Creativity pours out of artist Nicholas Holman. The 27-year-old painter and self-proclaimed ‘Gay Bob Ross’ makes art all day, every day, sells his pieces to buyers – some so eager that they won’t even know what painting they’ll receive until it arrives – and it all happens on TikTok for 169.5 thousand followers to see.
Nick’s infectious personality appears through his stylish outfits, complimentary makeup looks, and approachable but humorous teaching style. Helpful tips like beginning with a pencil sketch are followed by funny anecdotes about how when using oil paint, Nick works on unprimed, hot press watercolour paper “to make all of the oil painters cringe.” Just when you think you’re not quite in on the art joke, Nick will explain that with this technique, the oil paint becomes more like gouache – his preferred medium – and absorbs into the paper.
Nick has given many of his followers the knowledge and confidence they’ve needed to begin painting for the very first time. He’s used his position of power as an artist to support the Black Lives Matter movement by creating portraits honoring George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, teaching his followers about Juneteenth, and donating 100% of proceeds from sales from a dedicated apparel line to BLM organisations. Inclusion is at the forefront of everything Nick says and does.
What began as an unobtainable desire to travel during Covid-19 became a series where Nick virtually brought his followers along to various international locations and painted each of them in his sketchbook. The series commenced with a TikTok of Nick painting a house in Belgium that amassed 1.6 million views, a reach that led to one of Nick’s Belgian viewers going to the painted location to create her own video for Nick to see and share. It’s this sense of togetherness that moves and inspires Nick to continue creating.
I challenged Nick to put his makeup skills to the test and recreate his paintings from around the world on his face. We also sat down over Zoom to discuss what his days are like as an artist and businessman, his introduction to and continuation with makeup, and the belief he has in himself and his followers to make great art.
Emilie Louizides: Getting into art for the first time in 2015 hit you like an epiphany and you’ve said it is the reason you’re on the planet. What was it that made you want to start?
N.H: So, I thought I could draw my own tattoo. I had this whole sleeve planned out and thankfully I didn’t get that done because my drawings were really bad, but it was that little fire that made me hold a pencil and start drawing. Then I got this really cheap watercolour set and I did these beach scenes - I followed one tutorial, and then the rest was my own discovery. I look back and it’s crazy to think that it was just six years ago. But I couldn’t stop, and back then I really didn’t know what I was doing but the passion and drive was the same as right now which I think proves that this is what I’m supposed to do. Once I started, I literally have not stopped.
E.L: Do you remember how you decided on watercolours?
N.H: I’ve just always, always been so in love with watercolour paintings. I’m the kind of person where I look at something and I think, “I can do that!” I just don’t really second guess myself very often, I’m very confident in most of my decisions, and I just figure it out. I think we can all agree, watercolour is amazing because you can see, that was water, and I just think that’s so beautiful.
E.L: I love that. I get that sense running through all of what you’ve done on TikTok this past year, this whole ‘I’m going to do it, let’s just go for it!’ It seems like that’s how your approach to makeup has come about as well.
N.H: TikTok gives me a different type of fire under my ass to want to create. In October I was like, okay let’s get back into makeup, because I always treat Halloween very seriously but this year I was just like, let’s get some good-ass paint and I just loved it so much because I did it more than I ever had, but I also did looks that I never would have done. In one day, it was Halloween eve, I did four or five makeup looks. I was just on fire with this creation pouring out of me. Doing makeup was like picking up watercolour. I found this part of me that is here to stay.
E:.L That’s incredible. You were saying that when you started with TikTok it was constant. What does a typical day of creating and selling art look like for you?
N.H: Nonstop. Generally speaking, I wake up around eight, me and my partner have smoothie bowls every day, then I make a cappuccino because I’m boujee when it comes to coffee and then I get into my studio, which is my spare bedroom. When my Etsy store is open, I like to start with orders that need to go out that day. I need to print each order and then I cut it down to size and then I print the label, I have three stamps and a sticker on the package, and then in the package they get two cards, a business card and then I tie it and package it. I want each person’s to be special because they chose to spend money at my store. Then I usually have some commissions lined up or dog portraits, and then I’ll take a lunch break. Right now, I’m doing this whole series really tailored to interior design so that will be a lot of research on Pinterest of what’s trending, and I just soak everything up like a sponge, I grab a colour palette – this is all digital – and then I just create. The other day I did 27 individual pieces. Two days before that I did 19 in one day. I would rather make art than sit and do nothing, so I do it all day.
E.L: You have the drive to keep going all day. To be working in your comfortable environment, it’s so easy to have your lunch break turn into a three-hour Netflix binge.
N.H: I won’t say that doesn’t happen! My days aren’t really the same, sometimes I do organisation, some days I don’t do as much as I should but then that anxiety kicks in and that’s when I make more. Or the fire of, oh, let’s make a TikTok so then I paint more. Social media, it gives me more reason to paint. Hearing from all of these people about how inspirational I am, hearing that they’re painting for the first time because of me, how people love my makeup and my energy, they just love what I’m doing, that puts such a huge fire under my ass to keep painting and keep showing people what I’m doing. I get to show people who I am and how extravagant I am. It’s like this performance art that I’m really in love with.
E.L: I think your followers are too. Speaking to that extravagance, I want to take it back to makeup. For your October series we saw you in a different creative makeup look each day. You painted everything from Van Gough-inspired strokes, skull faces, and even eggs on your face. What was the process of getting into makeup like for you?
N,H: I had followed a few people on Instagram, and I could tell that they were painting with something that just looked like paint and I found out it was from Mehron. Then I followed TikTokers that were also using it and I was like, okay, I think I need this palette. So, I got the Mehron Paradise Paint. It’s awesome, all you need is water. As far as the looks go, there are a few makeup artists on TikTok that I really like and I was inspired by them but most of the time it was just – you know that Van Gough piece, I had the idea that I wanted to paint impressionistic, so I was like, you know what, let’s just do impressionistic face paint. So, then that’s when my painting and my face matched, which was super fun. That just showed me that this can be this whole extra thing that if you were to run into me in public, not only would you be running into this fabulous plein air painter, you would be shocked by what is also on my face.
E.L: I love that. I’m going to stick with makeup for a bit. We challenged you to take your painting around the world series onto your face. Was your approach similar to the one you normally take on 2D surfaces?
N.H: It was a little different. I wanted to start with Belgium because that was the first one that went viral so I took a picture of the painting, I flipped it on my iPad so it was in reverse, then I taped my face off, then I started sketching out the composition. In the Belgium painting, the house was really important, and where the street went back into space, and the shape of the trees. So, I was thinking kind of in the same way of bigger shapes, blocking off the composition, and thankfully, the colour of that house was exactly in my palette. I think people are really shocked that I can do what I can do on my face, but I know how to paint and it’s not that different, especially with the palette I have. I just can mix water, have the colour I need, and I’m already a painter! So, now I’m just putting it on my face.
E.L: To continue off of the technique topic, a lot of your TikToks are teaching-based. You explain that to achieve painting effects similar to yours you should start with big shapes, throw down a base colour, use gouache, bring out darks and values with a flat, long brush for nice movement and texture, and throw in a “nice juicy background”. How did you learn about and master these techniques?
N.H: So, I did go to art school for a year and a half and I dropped out because I realised that money… was real, that it was tangible, and in my name. But that was a good foundation, that gave me enough education to be able to make decisions for myself on what I want, what I’m looking for, what I like. It was awesome, I learned a lot. But then I dropped out, so it’s basically been four years of self-discovery. With how much I paint, there’s no reason that I wouldn’t be decent at it. And then I was also a watercolour teacher in Florida for two years. I loved that so much, I love teaching so much, I love people so much, so I think that helped grow the teaching part of things. But as far as the gouache and painting techniques, I study painters that I really like, I look at their work, what I like and then slowly, it just becomes you. With how much I’m doing this, I’ve learned a few things. I can say that I know how I blend really softly, how I add a highlight, I just know how to handle gouache so well that I’m at the point where I can confidently share those little tricks.
E.L: I want to talk a little bit about leaving school. What advice would you give to artists who want to go to art school but can’t afford it?
N.H: We live in a time where we have access to so much information. I think that anyone can figure out how to do anything if they want it bad enough. The thing about school is that you have a schedule, you have a grade, you have a teacher, you are paying people to give you attention, to give you feedback and when you do it on your own it’s just all up to you, there’s nothing else except you and how bad you want it. If you want it that bad, I fully believe you can do it. There are so many online resources, there’s Skillshare, there’s New Masters Academy, which is top of the line art education, and you can learn anything. It is bittersweet choosing to do it on your own though because you are missing out on that college experience and those bonds. I truly am in my own little bubble. I miss having those art friends, I miss being able to nerd out with people who know what I’m talking about. But we live in a day and age where you can do anything, and I don’t think art school is necessary, unless you want to be a teacher and you have to have that “degree”.
E.L: I want to stick with this advice portion. You’ve talked openly about failing and how difficult it was to get to the point where you could live off of your art. How did you know when your art became sellable and for anyone out there hoping to sell their own artwork, what steps are best to take to turn a hobby or passion into a thriving business?
N.H: The point where my art actually became sellable was after school. I remember my very first market, I was selling 40-dollar, original paintings and because they were originals, I was just making so much art, and because of how much of a people person I am, I think people – at that market specifically – bought more of my art than normal because my personality and my art and my business all go hand in hand. You can’t be one of those artists that doesn’t like people, you can’t be one of those artists that hates your art, you can’t be one of those typical artists that doesn’t leave their studio. You have to be in the world and present and talking to people about what you do. I heard this motivational speaker say that if you’re not bringing up what you do in the first 30 seconds, you’re doing something wrong, and I hold onto that pretty strongly. I was a server and I worked at a beach bar for four years and every time I’d see someone with their dog, I would drop the hints that I was a pet portrait artist. The beach bar that I worked at had this really ugly, plain wall so I pitched to the owners hey, let me do a mural here, and they let me. So now, at all of my tables I’m like oh yeah, I’m an artist, I did that mural. Then I dove into the market world. I learned a lot about: What is selling? What is my price point? What is the market? What are people interested in? What are they wanting? What aren’t they wanting? So, my market business just really grew and grew. In hindsight, that was a small business school because I learned so much about pricing, selling, taxes, all the stuff that no one teaches you. Then last year in July, I opened an Etsy store and that’s when TikTok was getting better and better, so it just kept growing.
E.L: To make this thriving, virtual business you actually had to get out into the real world. You’ve said it’s always been a lifelong goal for your art to allow you to travel. Since Covid has prohibited us from traveling you started your ‘painting around the world series’. What did you gain from virtually visiting and creating so many incredible places?
N.H: Even though it is far from actually travelling, my eyes are seeing things that I wouldn’t have seen. That street in Belgium, I would have never seen that unless I started this. 1.6 million people wouldn’t have seen that. Then someone actually went there. This woman in Belgium saw my video and was like, I can take my phone and duet this and when you really get into her shoes it’s just fascinating to think that that happened. That is the most special video ever, ever, ever. That place that I painted, that I painted on my face, now all of these people, because of my platform, I got to take them there and experience that which is about as close to traveling as you can get.
E: That’s incredible. And our last, classic question; Nick, what is your favourite F Word?
N.H: I know this is taboo, but I’m gay so me and my partner say it, but I enjoy the word faggot because I feel like we have the power to take back the power of words and instead of in high school, people were calling me a faggot, well now I can take control of that word and say it proudly rather than it being harmful all the time. So, I personally have taken the power of that word. I’m not offended by that anymore because that’s my word! I think we have the power to do that.
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