RedDot Reader Profile | Nancy Ness

Artist Nancy Ness divides her time between her home in Ogden, Utah, where she lives during the fall and winter, and her sailboat in Greenport, NY, where she takes up residence in the warmer parts of the year. This is the best of both worlds for an avid skier with a love for sailing. Ness’s unique, bold paintings reflect both of her major outdoor interests.

Jason: What drew you to your subject matter?

View from the Bow | pastel 18×21 $1500

Nancy Ness: My subjects need to be very familiar and connect with my heart. The subjects I paint come from what I love to do, which includes sailing and skiing. I also look for a concept that allows me to develop a series and will lend itself to being on the edge of abstraction and representation. The sail series, I am doing now, is perfect because it’s challenging, provides lots of variation and takes me sailing when I’m on land.

J: How did you develop your style?

NN: My wonderful Pratt professor, Charles Goslin, once wrote ” Don’t look for a style. Let it find you, again and again, as it deepens and grows in richness. And as to your style, your friends will recognize it; you won’t– unless you stole someone else’s. Style comes to you when it is ready and comes as inevitably as sweat on a July day.” I believe this is true. It is and should be your own original voice.

My style is hard for me to explain. I strive to be on a thin line between abstraction and representation. I also like to see some happy accidents remain in each finished piece.

J: What is your medium?

NN: My medium is constantly evolving. However, I am primarily a painter. I use pastels both oil and soft to work out smaller pieces that are later used as reference for larger oils.

J: What do you feel is unique about your work?

NN: As a past art director for publications, I learned finding a unique visual concept is important. Along with the concept, color is something I love to push to help the abstraction of subject and mood.

J: How did you get your start in art?

NN: Let’s just say at age 5 my parents were very concerned and sent me to a shrink for doodling. He told them I was fine but really liked doodling.

Headed Up | oil 18×18 $1400

J: So I’m guessing your family didn’t exactly encourage your art?

NN: Most of my family are professionals; lawyers, doctors, professors, and nurses. My interest in fine art was a concern for my family members. They were not encouraging towards my art but unable to stop my rebellious spirit. Like many of my art friend’s parents, mine too insisted I take typing – just in case. Now I’m glad I did given my work on computers with publishing.

J: How much art related education do you have?

NN: For years, I was a perpetual art student. After transferring from college to college which included School of Visual Arts, NY; Post College, NY, University of MN, I transferred all my fine arts classes and matriculated into Pratt Institute, where I received a BFA in communications design.

J: When did you sell your first artwork?

NN: I’ve sold art off and on through my design career, some being illustration. When I retired as a designer 10 years ago, I started painting full time. It’s true, the more miles you put in the better you get. I am may not see my style, but I definitely have seen my paintings and likewise sales improve.

J: Are you a full-time artist?

NN: Yes.

J: How do you promote and expose your work to potential buyers?

NN: I’ve joined the Pastel Society of America, American Women Artists, and Oil Painters of America, as well as Local Art Centers. I am also represented by two galleries: South Street Gallery, Greenport, NY and Bella Muse, Ogden, Utah.

Last Runs | oil 25×25 $1800

Aside from those connections, I enter competitions, have a website and add its link to all my emails, post art on facebook, Pastel Society blog, and instagram, give workshops and teach art classes, and take part in some charity art events.

I have also created two separate print promotion booklets of my art, one summer sailing, one winter skiing.

J: What do you feel has been your greatest challenge in selling your work?

NN: Me. I am my greatest challenge by far. My work sells and people like it. It sells best in galleries that fit the work.  Yet, I have not figured out how to approach galleries effectively. The problem most often is getting a gallery to look at the work. There are just so many wonderful artists, it seems most galleries are unwilling to look at any new artists. When I do find a gallery that looks at the work, I have gotten in more often than not. At the very least, these galleries are encouraging which should give me confidence to approach more good galleries.

J: What do you feel you’ve been most successful at in your art business?

NN: I am very social which helps me connect with new people. The people I meet who gravitate to my work usually have a common interest. Before you know it, we are talking, sailing, skiing and art. My show openings are packed and fun. Partly due to my promotion skills, which was a large part of my former career. I feel that as I become more connected to the people around me, the interest in my artwork grows. So networking is a key factor.

J: What other jobs have you held?

Tied Up | oil 40×30 $3500

NN: In my last and longest job, was Assistant Director of PR and Creative Services for AAANY. This was a good fit because I got to design and write travel stories about skiing, biking, sailing and art museums. Before the AAA job, I worked primarily as a designer for different design and advertising firms which are revolving doors dependent on keeping clients. Most of the clients I worked with were high end such as: Jaguar, IBM, Price Waterhouse, 3M. At the beginning of my design career, I worked for Universities doing promotional pieces and covers for catalogs. Given all this promotional experience you would think I could get a handle on finding plenty of gallery representation.

J: How much time do you spend in the studio on an average week?

NN: It varies from week to week depending on snow (skiing) and wind conditions (sailing). However, I usually get in about 30 hours of painting time.

J: Do you have a daily routine?

NN: I prefer to work during the day, starting at around 9 am. I need a chunk of time to paint. Having distractions or commitments is something I avoid during work time. I get lost in my art and forget the time much as when I was designing. I’m all in and not to be distracted. When I can’t get a chunk of time together for  painting, I work on the computer revising my website, viewing others artwork, promotion, networking with other artists, buying supplies and adjusting art photos. Basically, I try to get some art related work in everyday.

J: How much work do you produce per month on average?

NN: I plot out a series before starting. This takes me some time. In the plotting, I figure out which pieces will be small and which big. I generally start with pastels and do 3–8 that range in size from 9×12″ to 16×20″. Then I move onto oils. Some oils are large 30×40″ others smaller. This makes it hard to say given any month I will produce X amount of paintings. I can say that in the last 4 months, I have produced 7 good pastels and 6 good paintings. Although, I worked on quite a few more pieces, not all were successful. Some fail because I like experimenting during the process. I expect some to fail accepting the freedom that often leads to some interesting variations.

Swan Greetings | oil 40×30 $3500

J: Who is your favorite artist from art history (and why), and which of their works is your favorite (and why)?

NN: There are painters I go to when I am stuck. They include some living and some dead. The internet is an easy way to get inspiration from other’s work.

One of the living artist’s I just love is Lynn Boggess. I first saw his work in Ashville, NC. The texture, size and abstraction of his paintings impress me. These paintings are so realistic from a distance but close up break down to wild textures.

As for the dead guys, I love Rembrandt because the people in his paintings have character and presence. So much presence, it often feels as if his characters are in the room with you. I saw a stunning Rembrandt in Edinburgh of his lover pushing a curtain aside. This was my favorite painting of his.

John Singer Sargent is also a favorite. It’s hard not to be impressed by the skill and freedom of his strokes especially his watercolors.

N.C. Wyeth is considered an illustrator, but his paintings are so strong in composition, drama and skill that for me they jump the invisible border to fine art.

And Calder’s wire circus sculptures such as “Man on a Wire” make everyone smile. Several of these can be seen at the Whitney Museum in NY. They are drawings in 3D.

Nancy Ness’s Studio

J: What are your interests outside of your art?

NN: Outside of art I enjoy being outside… biking, skiing, sailing and plein air painting.

J: Thanks so much, Nancy. To see more of Nancy’s art, visit


About the Author: Jason Horejs

Jason Horejs is the Owner of Xanadu Gallery, author of best selling books "Starving" to Successful & How to Sell Art , publisher of, and founder of the Art Business Academy. Jason has helped thousands of artists prepare themselves to more effectively market their work, build relationships with galleries and collectors, and turn their artistic passion into a viable business.


  1. Nancy, what fun to read your profile and identify so much with what you love: skiing and sailing! We currently own a trawler, heading to Maine this summer, but remain sailors in our hearts. Your painting ‘Tied Up” speaks volumes. Such a pleasure to ‘meet’ you!
    All the best –

    1. Hi Terry,
      Nice to hear from a fellow sailor, skier, artist. I think your artwork is wonderful. The relationships you have created between objects is so intriguing.

      Best for your traveling adventures. You’ll need to keep warm clothes close for Maine.

  2. Nancy,
    Thank you for sharing, and I was excited to see you mention N.C.Wyeth. Just yesterday I was at the Brandywine Museum in Chadds Ford, PA which has several of his original illustrations, and they are indeed inspiring. Wonderful detail up close, but very powerful from across the room and certainly rival any painting.

    1. Hi Leslie,
      The Brandywine Museum is wonderful. Did you also go to NC’s studio? Also nearby the Willmington Library has the original complete illustrations by NC for the Robinson Caruso book.

      1. No, I did not make it to NC’s studio that day, but thank you for the info about the illustrations at the library. Will keep that in mind for my next visit to the area!

  3. This series of artist interviews is really interesting and great to see. May there be many more to come.
    I am also glad to see reference to Wyeth as most fine artists and galleries tend to look down on illustrators. As Brad Holland says, “In fine art you do the painting then negotiate the price, and in illustration you negotiate the price then do the painting.”

  4. Thank you Nancy for talking about and sharing your work. I enjoyed visiting your website and your pastel “Red Roof” is my favorite. I could really relate to the part about yourself as your biggest challenge. Like you, people like my art and my art sells in galleries that are right for it. But approaching new galleries is difficult for me too. I am very introverted; once I know someone well, I am very sociable, but that initial encounter still makes me anxious even after 35 years of doing it.

  5. Thanks for the interesting interview! About approaching galleries, something that worked for me was doing a lot of research to identify galleries that were a perfect fit for my work then simply sending them a nicely produced postcard featuring my art, a chirpy handwritten note and – of course – a link to my web site. Easy and lightweight for everyone, and the gallery folk are sure to see your work – even if only on the way to the recycling bin. Of course, if the gallery has a submission process, follow it. But if not, the postcard method has worked well.

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