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A Conversation with Nick Payne

Austin English, artist and founder of Domino Press, interviews artist Nick Payne about his uncanny drawings.

Some drawings have that rare quality of appearing highly composed while simultaneously showing the artist pushing hard against the boundaries of their imagery.

Nick Payne’s art strikes me this way—I notice the edges of his figures pouring over with bursts of inventive drawing, all centered around a strong, meaty piece of complicated image making. Payne’s work is exciting at first glance and satisfying when you keep your eyes on it.

Along the way, there is something frightening about it—or something funny? Payne is skilled enough at telling a story with one solitary image that there is an ambiguity of feeling. And that’s not to be confused with a lack of feeling. These are passionate, not at all cynical images. Looking at these characters I felt both friendly towards them and wary: their personality is not communicated explicitly, but you interact with them as a substantial, confounding, compelling thing.

Austin English

Drawing by Austin English

A. I almost get as much of a thrill out of the text in your images as the characters. Are there any particular experiences with unique handwriting that contributed to how you draw text?

N. I really like when a font looks like what it’s saying. There was a cool sign at a fish shop in the Italian Market in Philadelphia that had a logo where the text looked like a fish biting a fish hook. Sometimes I like putting foreign text in my drawings. I prefer to use online-translated messages because I’m sure, many times to translate the meaning, to those who can read it, it will seem funny.

Drawing by Nick Payne

Drawing by Austin English

A. These characters are drawn soft and round but, to me, they seem highly aggressive—I feel something between affection and revulsion. Do you feel that way at all?

N. Often when I draw people’s facial expressions I imagine what it would be like to be them. So I think I am more sympathetic but there are lot of exceptions.

Drawing by Nick Payne

Drawing by Austin English

A. I appreciate how fresh and (to my eye) intense each image is—how do you prepare to work? Are there distractions hovering over you while you draw or is it a more controlled/focused period?

N. I usually draw at home in the late evenings. Right now I don’t have too much free time but the farming season is slowing down so hopefully I’ll have a lot more time to work on stuff this winter. I like how drawing doesn’t take much preparation so I can feel productive and draw while traveling, getting new ideas . I do get distracted pretty easily by going on the internet or eating and it’s not super focused usually even when I’m by myself.

Drawing by Nick Payne

Drawing by Austin English

A. How much improvisation is involved in a typical image? Your work looks very composed in terms of the ‘story’ but also has a quality of visual ideas being generated while drawing.

N. A lot of it is improvised, sometimes I have a concept before starting but other times I just start drawing abstract stuff and it turns into something. I often go back to older drawings that I thought weren’t going anywhere and then figure out how to finish them.

Drawing by Nick Payne

A. I draw in pencil a lot too. I am always searching for that perfect pencil/perfect paper combination. What kind of pencil and papers do you use?

N. I usually use a mechanical pencil and have a bunch of sketchbooks and pads with different kinds of paper to work in. I do a lot of erasing when I draw which leaves ghost images, I like that the eraser lines make the drawing more animated and different stages of the drawing are visible. I’ve begun to work on other surfaces and I recently discovered that kneaded erasers work really well erasing pencil from gesso.

A. Can you tell me a little bit about the work you do on the farm and how you fit in making art while you’re there?

N. I work full time at a small organic vegetable farm, we have a CSA and do 2 local markets. I became interested in farming because I began worrying about food shortages in the future and the toxicity of processed foods. The fields at the farm are surrounded by forest so it’s a really nice environment to work in. You also get to see a lot of interesting stuff working on a farm. There are lot’s of weird insects and grubs. You see a lot of wildlife. One day, I went with my boss to this more remote part of the farm where we keep stuff planted that doesn’t need much watering, and there was this really huge turd in one of the beds. It looked kind of human but it had lots of fur in it which means it’s from a carnivore. Then my boss told me that a girl who had my job before me told everyone that when she was weeding she looked up and she saw something like bigfoot in the woods by the field and she made eye contact with it and then it walked off. I don’t think anybody really believed her but she also seemed like the sort of person who wouldn’t make something up. Then the guy who owns the farm was walking around one day in the early spring when the ground was thawing, so it was muddy and he found human bare-footprints on this path. Then, he bought a book about bigfoot with a map that pinpointed sightings and right where the farm is located was a big spot.

A. With other peoples art, what would a powerful piece of drawing look like to you? How would you describe the qualities of a piece you admire?

N. I like when you can tell that the person who made it has a unique way of seeing the world. I like when drawings are a window into other people’s insane minds. Stuff that’s not weird is often boring to me. I like looking at art that makes me feel different and good in some way.

A Selection of Payne’s work by Megazine