June 15, 2016

Spotlight: Sally Nixon

Sally Nixon's illustrations give color to mundanity.

If mundane were a color it might be gray, but not for Sally Nixon. The illustrator injects the imagery of daily life with warm reds, mossy greens, and golden yellows. These hues paired with her distinctive style force us to pay attention to the ordinary scenes we often gloss over. In this way, Sally’s work advocates for a sort of awareness and appreciation for the comforts of routine. At first glance you’re drawn to her subjects: a woman sitting on the toilet, another frying French toast. But in her often-hyperbolized version of the mundane, the objects that surround the subject are no less important. Consider the perpetually unraveling box of floss, the necklaces that hang on the knob of a drawer, the essay you wrote three months ago still sitting on your desk. What these objects all have in common is that we’ve forgotten about them, but Sally hasn’t. She mixes humor with her awareness of forgotten objects and our incredible ignorance towards them. For example, in one illustration two women relax on a couch oblivious to the spilled glass of wine at their feet. It’s in these interior spaces that Sally balances a sort of surreal specificity with a welcoming familiarity. Since she illustrates scenes that I’ve lived, when I confront them in her work I experience something akin to muscle memory. I feel as if I could walk into the kitchen in one of her illustrations and automatically know which cabinet the cups are in.

The Le Sigh: Did you have any formal art education? Have you always done illustration? 

Sally Nixon: I’ve been drawing since I can remember. Art was always my thing growing up. However, my first couple of years in college, I thought I needed to focus on subjects that would get me a “real job”. That didn’t last long. Art is what I love to do and I’m not happy unless I’ve drawn something in the last 24 hours. So after trying to be a business major (haha) I transferred to the University of Arkansas at Little Rock and studied art. I graduated in 2013 with a BFA in illustration.

TLS: Do you draw from photographs, or are the scenes completely imagined?

SN: Mostly imagined. Sometimes I base certain aspects of my drawings on real life objects or rooms or people. But I rarely work from photos (unless it’s a portrait of a specific person) because then I get too concerned with trying to make it look exactly right.

TLS: I noticed that a lot of your art is set in domestic spaces (the shower, in bed, kitchens, couches etc.) why is important to capture women in these spaces?

I like drawing women doing everyday things and these are everyday spaces, so it just makes sense. I like taking a mundane situation and finding the humor in it or making it slightly more beautiful than it actually is.

TLS: You have a very specific style, how did you develop that? What artists are you inspired by?

SN: I draw almost everyday. Developing a style takes lots of time and patience. Or it did for me, at least. I’ve always been inspired by children’s books, especially those of Maurice Sendak and Edward Gorey. They’re both gods as far as I’m concerned.

TLS: Did you make a conscious decision to illustrate mostly women or was that something that came naturally? 

SN: That was totally natural. I just prefer to draw women because 1.) I am a woman so I have plenty of reference material and 2.) women are prettier than (most) men. 

TLS: Is there a scene that you would consider too mundane to illustrate?

SN: Nope! I can’t think of one.

Sally’s work can be found here.

Ana Bauer is a frizzy-haired girl and student at Bard College who tweets from @anadelray when she isn’t talking about Twitter in real life.