Nomi Wagner Portrait Artist

Art and Technology — Something Old and Something New!

by Nomi Wagner

Adam sleeping - Nomi Wagner - portrait painting

For a sensitive person, I must have very thick skin. Being a “pioneer woman” in the field of digital art was exciting, but also anxiety-ridden. My first digital paintings and drawings were of our family. People would react positively and say very nice things about my portrait art, until they found out I used a computer. Then they didn’t quite know what to say, and would often physically turn and walk away from me. It has gotten much better now that the public is familiar with digital technology. People care more about the art than the medium. But at the same time, they think technology makes the work easy. I would venture to say that NO kind of art is easy.

Adam at computer - Nomi Wagner - portrait painting

My Big Aha!

As an engineer with Xerox, my husband Gerry Beane had worked on early computers at PARC (Palo Alto Research Center). In 1992, when digital graphics became available to the public, he dragged me to a convention in Long Beach, CA. I had absolutely no interest in computers, but when I saw a man scan a school photo of a little boy and then change it digitally, I got the vision! In my mind I saw a huge portrait with lots of faces swirling around and the color red. To this day, I have never painted that picture, but it was the idea that propelled me forward. At the time, I was a portrait photographer and had taken some drawing and many art history classes. I went back to school to learn graphic design, digital graphics, color theory, life drawing and painting.

 Gerry Beane - Nomi Wagner - early technology in art

Sticks and stones …

I couldn’t wait to put all these skills together and become a digital artist, but here are some of the comments I received about my art:

1.  “That’s not art!” (From a collector of Andy Warhol prints)

2.  “Why would anyone buy your paintings?” (From a cousin, at my first art show)

3.  “Why don’t you just use your regular brushes and forget about this computer stuff!” (From my art teachers)

4.  “You’ll never make it.” (From my girlfriend’s husband)

5.  “I’m sorry, I thought it was real art. We only buy oil paintings.” (From potential clients)

6.  “You should go back to being a dental hygienist or portrait photographer.” (From well-meaning people)

7.  “Your art is computer generated.” (No, it’s me generated!)

8.  “What button did you push to get this effect?” (If you find that button, please let me know!)

9.  "You could not possibly have done these paintings on a computer. I cannot accept them for publication." (From the editor of a digital fine art magazine.)

I won’t pretend these words didn’t hurt, but I resisted the option to quit and kept on painting anyway. Fortunately, I received many lovely and encouraging comments about my portraits, though isn’t it interesting that I clearly remember the ones that stung.

Nomi Wagner - transformation to digital artist - dental hygienist Nomi Wagner - transformation to digital artist

Passion is a funny thing it has kept me going all these years, painting and drawing portraits through economic highs and lows and even through the painful recession. Being a “struggling artist” is everything they say it is, even though I thought I would be different. After all, many celebrities and families had come to me faithfully every year, paying me large sums to photograph their children and themselves. Wouldn’t it logically follow that they would be excited about my career transition and would want my labor-intensive, state-of-the-art, digital portrait paintings? Yes and no.

Though photography certainly uses technology, not everyone saw it that way. Ironically, it was a reverse situation of earlier times when people thought photography was a gimmick and only wanted traditional paintings. I dream of the day when the words “digital” and “computer” will have an artistic ring to them!

Nomi Wagner - transformation to digital artist

Just an Old-Fashioned Girl in a High-Tech World

I still rely on my first love, photography, as the jumping-off point for my paintings. At first, my reference sources were mostly the photographs I had taken of our family and my Southern California clients. Or people would snail mail their personal photos for me to scan. Now, because of the Internet, my clients from all over the United States and even Europe and Asia, upload their high resolution photos taken with their phones or cameras.

After my clients have approved the emails of their work in progress, I upload their final painting file to Gerry. He prints the number of portraits they have ordered, on their choice of either watercolor paper or canvas. I sign them, and the client receives their shipped paintings within a few days. It is thrilling for this “pioneer woman” to have witnessed the changes in technology and the speed of communication.

Despite using high tech equipment, I still love to paint in an old-fashioned, classical manner. I paint each stroke from scratch, using a stylus and graphics tablet as my brush and canvas. My goal from the beginning has been to use modern technology to paint traditionally ... to marry the old with the new. Corel Painter® is the sophisticated software that has made it all possible—a virtual art store with infinite possibilities, allowing me to customize my personal technique, brushes and colors. The computer is a marvelous tool, letting me take risks, save versions of the work in progress, and erase … things that would be difficult, or impossible, if painting directly on watercolor paper or canvas ... but it all takes time.

Nomi Wagner and Gerry Beane

Digital art feeds my passion.

Why do I continue doing something that is so time-consuming and challenging? Why do I get up every morning thinking about my painting and eagerly looking forward to it? Because I LOVE DOING IT! It fulfills me creatively, like no other career or hobby ever has. I feel grateful to have persevered and blessed to have lived this long, pursuing my passion for painting portraits and my appreciation of technology.

P.S. Please feel free to share this post and contact me with your comments and personal experiences using technology. Stay tuned for my future blog posts about artists who have utilized technology through the ages. If you would like to see me paint, there is a video on my website