Turning The Kaleidoscope came from looking at things from multiple points of perspective. For instance, a rainy day could ruin your day, but the rainfall nourishes plants outside. There is duality in understanding that life can be challenging, but it doesn’t mean it’s bad. It’s how we engage with the information.
Nicole Williams is an artist in Florida who explores linoprint, textiles, watercolour, acrylic, and digital art. Although her mediums shift, her themes of perspective and nature are consistent. The intricacies of earth and the beauty of nature adorn the papers of her art.
Looking into the kaleidoscope of geometric and natural patterns of Nicole’s art, I am taken back to my childhood. Using a kaleidoscope to portal me into the vision in front of me and the magic of nature.
After being on a journey through corporate work and stability (a journey many of us are on), she uses art as a tool of self-expression and self-regulation and engaging in the world with a critical lens. A powerful reminder that art can be inspiring but also propaganda. It’s in our power to discern the message we create and receive.
“Art is learning how to engage with my understanding of the world around me and reflect that back out in a way that other human beings can interpret. It helps us relate to each other while opening the door to your direct experience,” Nicole says as we begin to turn the kaleidoscope conversation of art, nature, and humanity.
The Art of Self Expression
Since her childhood, Nicole has explored writing and a wide range of artistic mediums including quilting. It wasn’t until she was in her 30s that she decided to start consciously diving into art. Before that, she didn’t give herself credit for being creative. Nicole mentions that she was subconsciously creating through renovations.
We all face moments in our creative journey where we focus our efforts on home and work – the security of our livelihood.
One could argue that life is a creative journey. Think of that creative freedom we had as children before you were good or bad at something.
When we look at the study of language, linguistic evidence dates to around 6000 years ago, when writing began. When we look at art, some pieces are suggested to have been created around 700,000. From hand stencils to ivory carvings, humans have been using art as a source of communication.
In a world where we feel distant from our inner world and outer world, art can help bring us back to ourselves. We created a language through images, textures, and language.
“I think so many of us are searching for our way back. It’s different for each of us. You can’t follow anyone else’s path back to yourself. Many of us consciously make decisions about how we spend our time and how we relate to each other. There are many different mediums we can use to explore our experience,” she says.
Why The World Needs Art
Elizabeth Gilbert’s book Big Magic explores tapping into creativity and being open to more magical thinking that we're capable of. We live in a material world, but there is more to life.
Our world is shifting, from inflation, racial injustices, to environmental disasters. We no longer have the structures we did to support or distract us.
“For me, it's choosing to participate in art. You're seeking that authentic self-expression, but the other pieces is self-regulation, be able to communicate that out into the world,” she explains. “To authentically express myself and regulate me while doing so was supported through painting – having to sit down and be with what comes up internally.”
Self-regulation is the ability to monitor and manage our emotions, thoughts and behaviours. It’s how we deal with stressors that helps us develop the self-awareness and filtering of sensory stimulation.
“I think that a lot of the things that we in the past have leaned on for self-regulation wasn’t self-regulating. It's incredibly powerful to be able to build a practice to regulate yourself amid a constantly changing world,” Nicole says.
“And then of the community, if you can regulate yourself and show up with the authentic expression, then I get to know you truly. It doesn't have to be transactional. It doesn't have to be setting a specific goal, whether as a gender role or a hierarchical role. The only way I see us regulating is breaking out of those and if we can stop to say what we believe.”
Public art reflects a community and its surroundings to cultivate people to its uniqueness. The artwork draws people together and expresses the values and sense of awareness. Art supports changing opinions and stories and can often be a vehicle for social change.
However, there is a discernment to art that often goes unspoken.
“Art can be a tool, but also a weapon,” she explains. “For me, it's about self-expression and that's what I look for when I look at other people’s work. But I think it can just as easily be useful to measure yourself against or try to conform to what someone else is doing, which most of us do. The intention that you're bringing to your practice is what matters more than anything else.”
Self-Reflection In Your Artistic Practice
“Art can be self-expression, but art can also be propaganda. Art can be passing along someone else’s message whether we truly agree with it - that is the part of diving into your subconscious and working on integrating those two things,” Nicole explains. This is where self-reflection becomes a key in our thoughts and artistic expression.
Nicole says that self-reflection is the most significant piece on telling where you are in your creative flow. Take the time to reflect and ask yourself, where do I want to go with this?
“Taking time to reflect on the practice, whether that’s keeping a sketchbook and taking a few years, and reflecting with an open mind. What do I see that I am doing? Not, I shouldn't be doing that.”
Looking at the lenses of self-regulation and self-reflection, a deep connection allows us to manage disruptive emotions and impulsive reactions.
Nicole suggests asking our art and creative expression, what do I see? What would I rather see?
If we can release our emotions’ initial judgment and misunderstanding, we can regulate our response and expression.
Art, Science & Our Relationship to the Earth
When was the last time you stopped and observed nature around you with every sense?
We live in a world adorned with patterns and texture – but stopping to slow down and observe nature is an art of its own.
“I love the following pattern. And nature is full of these beautiful, fractal and repeating patterns that come symmetrical or asymmetrical. They can be interconnected and interdependent. Small, large, and so there's just a never-ending source of filling that curiosity to understand more. I think my work is comforting because I am connecting to a source of comfort.”
Studying art and nature has long been displayed through artists, but Nicole brings a unique perspective to the configurations and consistencies through her inquisitive, inventive lens. She credits our planet to the desire to be inspired by her surroundings.
“There is so much value in the observation that we've separated from our modern, institutionalized American science. We tend to focus on what's provable and repeatable and less on observation. I find it to be a vast space to explore and I like doing that through the lens of an artist as opposed to the lens of someone who has to have the right answer. I keep learning more every time I go outside.”
This inquisitiveness inspired Nicole and her husband to start planting a regenerative flower farm.
If we look back at how Christianity states how the world began, we’ll find that the Earth was created for man in Genesis, and these two views were ruled over by man. Our systems are working in a very humanistic way, which was comfortable for us. But there are cracks in the logic – we can’t continue to ignore the feedback from the environment. We can no longer diminish the information our planet is presenting us. It’s time we open our eyes to the harm caused to our bodies and the earth.
“We treat plants like they are a nuisance because we don't serve us. But just like we're learning the gut microbiome, like we're made up of all of these different bacteria, organisms and fungi in our bodies, the earth is too, and, we don't understand all of it. And it's OK not to understand all of it,” Nicole says.
"We also don't need to make the decisions for all of us. We can learn how to exist in a space where we are part of something much larger than ourselves that connected back to a more secure source, which to me is nature.”
Can Art Help Us Heal Our Relationship With The Earth?
Art can support us in celebrating the earth, but it can also help us understand the catastrophes happening.
In Florida, where Nicole lives, there has been an increase in blue algae (cyanobacteria). These algae blooms change the colour of water and remove oxygen from the water, killing fish and other life.
The blooms are unsafe for humans and animals. It is recommended not to swim, wade, swallow or use watercraft in areas with algae blooms. They can cause skin reactions, respiratory issues and flu-like symptoms.
They are happening due to rising temperatures, high levels of nitrogen and phosphorus washing into the water from agricultural lands, leaky septic systems and fertilizer runoff.
The blooms can’t be predicted, and it’s hard to say when they will end. We can’t control the weather, but we can maintain the run-off contributing to the damage.
“I feel like I regularly see politicians use artwork to celebrate the state and putting a quick label over; we're doing better because we're doing this and so it can be a form of bypassing. We need to investigate the messages,” she says.
It can be easy when we get excited about something, and we want to contribute to making the world a better place, we’re rushing to the finish line.
If we look at our school system, we learn a topic, take a test, and then move on. We have the desire to finish things – that moment of saying ‘okay it’s done’.
“Our life is not a thing we finish – that’s not how I see it anymore. I'm not trying to get to the end in the winning column, but rather to engage with what's in front of me at this moment in time,” Nicole says.
“And so that means engaging and self-regulating. For me, building the practice of something that will help me feel reconnected in a positive way, without doing that bypassing, but engaging in the world around me helps me to contain these much bigger ideas that can be hard to hold.”
The Blank Canvas
Nicole’s five-year plan is intuitive. She hopes to be connecting to the community and expressing herself creatively.
It reminds me of the aspirations of springtime. The fresh soil, embarking on a new journey of colour, vibrancy planted with the seeds we choose to grow.
No matter how disconnected we feel, we are deeply connected to the earth and each other, more than we realize.
Nature has the gift to bring us back to ourselves, like art.
It’s in our strength to follow that guidance system back.
As nature rests, grows, and regenerates, we can consider what seeds we want to plant. We have the choice to plant seeds to support our individual lives, and in turn, help our collective effort.
The more we can get together to protect nature, we can be brought back to our roots.
Nicole mentions, “creativity is not competitive,” and it reminds me of ecosystems across the globe. It’s time we remind ourselves we are part of these systems, and it’s not a competition to industrialize the earth from soil to sky.
Our creativity and self-expression are some of the many seeds we need to plant and nourish to bring balance to our roots.
“We are much more than we give ourselves credit for. And I think our world has so much more capacity than we give it credit for as a whole living system.”