Interview with Nancy Sims

Nancy Sims is a painter who also works with mixed media. She lives in Hyattsville, MD.

When you’re planning a new project, what comes first: subject, mood, color, something else?

I would say vibrations; it’s the way I feel about something. It could be a meaningful word, phrase, vibrant colors, or an observation. But mostly an insight or a new understanding. I will try to paint that vision and share it.

Talk a little about your process: how you come up with ideas, any unusual techniques or materials, whatever you want to discuss.

It depends on how I feel that day and what I’m trying to express. I like to stay with the beauty of a subject, the high notes, the light, not the “greyness.” Most of my work is done in acrylics, and I may throw something else in there. I paint images that are symbolic and common to most viewers because it makes it easier to express the thoughts and feelings I desire to convey. For example, a dove has meaning to a lot of people, so I might include a dove in flight to express peace, freedom and or love. I usually start a painting by covering the whole canvas with colors that express the mood. The colors give vibrations that communicate. I may go back and cover some of it up, that’s how I get started.

Do you have personal symbols that you use?

I love hibiscus blooms, because they’re full of vibrant colors and they open up so wide and free flowing. I use the heart a lot. The rose, lotus, and the phoenix are also often used.

What’s your earliest memory of making art?

I remember making cards for my dear mother. I would take any item I could find in the house, including tissue from a tissue box, and make a flower out of it. Then I would put it on cardboard, or anything that was around the house and color, draw or paste colorful paper around it. I adored my mother and wanted to show how much I loved her. I started in kindergarten or first grade I believe.

A child comes to you, wanting to make art. What’s your first piece of advice? (Or, what do you say to people who say they love art but aren’t artistic?)

The first thing I would say is get out of your mind about making something exact and perfect. The other thing that I would say is feel your heart and tell me what it is that makes you happy. Then I would ask, “how would you show that in colors, motion, brushstrokes, or shapes?” And then I would tell them to just go with it and let yourself be free on the canvas.

What do you like most about the medium you work in? What’s most problematic?

I like that acrylic paints offer vivid colors. I also like that since I work in layers, I can just continue to add layers because it dries quickly. Also, texture is easy to accomplish with acrylics.

What are your other interests?

I like gardening, writing poetry and instructing children in art.

Have you had formal art training? If so, talk a little about it. If not, talk about how you’ve learned.

I’ve had bits and pieces of training in fine art. I took drawing and still life classes at the Corcoran. I was trained as a graphic artist way back before today’s technology, as part of an on-the-job training program. I also took courses at the University of the District of Columbia, Montgomery College (computer technology), and other profesonal training institutions.

What do you still want to learn about your art form?

I just want to get better at it. And when I say better, I don’t mean “perfect,” I mean I want to find more ways of expressing myself and reaching folks’ hearts. For me, art is important and can be a great communicator. I see art as a form of healing, that second when someone says, “I like this.” My desire and purpose is to paint light and love.

If you could learn another art form, what would it be?

I would have liked to play music and sing. I have a lot of family members, going back for generations, who make music and sing.

How has belonging to HCAA affected you/your art?

I can be pretty shy at times, so HCAA has helped me step out to meet other artists and more people, which is some of what I use art for. HCAA is very inspirational, whether I’m looking at the art or talking with the other artists. Participating in the art critiques once a month and opening up to share has helped me to be bolder about my art.

What are you working on now/next?

I am incorporating a spray paint technique into my art. And I have been working with ancient Adinkra symbols from West Africa, with a different twist from how they are usually seen.

[The foregoing interview was conducted and written by fellow artist and HCAA member Diane Elliott.]