I’m Nicki Forde, and I created this little art and illustration business called Drawing on my Heart as a way for me to get back to my early dreams of creating fun art with love and positive vibes. It’s my mission to make beautiful, meaningful art that moves you in a way you need to be moved whether that’s courage to follow a dream, to allow love to flow, to reconnect… whatever it needs to be. My goal is to put a smile on your face, to lift your mood, to give you a little inspiration… to make your world a happier place, even if it’s just for a moment. Whether it’s business or pleasure, my philosophy is the same – to show up with love and compassion.
I’m an artist on a secret mission – to be an example of how amazing and fulfilling life is when it’s lived from the heart.
“The essential thing is to work in a state of mind that approaches prayer.” Matisse
I am taking a break from adding details to a commissioned piece of a beautiful black and white Tennessee Walker horse. Shades of brown and gray make up the landscape as the sun is just past the peak of noon on a late autumn day. Snoopy, the horse, has been gone for around five years now, but his presence is still felt daily. He has become a muse, of sorts, for my customer, and I have the beautiful opportunity to capture the wisdom and love of Snoopy. As I critique my progress, I am convinced that more is needed even though a well meaning friend says, “Awww, it’s perfect just the way it is!” I smile, and think to myself, “not yet.” Even though I do not know what is “missing,” I know that my muse will!
Isn’t that the way with artists of every kind? Whether our canvas is a baker’s pan, a block of stone, a ball of yarn, or an actual stretched canvas, we know that inspiration will come. Like Henri Matisse noted, creating art is a meditation, a prayer, in motion. When I look at a blank canvas, my immediate reaction is probably best described as panic. Panic is then quickly followed by doubt as thoughts of “who do I think I am” rumble around in my mind. But, and it is a big BUT, as soon as the paintbrush hits the palette and finally the canvas, something magical happens. Stroke after stroke, blend after blend, shade before shade. . .what once was just a reference is now a finished piece. I stand back and stare. When did this happen? Wow!
And so it goes, working in gratitude. . .that prayer, that meditation–and I am fortunate enough to live this life. I think that each time I complete a piece I find it easier to begin the next. Instead of comparing my work to others, I celebrate the talent that streams through me and rejoice in sharing it with the world. I’m always surprised when a piece sells right away, or two people are wanting the same original, or I get accepted into a juried show. But should I be surprised? Probably not, because when anyone works from a place of love, of meditation, of truth. . .how can the result be anything but joyful? So many times we as a society look at work as drudgery; we complain of long hours, ungrateful customers, and low wages. What if, and it is another big one, WHAT IF we all changed our approach to our work, maybe even call “work” something else? Would everyone benefit from the love, truth, and joy that went into every cup of coffee served, every product shipped or rung up at a local cash register, every green bean picked and consumed? Ahhhh, therein lies the rub. . .as for me, my art will be created in meditation. . .and really, studio time is not work, is it? –Nicki
Unlike some artists who have just the perfect wooden palette, I typically use repurposed items. Pretty sure the friend who festively delivered Christmas cookies on this gingerbread plate last December would not recognize said plate today. But seriously, I challenge you to think of a better use for my gingerbread plate than mixing paints! Well, Simon my first “foster fail” would like to suggest that a napping hammock is even better. Honestly, though, look at that cute face: how could that be a fail?
A short (or long. . . who keeps up) time ago, rather than trying to manage the spay and neutering of all of the stray cats near my home in Leesburg, I joined forces with some wonderful local programs that support catch and release or foster for adoption. Catch and release was easy, so I felt assured when I proudly worked with two litters of kittens and their moms. Getting those little kittens to trust a human hand, teaching them to play, and nursing any nutritional or physical issues went even better than I expected. “I can do this,” I thought. Artist by day and kitten playmate by night, no time to be bored. All went well UNTIL Simon waltzed into my life. He came to me all alone and afraid, but soon joined forces with a sister and a brother from an earlier litter, both of whom were well acquainted with human contact and thus less skittish. A couple weeks went by, and Pee Wee and Dora checked out as ready to adopt. But my Simon–notice how I just said “my”–exactly the problem. I love all the kittens who find me, but I knew that as an official foster mom, not to mention keeping peace at home with the other adult cats, I need to surrender the fosters. But Simon, my little skittish guy, even though he has grown and is a healthy boy, well, he is now the newest member of the studio. And as a beginner, he had to start at the beginning. . .mixing paints, of course. Well actually, that is not the beginning step, but it sure is fun!
I laugh when I posted to my Instagram that Simon was “FosterFail” because just as in art, is there really a fail? Is it really so bad when my finished painting looks nothing like what I intended, yet the next time it might look exactly what I had envisioned? Creativity for me is organic. . .it accepts the unexpected, it considers expectations a nuisance, and it is always filled with love. Certainly I enjoy collaboration for commissions; the learning takes place in the dialogue. Hearing the stories of my customers brings a level of depth and richness to the artwork that is unachievable otherwise. I know that my customers appreciate my style and could care less what my palette looks like. How do I know this? Well, simply put, the palette isn’t what they have commissioned or purchased. They know and trust my creative style, my zest for life, and my desire to allow the art to emerge and take on a life of its own. Whimsy, love, plants, animals=Drawing On My Heart: the perfect equation for authentic design, masterfully mixed paints, and a whole lot of fun — Nicki (and Simon)
Last month as I reached for my glasses that had, of course, been placed who knows where, I found myself becoming agitated that I needed glasses. Yes, the time has arrived that I need glasses for close up, not just far away. Sure I could solve this perceived issue with progressive lenses, but instead I chose to battle and be grumpy until I “saw” a lesson. The lesson. . .well, let’s just say that for artists, perspective is everything. From the tiniest of details to the largest of imaginations, how I see the canvas, my paint palette, and my subject blend together to create the final piece. I was so busy fussing about looking for the right pair of glasses to see the details, I was missing the larger picture. . .but perhaps even more troubling is that I was pushing my imagination and creativity to the side. I was relying on exact details of my reference and suggesting my imagination take a backseat. In my daily living, I strive to release myself from expectations. So I’m letting go of the expectation that my art piece is going to be a replication of the reference; for that type of creation there is a copy machine or laser printer. Rather, my art piece will reflect the experience, the joy, and the whimsy of the reference and me! So yes, I no longer need to panic if I am not wearing the “right” pair of glasses for the task before me. . .my perspective is perfect. —Nicki
Like most young children, I asked for a horse every birthday, Christmas, and special occasion in between. And. . .like most young children, my wish remained unfulfilled. Unless….that is….you count the number of Breyer horse figurines I received as gifts or even more exciting, the number of horses whose manes I braided with daisies on my walks home from the school bus stop in rural Okeechobee. I can only imagine the looks of surprise from my parents when I tried to ride my tiny plastic horse, Palomino Mare–even as a two year old, these Sears Wishbook beauties were not meant for galloping. Or even more surprising would be my unsuspecting neighbors coming home from work to feed their horses only to find the manes beautifully braided and filled with wildflowers. Finally, at the age of 13, my brave dad got me my first horse. Even though Darlin’ was one of the meanest little ponies to trot on the earth, I loved her dearly. Later I got Taco, who ended up being the kindest, most gentle gelding one could ever hope to have even though he definitely had that thoroughbred mixed with quarterhorse blood running through his veins. We developed a love, a trust and no doubt taught each other more than I recount even today.
So it is with this love of horses that I come to the canvas. With every stroke, every paint blend, every eye sparkle it almost feels like I can touch a live horse. I know the curve of a shoulder, the solid weight of a leg in my hands as I pick a hoof, and the warm steam of breath on my neck. When I am “running with the horses,” time passes quickly. When I am with the horses, it is not only they who run freely, but also my thoughts and emotions as well. I recall memories that bring smiles, tears, and all out laughter. . .but more than anything, I confirm my love for these beautiful animals and am grateful for their presence in my life and the gifts they once and continue to give to me. “Gemini” is a special painting. . .those two boys. . .filled with love, hope, and wisdom. . .their eyes tell the whole story, and I am blessed. —Nicki
As I was putting the final brushstrokes on the little hedgehog heads peeking out of the bicycle basket, I briefly felt a smidge of disappointment. Really? How could anyone be disappointed when looking at a purple bicycle. . .much less one that has a wicker basket filled with freshly cut lavender and cute little hedgehogs? But I did! The vision I had when I initially began this painting was so perfect, so technically correct that my college art teachers would have been proud. Yet, here I was standing before these silly little guys going for a ride doubting, questioning, and wondering if I should keep or scrap this piece. Ahhh, this “Joy Ride” looked so fun as I stepped away from my technical perspective and began thinking of the places I could ride and the smiles that would come. And then, I realized that the painting process is indeed much like the ride. . .it is a journey, a joy ride. I want to learn to let go of the final result. I want to become peaceful with the idea that painting is a journey and rarely, if ever, does that perfect image imagined at first stroke end up on the final canvas. I am recognizing that after the idea is conceived and the paints begin to blend and move, the painting comes to life. . .it is indeed part of the journey, and the joy is in that journey. I am releasing the expectation of technical perfection and embracing the love of the art, the elements of paint and color, and most of all the joy that this blend brings to me and to others. And even though we are taught not to have favorite “children,” certain pieces do have a special place in my heart. They have become mile markers on my journey as an artist and a person. For this journey, I am grateful. . .yes, “Joy Ride” stays. . .but wait until I tell you about galloping away with “Gemini” next week. . .
Like everyone else, my routine has shifted–no Friday night markets, no art festivals. With this shift, has come more studio time. Rather than rushing to ready everything for the markets, and trying to creatively pack my MiniCountryman, I have been graced with the time to fulfill commissions. One such commission was a portrait of a customer’s granddaughter. Human subjects make me a bit nervous, especially when I need to capture the likeness and essence of the person. Doing “Fridas” for my own basic amusement is a lot different than a portrait of someone’s beloved granddaughter so I was enormously relieved when after several days of careful work I discovered this strong and beautiful young woman looking back at me from the canvas on my art table.
But, the space behind her–that negative space–oh my! I can hear art teachers from my distant past pointing out my lack of attention paid to the negative space. It’s a thing, I can assure you! So, as usual for me, I wrestled with how to fill that space in a fun light-hearted way and it made me think about the lack of negative space my day planner use to have… because after all, hasn’t life taught us to fill every moment, every space on our calendar, with a scheduled activity? Don’t we wear our completely booked calendars as badges of honor? How then could I leave the space behind this beautiful young woman blank? And then it hit me like the proverbial ton of bricks: life with COVID has taught us that indeed we can survive without old routines, old expectations that every moment of every day be completely booked. Life circumstances has forced negative space on my calendar pages. Ironically, however, this void or blankness has not been void at all but rather has become filled with creativity in the studio. So, what did I end up painting in the negative space of the granddaughter? Beautiful, whimsical patterns. . .patterns that suggest wind, motion, and fun because what else would a creative young soccer player wish for? The negative is positive.
As I was working on my latest interpretations of Frida Kahlo, I finally admitted to myself that none of my “Fridas” really look like her. I hope to capture some sass in her expressions, but as far as total likeness? Not so much. And I realized that I’m okay with that because I believe there’s a little Frida in all of us.
Frida Kahlo, a Mexican painter who lived from 1907-1954, is one of the most creative and self-aware artists I know. Having had polio as a young girl and a bus accident several years later, Frida lived most of her life in physical pain. I have asked myself if I would have been brave enough to creatively express my pain through painting while in a full body cast using a special easel my parents provided. Would I have avoided succumbing to the chronic physical pain, and instead captured the pain on canvas? As I matured, would I have been brave enough to express pride in my indigenous home during a time of racial and gender oppression? Would I be willing to paint my reality of pain as subject rather than fantasy or landscapes? Critics have noted that out of her 143 paintings, 55 are self-portraits that do just that–they tell the truth. Frida, no doubt, followed Shakespeare’s advice “to thy ownself be true.” Whether it was political or religious bias, Frida was the brave woman that I am becoming. In times like these COVID 19 days, when others are frantically buying items for comfort, I want to be able to be brave and say, “pain is a part of life, but not the end of life.” I want to provide creative love to others, support their ambitions, help assuage their fears, and most of all–through it all–be true to myself. So while my whimsical style of painting does not include self portraits, my art does include horses, hedgehogs, chickens, and Frida. This beautiful gathering of acrylic, watercolor, and colored pencils are expressions of love and bravery from my studio to your home. So, yes, I do hope that a little Frida resides in each of us–regardless of the color of our skin, the age of our wrinkles, or the style of our dress–we will endeavor to be true to ourselves, be creative, but most of all, be love. Nicki
Looking outside of the studio window, I see sunshine, new green leaves on the oaks, and butterflies dancing among the milkweed. Looking inside my studio, I see original paintings drying on the easel, prints all packaged and ready to share, pillows all fluffed to add to my art show tent, all tucked within the atmosphere of anticipation, creativity, and love. But the universe has other plans. . .the Leesburg Art Show is officially postponed until October 24 and 25 due to the virus. City officials of Leesburg in coordination with the Director of the Leesburg Center of the Arts decided to postpone the event in an abundance of caution. Upon the surface, it is quite easy to read this “caution” as fear. However, upon a closer look, this same caution can be viewed as love. Love? Yes, love: love for our community. Perhaps we have forgotten to shop local or learn to know our neighbors or local farmers. Time is always in short supply, it seems, and we may find it easier to one-stop shop at big box stores where the crowds and deals seem huge. So perhaps this virus gives us the chance to return to the community, to local. . .and ultimately to ourselves. Love for self: sure, why not. . .have we forgotten how much fun it can be to reconnect at home either with family, friends, animals, or garden? I am choosing to spend the gift of time in the studio painting and creating…remembering that love is indeed the heart of everything. So even during a time of, or perhaps especially at a time of, great fear that itself seems to be the pandemic, we need to change our perspective to love. Love our local medical personnel, respect the resources our cities and local governments provide for us, but most of all love ourselves enough to reconnect to self–loving the time that we can unplug from the chaotic cyber world and reconnect locally with our family, friends, and neighbors. Off to paint. . .I’ll share more next week, and until then, since we won’t be able to meet at the Leesburg Art Festival this weekend or the WomanMade Art Exhibit Opening at Mount Dora Center for the Arts tonight, please find and enjoy peace and love at my ETSY shop where I have recently posted much of the art that we could have smiled over, giggled about, and loved on this weekend. Nicki
I’m so excited! My dear friend Melanie is joining the blog as a guest speaker. That’s her, discovering a new way to play in the dirt. If there’s anyone out there that draws on her heart for inspiration and love, it’s Melanie. Melanie reminds us that creativity expresses itself in so many ways – it’s not just a luxury for those who call themselves artists. It’s every human being’s natural state. To me, Melanie creates space. Her home’s interior is soothing and beautiful. Her garden is lush with edibles and contained by well-thought-out raised beds, paths and sitting areas. She also has a magical way about her – an ability to create space that feels safe to be in when you’re in her presence. People, animals and gardens thrive when she holds space for them. I think she’s one of the most creative people I know, and I’m lucky to have her as a friend, and as a guest blogger! Enjoy!
Drawing on my Heart is the perfect name for this site. . .I have known Nicki for years and have enjoyed her talents through her sketches, paintings, graphic designs, and cottage garden. It goes without saying that she is “always drawing.” Watercolors, color pencils, or garden spade in hand…Nicki is bringing forth life through her creativity. It occurs to me that the act of “bringing forth” or “drawing” is a wonderful way to create. I was always too quick to say that I was not creative because I could not “draw.” However, as I sat before a slab of clay last week I did just that: I drew–I drew from my heart. The feelings of love and gratitude I hold for the earth in general and my garden specifically came forth as I pounded, tweaked, scored, and pinched that slab of clay into a beautiful vessel that will one day hold cut flowers from my garden. I realized that I could create; I am an artist. Isn’t that the way? We get our mind set on a specific meaning or idea and hold so fast to that belief that we in effect put blinders on, roll the shade down over our creative eye. Our hearts are like a deep well, and my goal is to make sure that the contents of my well remain pure, positive, and loving–the perfect source to draw from regardless of the day. . .creativity flows as the life giving energy of the universe. Drawing on My Heart. . .you betcha!
As my early afternoon cravings for caffeine hit me with a stifled yawn, I longingly looked over at my empty coffee cup. I then realized an empty vessel just begs to be filled. So with eager anticipation of that hot, magic elixir, I stuffed my cold toes into my slippers and got up from my graphic design desk to see if there was anything left in the coffee pot downstairs.
Cup filled. Cup emptied. Ready to be filled again.
A cup without coffee.
A page without a sketch.
A patch of earth without a garden.
A vase without flowers.
A body without bliss.
All these things need to be emptied before they can receive sweet abundance. It’s a cycle of give and take, of renewal. What better time than the beginning of a new year to empty our vessels to only allow them to fill up again.