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Conversations with Nicole Malcolm

Today we’d like to introduce you to Nicole Malcolm. 

Alright, so thank you so much for sharing your story and insight with our readers. To kick things off, can you tell us a bit about how you got started?
I always joke with my friends that I’ve been highly sensitive my entire life and can recall crying at scenes in film, or songs on the radio, even when I was as young as seven years old. When I was in elementary school, I would sometimes skip recess to ask my art teacher for extra projects. I loved the mix of feeling immersed in a project and having long quiet moments of working through my emotions. I could never understand why I was so sensitive and was aching for an outlet. Once I started writing, carrying journals, and drawing while my teachers were trying to teach a lesson, I knew I found it. As most young artists do, I made projects based off of things like movies I watched, barbie dolls, and music I listened to (a portrait of Taylor Swift from my 8th-grade art class still lives in my childhood closet). As I entered middle school and high school though, that was really when I started to realize I could say something personal with my work and tell stories based on my experiences. I made work about my friendships and our adventures. I wrote letters to my middle school crush and collaged them into a project for my sophomore year class. Quickly I had a very distinct voice. My work represented a visual diary. I wanted to be honest. I love to half-jokingly and half-seriously describe my work as “the kind of things you talk about with your friend when you’re sitting in the car with them late at night after hanging out. Those moments when you’re venting, bonding, and stalling going inside and ending the night… because you understand each other.” 

I was born and am currently residing in Northeast Ohio. I focused a lot on who I was as an artist through elementary school, middle school, and took an AP Art class while in High School. In May of 2021, I received my BFA in Studio Art with a concentration in printmaking from Ohio University. I also received a minor in Art History and a certificate in Museum Studies and have additional studio experience in papermaking, painting, drawing, and book arts and installation. 

My printmaking and mixed media works aim to represent physical and mental spaces, emphasizing memory, growth, and intimacy. These themes come directly from significant moments in my own life. By creating this work, I hope to invite others to feel comfortable sharing their life stories as well. 

I have participated in national print exchanges and shown work in several local and national exhibitions. I was recently awarded an Honorable Mention and The People’s Choice Award for her installation piece “Places You Pass” in the 2021-2022 Stark County Artists Exhibition at the Massillon Museum in Massillon, OH. 

While at Ohio University, I assisted my Printmaking professors in the studio, and have since begun working in Cleveland, OH as a Teaching Artist at Zygote Press and an Assistant to all departments at the Morgan Conservatory Art of Papermaking. 

I will be having my first solo show this December of 2022. “Please come to my party…” will be my solo exhibition held at 78th Street Studios in Cleveland, OH. 

We all face challenges, but looking back, would you describe it as a relatively smooth road?
If I had to try and describe the last 23 years of my life and my journey as an artist as “smooth,” I don’t think I could. The thing is though, even though it’s been a challenging road, I would still make a huge point to share how rewarding it has been. The one thing I’d like to focus on is how hard it can sometimes be to not only find your voice and purpose as an artist but finding it in yourself to defend and own it. As soon as I started making very personal work, I learned very quickly that some people do not like that at all. There is a lot of judgment that comes when you’re trying to be as vulnerable and honest of an artist as you can. Many people in my life have deemed it as weird, oversharing, and uncomfortable, just to list a few comments. I’ve been asked, “don’t you worry that people will think you’re crazy?”. I’ve been told by those who have inspired certain projects that they want me to exclude them from my work because they don’t like that I am sharing an honest narrative of the experience I had. 

I’ve been hearing things like this since I was in high school. It used to be something that really tore me down, made me question if the kind of work I made was strong or weak, “right or wrong,” and if I should consider a new subject matter. It saddens me now to recall how often negative feedback on my subjects deterred me because I am now more confident than I’ve ever been in my personal narrative. 

The things that kept me going and helped me get to where I am now are the moments I’ve shared with people who have deeply resonated with my work. A huge example is when I created “Long Distance Calling ”, a handmade artist book in 2018, chronicling my first real heartbreak and the beginning of my undergrad. This resulted in conversations with close friends, as well as people I hadn’t yet met, sharing their similar experiences with me. I am honored when my art strikes so close to someone’s heart that they feel safe being vulnerable with me as well. 

I have never felt as powerful and true to myself, as much as I do when I am creating and sharing my stories through my work. There is a fulfilling warmth, and nothing else compares. It feels like magic when I have work on social media, I’m showing friends in the studio, or when I have work in a gallery, and I get to have those very intimate moments with people who feel the exact same way. I want to always make work that anyone can relate to. I want it to feel like a conversation between friends. There isn’t even a “blurred line” between my art and the artist. The line doesn’t exist, and I don’t want it to. I love sharing things like what I stay up at night and cry about, longing for friendship, recreating imagery from my childhood home, and documenting heartbreak. There is always something hopeful peeking out in my work, and I would say that hope is the connection I make when the conversation starts. 

Appreciate you sharing that. What else should we know about what you do?
As I mentioned before, I have a background in painting and drawing, which evolved into other media as I enrolled in studio courses at OU. Every single class I took while at Ohio University challenged me and made me think of a new way, shape, and form I could convey my subject matter. I was very used to documenting a feeling, environment, or memory in a two-dimensional way. I learned how to make paper by hand, sew books, and multiple forms of printmaking. I loved the personal aspect of the handmade paper and books and the step-by-step process within print media. It wasn’t until my third year in undergrad that I started to experiment with immersive installation work. I always felt that three-dimensional work and spaces weren’t for me. I was so entirely wrong. I realized that I could create an atmosphere that myself and viewers could physically experience, and it would give me a chance to tell an even stronger story. 

I specialize in screen print and papermaking, which makes up the bulk of my portfolio. I have continued making two-dimension work and have been experimenting more with sculpture and installation outside of my undergrad. 

I am most proud of the way I have approached trying new things within my work. Lately, I have started to just enjoy the process of learning again, as opposed to thinking every single thing needs to come out perfect. Especially since this is my first time experimenting with certain materials and structures. My eagerness to learn everything has kept me excited about the arts. 

I feel that what sets me apart from others is the way I’m not afraid to share every detail. I have truly become so confident in my ability to reach other people and to create strong, compelling works of art. I have stories and feelings to share, which drives me to continue every day. 

Any advice for finding a mentor or networking in general?
I would definitely say that seeking out a mentor(s) is extremely important in the arts. When you are surrounded by individuals who are well-established artists in the community, they have a depth of knowledge and skills that will help you along the way. If you’re searching for those relationships and you’re in college, join organizations within your art school in order to work with more of your peers and faculty. I was a part of an organization called Art Ambassadors at Ohio University. I was so immersed within the arts community and the School of Art+Design. I was able to spend time with faculty outside of just taking their class. Meeting as many people as I could helped me discover those who I connected with instantly. Maintaining relationships with your mentors is equally as important as initially creating them. I am still in touch with some of my closest teachers, even after graduating. I trust their guidance as I create new work, job search, and consider applying to graduate school programs. 

I could go on and on about how lucky I am to have the mentors that I do in my life. The art educators that I look up to are some of the most knowledgeable, determined, and hardworking people I have ever known. I would first like to acknowledge Christopher Triner, my high school art instructor. Whenever I had doubts about whether or not my work was “too much,” “too emotional,” or “oversharing,” he would remind me that I have every right to make whatever I want to make. Mr. Triner pushed me to become a better artist and a better person. He has always been a listening ear and a comforting mentor. Melissa Haviland is another instructor I would love to talk about. I worked with Melissa for all four years of my undergrad. She taught me every single printmaking, bookbinding, and papermaking skill I have today. She asked important questions when it was time to create new projects, forcing me to make my work as good as it could be. She has turned me into the artist I am today. 

In terms of networking, my advice would be to stay true to yourself as an artist. This will help your personal brand, and you will stand out within the arts community. Building confidence in yourself and your work will come in handy when you attend conferences, are enrolled in classes, are posting your work online, and more. All of these are great places and ways to meet people that work in studio art, furthering your network. Seek out opportunities to show your work, be a part of portfolio exchanges, put together a table display at large arts events, and more. 

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