Art has been the focal point for Sally Nixon as far back as she can remember. Laughing she says, “I wasn’t into sports or dance or anything like that. Art was my thing.”
The Pine Bluff native wasn’t getting enough of it at school, unfortunately, so around the age of six she began to take private lessons. Her teacher, Barbara Owens, focused on pastels and landscapes so naturally, Nixon did the same. Truth be told, she had a particular interest in illustration and took inspiration from the books around her.
Eventually she was ready to move on to the next level, and she stopped taking lessons. Unfortunately, she quit working on art regularly, mostly due to the unavailability of good instruction. “I went to a really small high school, and we didn’t have art classes really,” she explains. Nevertheless, she continued to doodle and her interest never died down.
College was a way for her to get back into art, even if it did occur in a round-about way. She says, “When college came around, I didn’t feel like I really had a portfolio so I didn’t apply to a big art school.” Instead she transferred a few times before finding herself at UALR, where she fell in love with the art program, and illustration in particular. “I loved it. My illustration professor, Tom Clifton, he’s really great,” she says. Contrary to what most believe, she sees UALR as an excellent school, and more than a place for transfers or night-commuters. She says, “I feel like people don’t consider it … but it’s a really good school.”
Plus, she finally found a way to combine all of her interests when she self-published her first book, “The Inevitability of Spiders and Flies,” for a class project. She took inspiration from her favorite illustrator, Maurice Sendak. Her sister helped with the writing, and she illustrated it, eventually getting a kickstarter together to be able to produce the actual book.
“I made a limited number and I wanted it to look a certain way and I didn’t want to go through a publisher who would make me change it,” she says.
Working as a children’s book illustrator is still a dream she’s working toward, as she says, “I like the idea of telling a story through images. It just seems like a good fit.”
The book is very much Nixon, as she says, laughing, “It’s pretty dark, actually, it’s a very dark book. It doesn’t necessarily have a happen ending, and I didn’t want it to.” But that’s what Nixon would have wanted to read as a child, and so that’s what she created.
Currently, to keep herself on her toes, she’s been doing a daily drawing exercise which she shares on her Instagram account – @sallustration. She’s noticed her style is changing a bit in the process, which is an exciting prospect. She still wants to one day work as an illustrator for kids books, but she’s open to all types of depiction. “It started out I was just doing stuff like what I’ve been doing for a long time, and I wanted to break out of that. I started drawing these girls, because someone pointed out to me that I never drew adults,” she says.
Even now, she may be moving in a different direction, “That’s the good thing about the daily drawing thing, it forces me to come up with stuff.”
Nixon is excited to be doing a show at the Thea Foundation next month. As part of The Art Department Presents, a quarterly exhibition focused on exhibiting artists from across Arkansas, there will be a kick off event for the exhibit on Aug. 7 from 6:30 to 9:00 p.m. in Thea’s Argenta location. The event promises live music and even a chance to win an original illustration by Nixon.
She’s pretty pumped, as she says, “It’s my first solo show … I’m really excited because it’s all going to be the new stuff I’ve been doing, even pieces I haven’t shared on Instagram.”
She’s felt the artist community and beyond support her in Central Arkansas and can’t wait to see how far she can take her talents.
Currently she is glad that she has a small circle of artists friends who she says keep her sane. The troupe met during her time at UALR. She says, “We have this artist group that meets once a month. We have a critique and talk about what’s going on and what shows are coming up and what art contests are coming up.”
When she’s not in her studio, Nixon loves to spend time with her dog or watch old movies, where she’s constantly finding inspiration to make more art.
To check out some of her work, visit her website.