Interview by Neil Dalleywater
TR: What were your reasons behind producing this stunning book?
NB: Thank you. I wanted to give back to the tattooing and artistic communities I came out of, that spurred my success and gave me so much support, as well as to have another medium through which to share my art with people. I hadn’t put anything out beforehand showcasing so many of my paintings, so the book is for art collectors and appreciators as well as those seeking to learn.
TR: Do you feel that painting in whatever medium is a help to the modern day tattooist to expand his or her artistic vocabulary?
NB: Absolutely. Many of the concepts and techniques translate very well between tattooing and various other art mediums. Any chance one gets to practice is helpful. “You get out what you put in…”
TR: I picked up your “Fundamentals of Oil painting” booklet in Germany and found it absolutely fascinating; I'm assuming this is an expansion of that title?
NB: Yes. The text was completely re-written, vastly expanded, and then edited and re-written again several times. Many more pictures and diagrams were added, and a gallery of most of my paintings from the past 5-10 years to round it out. I had my friend who is a book designer do the layout, and we threw in several fancy features like red metallic embossing on old-fashioned cloth covers, and a dustjacket with spot gloss finishes to accent the optical illusions in the cover image. To top things off, in order to be more closely aligned with my ethics, the book was printed in the only unionized printing plant in North America. I paid for much of these extra features out of my own pocket so that I could stand behind my product with integrity, and offer something done to the best of my ability, which is an ideal I strive for in all areas of life.
TR: You are an advocate of schooling in the arts, many artists that I speak to have often cited that they felt stifled in school/college, being told to do something a specific way and no other; what is it that you feel that makes a good oil painter?
NB: I’m going to be brutally honest and say that, with a few exceptions, I find that complaint to be indicative of a lazy or short-sighted attitude. And for some reason it’s very common in the tattoo world, probably because it’s a subculture that greatly values individual freedom, to the extent that it holds many tattooers back from deeper learning. In-depth learning often requires the exercise of subordinating oneself to an authority and/or a strict learning program for a time, in order to cultivate one’s mind and skills, priming them for the post-schooling experience of “coming into one’s own” after having “paid one’s dues.” In this way, persistence, discipline, patience, sacrifice, and open-mindedness are the rather old-fashioned attributes that largely contribute to being a great painter or artist.
TR: You hold seminars of your own at certain conventions; do you find that you gain personally from these classes as well as imparting your knowledge to others?
NB: Yes, teaching something requires that you know it inside and out, from every angle possible in order to fully and effectively convey that information to those who don’t yet know it. Plus, often the result of having the interaction with students or participants is that you, as the teacher, understand the material from even more unique angles.
TR: Who have you aimed the book at?
NB: It’s aimed at tattooers who want to learn fundamentals of oil painting, with a focus on highly-rendered representational styles. But it’s written in such a way that it’s not exclusive to tattooers, and like I mentioned earlier, it’s loaded with pictures of my paintings for those who just want to look and appreciate.
TR: Do you find the similarity between tattooing and oil painting close?
NB: Yes, there’s a lot of crossover in techniques and concepts. Pigments, application, strategies, etc.
TR: I particularly like the way you compare say, an oil painting to a tattoo. Do you think this could help a tattoo artist understand the layering processes often employed in modern tattooing?
NB: Hopefully it does, that’s one of the major concepts I’m trying to bring forward in the book and with my seminars. It’s why my art looks the way it does.
TR: You are a much sought after tattooist; do you find enough time to paint or do you feel that your time is split equally between the two mediums?
NB: Lately it’s split evenly. Or when I have a painting exhibition upcoming, it’s more painting than tattooing. I’m my own boss so I decide what I do on a daily basis. If I don’t feel like tattooing, I politely tell people no, and hope they understand. I’m talking about people requesting new work, not in-progress clients. I don’t leave people hanging with unfinished work.
TR: Within your book you talk about getting inside your own mind to 'feel' where the art is coming from; is this process something that you use in your tattooing also?
NB: When and where I can, yes. But sometimes the simple fact that you’re collaborating with and trying to please a paying client, another human besides yourself, limits your thought process slightly. I actually prefer a bit of that because at the end of the day, you’re still providing a service and need people to leave happy in order to continue having a good career.
TR: You have specifically aimed your book at realism painting, do you think that many of the techniques explained can be used in other styles of painting?
NB: Yes. There are many sections in the book that carefully explain materials, mental approaches and problem-solving, as well as simple skill-building exercises. All of this knowledge can be applied across the gamut of styles.
TR: What is next for Nick Baxter - Author of painting tomes?
NB: I just had a solo exhibition in Portland, Oregon, USA at Nisus Gallery, which was a major undertaking spanning most of 2011 so far. From here, I’m enjoying a bit of travelling while not painting on a deadline for a while. I’m working on some seminars I’ll be teaching in the fall, at the Paradise Gathering in Massachusetts, USA and Rome, Italy. And of course, I’m finishing and beginning a few large tattoo projects on people.
TR: Do you have any plans to expand your book projects to other types of painting techniques?
NB: If or when I incorporate new techniques into my repertoire, I’ll probably have the urge to share them with others in some form or fashion.