How to Breathe Life Into a Portait | A Conversation with Oil Artist Kadir Nelson

In last year’s Annual Art Competition, we had the pleasure of getting to know oil artist Kadir Nelson. His piece A Hole in the Roof puts a unique spin on figurative work; it’s brimming with personality and story. Read below for a more in-depth conversation with the artist about his process and inspiration, and don’t forget to enter this year’s Annual Art Competition.

oil artist

A Hole in the Roof (oil on canvas, 72×60) by Kadir Nelson

 

How to Breathe Life Into a Portait | A Conversation with Kadir Nelson

I started drawing at about the age of three. When I was eleven, I started taking painting lessons from my uncle Michael Morris, an artist and instructor. By 16, he taught me how to paint in oils. I went on to the Pratt Institute and graduated with a Bachelor’s of Fine Arts with a focus in Communication Design.

The inspiration for A Hole in the Roof came from a dream my uncle had several years ago. In it, I was delivering a commissioned painting to a collector, which featured four young boys dressed in 1920’s attire who were gaping at a hole in the roof. I loved the idea. It was mysterious, provocative and stylish. It took me ten years to finally paint it.

Oil is so versatile, so vibrant in color, have such a long life—this is why I’m drawn to the medium. My work is primarily figurative. I love painting the figure, capturing light and emotion, and telling a story.

Typically speaking, I begin with a loose sketch, and then transfer the drawing to the surface. Photographs help in the process, as well. I use a combination of drybrush, wet-on-wet painting. My palette is ever changing and evolving. I generally work with primary colors and some earth tones. I typically spend about 3 weeks on a painting. This painting took much longer since it is rather large and full of small details. I worked on it for a couple of months.

Creating A Hole in the Roof was an amazing experience. I loved painting the folds in the round rug, the tubs of water, the pattern on the carpet, the artifacts in the room, the still life on the dresser, the reflection in the mirror, and the light coming through the roof. My only hesitation was painting the wallpaper pattern. It was very meticulous, but I knew I’d have to bite the bullet and paint it, because it made the piece much richer.

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