You don’t need to know me long to understand that there is a fur component to my family! So, obviously, when I discovered Nina Huang’s animal paintings, my eyes opened wider! Nina is a Harvard-educated scholar, and inspired in part by the Artist’s Way, among her many influences, she decided to pursue life as a professional painter and artist. Her story is beautiful, her work is fabulous…and she does custom pet portraits! I am already dreaming of them for Bob & G in our next home!!! Nina’s story & her work may inspire you to not only expand your connection to the animal kingdom but, also, to pursue your own art with passion!
Hi Nina! Lets’s dive right in… What prompted your animal paintings? i.e., why paint animals? I know there must be a story behind the subject!
Nina: All my art is about my personal quest for joy and magic in the “real” world and to share this faith and optimism with others. Nature offers me endless inspiration, and I see animals as one of our strongest connections to the natural world. I am a long-term vegan and a firm believer that animals are soulful beings. They offer us so much joy, happiness, and peace. Our dogs and cats are not worried incessantly about the past or the future, they are one with NOW, and have so much to teach us about life.
Animals surrender to life completely the way a tree or a flower does, there are no mental struggles or convoluted stories. When I adopted Apollo, my very lovable racetrack greyhound, I knew that he had experienced a tough upbringing and will need a period of time for rehabilitation. What was really impressive was how quickly he was able to learn and adapt! He embraced every new experience, and always had an open heart while he ventured outside his comfort zone. With love, patience, and appropriate care, disabled and injured animals just move on with their lives. That’s so courageous to me. In celebration of all that animals offer us, I capture their spirit on canvas. I honor them in colors. I make beautiful reminders of their ability to love, to live, to give.
How did you make the transition from Harvard-educated scholar to artist? Did you have resistance from family or peers?
Nina: Wow, Dana, that’s a big question, and I have to be completely honest here and say that it was definitively the HARDEST decision I ever had to make. There were many sleepless nights and much crying to my sister on Skype! Even though I knew, as a teenager, that my true north was painting, I was too afraid of going down this unpredictable and scary path of being an artist. I was afraid of failing.
After I finished college, I got into arguably the most prestigious PhD program in my field at Harvard. I got my Master’s and worked as a teaching fellow for two years, while keeping up with my painting, which I never stopped. Almost three years ago, with the help of some mentors, I slowly began to let my dormant dream of being an artist revive again. I knew that I wanted a career in the arts. 10 years later, it’s still my dream. Nothing could kill it. Painting is my breath, my life, my first and last love. Even after this realization, it took me a whole year to make the formal transition!
I was so thoroughly terrified of letting my family, especially my father, down. I felt ashamed that I was choosing to leave an opportunity that many people would kill for. I felt ungrateful, self-critical, just feeling all the debris that my fears were bringing up to the surface. Many of my friends and family didn’t support my decision fully (but many did!). Following your bliss sounds pretty, but it can feel like death first. I was there. I know. I prayed for courage day and night. And clarity, and conviction. It was not a smooth transition. Some days I still struggle with my fears of failure (but who doesn’t?).
But my art keeps me going. My work wakes me up in the morning with a fresh excitement. When I am in the studio I feel incredibly grateful that I am working as a painter. It’s enough to bring me to my knees. I will learn new skills, I will put myself out there, I will be brave enough to withstand failures, I will dust myself off and keep going. I am in it for the long haul. I am committed to my dream.
What do your commissioned clients say about their paintings?
Nina: Well, it’s interesting because so many of my clients purchase paintings to surprise their loved ones. For weddings, birthdays, anniversaries, and so on. It’s always a great story when the recipient is being surprised with an original painting of their beloved pet. I love being a part of this! Just imagine their thrill when they unwrap a gift that is an original painting of their precious animal!
Another common time for people to get paintings of their animals is when their animals have just recently passed. It’s unfortunate and very sad that our furry best friends are with us only so temporarily, and yet they have left this huge impact. They have loved so deeply, given so freely. My clients want to capture this memory in a painting, so they can be reminded of this special bond. I am honored to be able to facilitate this process.
Do you have clients who aspire to being an animal owner ? Anything to add for people who wish they had animals but fear they don’t have what it takes to bring animals into their lives?
Nina: Almost all of my clients are already animal-owners. But I do have many followers and fans who say that my paintings make them wish they had a dog so I could paint him/her!
Before I adopted Apollo, I was also worried that I didn’t have what it takes to provide an animal with the home he or she needs, especially a shelter dog. But oh man did I ever want a dog! We always think, one day, when I am ready. That might be true, but it might also be your fear speaking. Who’s really ready to go after their dreams? Or have a child? Or to live in another country? Or start a business? Ready is overrated.
If you are concerned about your ability to provide a good home for an animal, I think that’s a great place to start. You are the kind of person who knows that animals need attention, time, and energy. You will be more prepared than people who think it’s no big deal to care for life. Also, people from all walks of life are able to enjoy having animals in their lives, who says you can’t be one of them?
Who are your artistic influences?
Nina: Where do I start? First I want to credit the people who are my spiritual mentors, because that’s the foundation of my creativity. Julia Cameron’s The Artist Way gave me an empowering language to understand art and why we make it. Stewart Cubley’s The Painting Experience workshops showed me how to practice painting as a spiritual prayer. And Sonia Choquette, who is ALL about following your hearts and embracing life’s soul lessons.
Other artistic influences include Matisse, and his spontaneous and free lines; Friday Kahlo’s vulnerable and authentic; Maurice Sendak’s wisdom and refreshing emotionality; Paul Klee’s brilliant bold colors; Bobbie Burgers’ overwhelming joy. This list can just go on and on!
Thank you so much Nina!!! I love your work!
Nina Huang is a contemporary painter, an animal artist, and she is writing and illustrating her first picture book about the bond between a boy and a dog. Vegan. Lover. Dreamer. Truth-seeker.
You can find her fabulous art HERE and follow her on Facebook right HERE.