Lisa Nowlain

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Visual artist and youth librarian in Northern California |


Describe your art to someone who can't see

I waver between strange figurative drawings with words to watercolory flowers and other such things. Not usually a big crossover between them but they happen simultaneously sometimes. Lots of people in bell shapes and with windows in their chests, or else local creatures and flora.


The drawing you did the morning after the election helped me so much. What role do you feel like art has in activism?

I feel so inspired by the artists who identify as cultural workers and commit their work to be activism, like Jess X Snow or the duo of Dignidad Rebele or the Justseeds Collective. I think art is a powerful way to communicate wordlessly and wordfully to get people to bind together to work towards a common goal and be accountable to each other. And I think art has the power to imagine the future, which I think is super important. I have a hard time doing that in my work but I'm glad people are out there doing it.


This may be overlap with the previous question, but what compels you? What is it that you need to express?

I feel like as I've moved into my 30s I'm more self absorbed and have all these ideas that are tangling up and wanting to get out. I always feel shame when I hear artists talk about how art just need to come out so that's why they're so productive - I don't know that I have that same drive. It's more a low simmer. I like thinking about people and the world I want to live in and how to be a better human. I also think creativity is neat and have been inspired by books about it - like Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert. It does feel like magic. I also love it when someone is into my work and we connect over it. #selfabsorbed


When do you draw/paint? How do you make time for it?

Yikes. Usually in the morning before work or after dinner, and then sometimes on weekends. I'm having a tough time making work unless it's for a specific assignment these days, even if the assignment is just from me - ie illustrate a political quote everyday for a month in February or I'm selling work at a craft fair in December so need to churn it out for that. I keep waiting for some better discipline to emerge. I work full time as a youth librarian and I'm struggling to find time for art.


What is your space like? And what materials do you use?

We live in a house that had one perfect studio room, it's long and narrow and has windows all around. It looks over a tin roof and into the neighbor's garden. There's a basket on my desk for the cat to sit on and look out the window, and then piles and piles of paper and other weird things all over the place. It is not a beautiful space but I'm happy in there. I can put stuff that I don't like up on the walls and think about if I'm going to change my mind and no one will probably see it which is the dream. I'm all about watercolors, ink, gouache, and pencil these days.


If you had more time what would you be doing?

Hopefully more art! More murals and collaborative art pieces. I dream about my days in Laos where I got to be a full-time artist volunteer as a Fulbright Fellow and connected with groups looking for mural or comic workshops and made things everyday. I'd like that. I'd also like more time to read. Librarian stuff, you know. And more playing. Sports or games or something where I get to be bossy and yell.


What new artistic skill would you most like to learn?

I've learned how to screenprint a buncha times. I always forget. I am also missing ceramics or some other kind of 3D form to chill out my brain.