By Emilie Murphy
Portrait Photography by ChiChi Ubiña
It started with some handmade cards, mostly thank-you’s sent in the mail, hand drawn with a note inside. It was never meant to become a second career, just a creative outlet that evolved over time. But eventually, artist Nina Weld realized she had something special. Without any formal training or professional degree, Weld has built a loyal following and landed her first gallery show back in March at Images Gallery in Greenwich. Unfortunately, the show was cancelled due to Covid, but Weld remains optimistic. Her story is a study in finding a new gear. One things leads to another, and all of a sudden, you’ve launched a second chapter.
An Artist’s Beginning
Weld has been drawing her entire life. She took classes as a child, but never pursued it seriously. Later on, after her kids were older and she had a bit more time, Weld found herself looking for a creative outlet. She enrolled in a variety of art classes and began to study at Silvermine Arts Center in New Canaan. Throughout this time, Weld would send her homemade cards. Over the years, she noticed that many of her friends had kept them, tacking them to bulletin boards or hanging them on the fridge.
At some point, a friend who knew about Weld’s hobby approached her about a collaboration. Icy Frantz and her husband had tragically lost their son, Sargeant, to a rare, undiagnosed disease just before his second birthday. Frantz found that her other children were coping with their grief by drawing pictures of their late brother. This is what Sergeant is doing in heaven, they would say. Frantz noticed that it was therapeutic for her children, and was inspired to create something that helps families deal with the loss of a child. The final result was the children’s book Sargeant’s Heaven.
Frantz asked Weld to illustrate the book. “I said, ‘really? I don’t even know if I can draw someone in profile,’” Weld explains. But Frantz had seen Weld’s style and thought it would fit with her own vision. They worked on the project for a long time, talking through scenes and going through rounds of edits. The idea was to keep the illustrations friendly and childlike, so Weld created a series of pen and ink drawings with a bit of watercolor. The drawings in Sargeant’s Heaven are reminiscent of the classic The Little Prince, which has endured for decades in part due to its striking and whimsical drawings. “It was an honor to be a part of,” says Weld of the project. “At the beginning, it gave me confidence and was such a great cause [all of the book’s proceeds go to organizations that help families in crisis]. I’m grateful that Icy chose me to work on it.”
Sharing the Skillset
Weld’s artistic pursuits took off after she became an empty nester. With her schedule more open, she began to experiment more, learning how to paint with acrylic, oil and watercolor. With more time came more opportunities. One day, Weld received a call from a friend with a request. “He had a very creative daughter who was in fourth grade,” explains Weld. “He wanted her to keep her creativity, and asked if I could spend time with her every week.” Weld is not a trained teacher, but she worked to get to know her friend’s daughter — asking questions, figuring out what she was interested in and developing creative ideas from there. Eventually, other parents caught on, asking Weld if she would work with their kids as well.
“Kids have so much stuff going on,” says Weld. “To sit there for an hour and be creative and have fun and work on whatever they’re interested in is important. There’s no judgment, it’s a fun thing.” Weld enjoys the one-on-one time with her students because it allows them to relax without pressures from others or a need to chase an end result.
Later on, Weld became involved with Lela Philip, an artist and elementary school teacher. They teamed up to create an adult art class, a casual get together that was meant to be fun and educational. Philip and Weld would print out steps for painting a particular scene and do a demonstration. “We got a great response and had a strong turnout to all the different classes,” says Weld. “People would say later, ‘I look at things differently now.’ That was a good outcome, I think people did get a lot out of it.”
The Next Step
Like many creatives, inspiration is a fluid thing for Weld. She began to produce food drawings as a fluke after painting a gift for her son, who loves Heinz ketchup. It was meant to be a decoration for his new apartment, but after posting a photo on Instagram, the response was explosive. Other friends called wanting their own versions — a four foot Grey Poupon bottle, for example — and Weld continued from there.
Weld’s influences are varied, but the way she approaches much of her work is the same, whether a foodstuff or a landscape. “I tend to see things in shapes,” she says. A lighthouse becomes a series of shapes delineated by color, a label is broken down into its singular parts. “I like clean shapes. That could change; I don’t know what I’m doing next.”
For now, Weld is working on a few commissions, but no long term plans are in place. After the cancelled exhibition in March, she’s considering moving the show to Cape Cod, where she will spend the summer, the place that inspired her ‘Warm Light’ series. Otherwise, she’s keeping her options open. When the next thing catches her eye, she’ll know.