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Artist Highlight with local watercolor artist Sam J. Nielsen

I wanted to take a moment to highlight a fellow local artist in Duluth MN.  I have enjoyed the different ways we have been able to come together as artists and collaborate on projects, including our latest collaborations of our Mosaic Pins and Stickers.  We enjoyed sharing our stories with one another, discovering many similarities in our journeys along the way.

Sam started out as a music education major, pursuing that for three years.  Since the 5th grade, she always thought that music would be a big part of her career.  It wasn’t till later in college that she started to question her direction.  Having no real formal experience with art, she decided to take a painting class.  After she dipped her toes into that world, she ended up switching schools and changing majors to art education.

Her decision to  head in the education direction felt like a safe option, as she was still exploring her interest and talent as an artist.  She started her career as an art teacher for an alternative high school in MN.  After two years of teaching, trying to juggle that full time job, while also investing time into her personal art, she knew she needed to make some decisions in the direction her career was headed.  She chose to embrace a full time investment in her art, and has been a working artist for three years.

Jumping into art full time, though uncertain, felt like a load off Sam’s shoulders.  Leaving the students from her teaching job was hard, but leaving a classroom setting felt liberating.  It didn’t take long for her to find her groove, which helped her know she was doing the right thing.

Now working from home, with a toddler in tow, there is the realization that in order to make it all work, it is important for her to prioritize the projects she is most excited about, keeping those as her focus.  She has found a way to be fulfilled through intentional decision making, sticking with the projects she is passionate about.  With everything there is a season, and Sam adjusts her schedule by balancing family time and work time.

It’s so fun to see some of the similarities that Sam and I have in our journey as working artists.  I started my career as a teacher as well.  I was an elementary education teacher, with a minor in music.  After I worked as a teacher for a few years, I became a stay at home mom for many years.  My creative outlet as my kids were young was through music, writing songs.  It was a great medium for me to immerse myself in, while raising four kids in my midst.  Both Sam and I felt called to the city of Duluth, along with our spouses, and have made this great city our home.

Once my children were all in school, I took a job as the music director at a local church.  I worked in this position for almost 8 years before making the decision to make a living through doing the things I love to do.  It started out as a multifaceted venture, through music, building, and writing.  Eventually, what rose to the surface and really took off was the building.  I started out building furniture, which evolved into the mosaics that we do now.

Venturing into the art world and coming to the realization that it can be a viable way to create an income is quite an amazing moment.  For me, it was the first time I started making a profit at a local arts and crafts show.  For Sam, it was starting to share her art on social media, and experiencing the positive responses from people.  As she started to share more and more, she began to get inquiries for purchasing her art, which led to her career as a full time artist.  She started small with an etsy shop, and things grew over time.

One of the early artistic decisions Sam made in the beginning of her career was the commitment to share one sketch a day on instagram for an entire year.  It became one of the most pivotal points of her business, as a genuine longing to get better and grow as an artist.  It has given her a tangible thing to look back on as she progresses in her art.  Choosing to see the process from the perspective of an onlooker helps motivate and inspire her.

Sam has enjoyed the journey and where it has taken her.  Currently, it has been the process of her art that has brought her joy, especially after the fog of becoming a mom.

As her priorities have shifted, she has realized the importance of making room for time to embrace the creative process, so that it doesn’t always feel like work. The start of creating Collections of art  was a real concrete way for her to provide herself focus, and also the freedom to express her art in the way she desires.  Her faith is also important to her and helps guide her, helping her find meaning in what she does, while creating intentionality.

For me, a breath of fresh air and new inspiration was the introduction of my Modern Mosaics.  It was such a needed shift in my creative space, to re explore the medium I work with and take it to a new level.  As innovation being one of my strengths, I thrive when I’m trying new things, while also giving myself boundaries to push the creative process.  The great part about taking the risk to diversify your art is that you end up expanding and diversifying your audience and clientele at the same time.

One of the great opportunities while being involved and making connections within your artist community, is the opportunity to collaborate.  Sam and I have been able to collaborate several times, with our latest being our enamel mosaic pins and vinyl stickers.  Sam worked through the creative process of making her own pin collection of her work.  They are so beautiful and unique, and gave me the idea to collaborate with her in the creation of pins designed after some of our favorite mosaic pieces. 

They are so mind blowing, and so cute in person.  It’s so fun to see how someone can take your work and manipulate it into something different and beautiful in a new form.  Our new installment of stickers from Sam are so fun, and we are thrilled to share those with you as well.  You can find them for purchase both in our local shop and online.

I had a great conversation with Sam that you can check out on our Instagram TV. Also, make sure to check out her beautiful work on her Instagram @sj_nielsen.