a semi-graphic, semi-scientific style. I’ve experimented with a number of mediums over the years, as well as subjects such as landscape, portraiture and surrealism. I had the privilege of attending art school at the San Francisco Art Institute where I was exposed to tons of incredible artwork spanning the days of caves to the days of subways. Several years ago, I also earned a Masters Certificate in Scientific Illustration from a program that was part of UC Santa Cruz. My tendencies have always been on the tighter, more meticulous side of drawing, getting lost in the narrative of details. Also, there’s something very addictive and soul-satisfying about black ink. When you vary your line weights with it, it alters your depth perception. My style continues to evolve from studying other artists and experimenting further with mediums that excite me deep down.
What is the best advice you ever received as an artist?
Noel: Always draw from life. Consider your lines, yet avoid being overly hesitant. There really is a zone you go into after drawing and concentrating for an hour or more. It opens a part of your mind where you might be surprised to find answers to questions you’ve been asking for many moons. It will unlock memories you thought long forgotten, and rekindle ideas dormant and seemingly lackluster. If you make a habit of it, drawing from life can give you an overall more profound living experience. You end up feeling more connected to your immediate surroundings, and become confident in trusting and acting upon your intuitions.
Who or what has been your biggest source of inspiration?
Noel: Nature remains the greatest teacher and inspiration of all. It’s full of endless wonders, capable of creating and destroying life at any given time, subtle in its growth one moment then impossible to ignore the next. As far as artists go, the ones I return to are Alice Neel, queen of portraiture, Margaret Mee, amazon adventurer and botanical artists extraordinaire, Egon Schiele for exceptional mannerism and humanity, and Alphonse Mucha for all around brilliance.
Do you ever face creative blockades? What advice do you have for finding inspiration?
Noel: Strangely, in the past year I’ve felt so inspired that many nights the desire to draw keeps me from sleeping. But yes, I’ve been under the creative block many times, feeling I’m not being imaginative enough or just repeating what I’ve already done. Or, very rarely, thinking that art’s a waste of time and I should learn a more productive, useful craft. At this point though, art making has become such a fundamental function, as important to my overall health as properly eating, exercising and resting. Inspiration can be found everywhere, be it a walk in the park, a visit to a museum, or a night out for live music. In your dreams too.
What is the most rewarding aspect of creating art?
Noel: For me, it’s feeling more directly connected to nature and in tune with the mysteries of existence. Listen carefully, plants really do hold a great many secrets and I don’t just mean the neighborhood gossip kind. It’s also very rewarding when people write to say I’ve inspired them to pick up their pens again.
What advice would you give women who are looking to pick up art as a hobby?
Noel: Draw what excites you; what stirs you below the surface. Break all the rules at least once so you can learn their true wisdom, or lack thereof. Though it’s important not to feel limited while creating, sometimes you’ll make your greatest breakthroughs using only one color or instrument, obsessing over a single subject. Try working small scale, more mental, and large scale, more physical, until you feel confident knowing which will suit your project best, allowing your creative juices to flow most freely. And take your sweet time with it. Art is a perfect way to channel your thoughts and feelings into a unified form. Keep at it and it will bring all your senses to life in ways you never imagined.
How do you stay inspired to create art? Is it something you prioritize?