Back to Arts

Capturing the essence

Daphne Nixon, painter extrordinaire and summoner of bugs

Gig Harbor’s Daphne Nixon is a serious one.

Recommend Article
Total Recommendations (0)
Clip Article Email Article Print Article Share Article

Daphne Nixon is a transplanted oil painter, originally from New York and California, just in the past two years drawn to the awesomeness that is the Tacoma area. Now based in Gig Harbor, Nixon currently has work hanging at both the Proctor Art Gallery and Gallery Row in Gig Harbor.

What drew your humble author to Nixon's work is quite simple - a deep, seething jealousy of her amazingly realistic paintings. Metal so perfectly captured in oils, every little reflection from real life there on the canvas - Nixon's eye is impressive. Though, not all of her paintings are done with envy-inspiring detail. Nixon also enjoys painting outdoors in a style called plein air, creating almost Impressionist-style landscapes.

I set out to discover her secrets, and Nixon was kind enough to let me observe her painting and teach me a few beginning tricks of the trade.

Nixon's extensive background in painting started in childhood. "I first learned to paint from my dad," she says. "He used to draw and paint and I really admired him for it. Dad's family painted too. If we went on a family picnic, everyone on his side of the family would bring a little box of paints and pastels and we'd eat and they'd break out everything and start drawing."

But it doesn't stop there. Nixon focused on art in high school and then went on to get a BA from the School of Fine Arts at Yale. She studied the masters in Florence, Italy, and in Holland. She attended the Arts Students League in New York City, and studied with a number of professional artists to hone her skills.

It's no wonder Nixon can capture the nuances of metal and my attempts look like gloppy leftovers at IHOP.

In our conversations about how an artist learns to paint and where the skill to paint realistically comes from, Nixon reflects back on her own lessons, ultimately skills she began learning in high school.

"I used to think - water, how can you paint water?" she says. "But if you just look at it and just trust your eyes and don't trust the logical side of your brain, that's when it works. Just let yourself go and paint what you see. All the information you need to paint realistically is right in the object you're looking at. It's telling you everything you need to know."

In response to why she uses oil paints instead of acrylics or watercolor (which don't involve the linseed oil and paint thinners and whatnot), Nixon says, "I don't like to be rushed. Oils take three days to dry, so I can go eat lunch and come back with a new perspective. I can go back into it, and it's still wet, and so I can fix it."

Of course, there are always drawbacks.

"When they're not dry, you have to protect them, especially when you're painting outside," Nixon says. "I've had paintings that I've put into the back of my car that got smudged. And bugs! I've had, like, a whole heard or flock of bugs - just a whole bunch of them - just fly into my paintings and stick. It looks like they're break-dancing on the canvas. They do these little circles as they spin around and I have to get a palette knife and pick them out one by one."

So really, the secret to amazing oil painting lies in being able to summon swarms of gnats and keeping the paint gooey enough to make them break-dance.

Beyond local galleries, Nixon also has work at the California Capitol in Sacramento and is currently working to get into a gallery in San Francisco. Her work has exhibited all around the nation and in Europe. In the past she also painted murals for a company called Envirographics (now called Mural Arts) based in San Francisco. While working for Envirographics, Nixon painted murals at the MGM Grand and the Sky Villas at the Las Vegas Hilton. So if you're ever high-rolling on the Strip, you might just find yourself checking out some of her work.

comments powered by Disqus

Site Search