Self-taught student artist has passion for painting

Illinois sophomore Kelli Nielsen sits with one of her paintings on Nov. 6 in Kesseler Hall.

Art is vital to a community because it adds culture and value, said Oswego, Illinois sophomore Kelli Nielsen. Art keeps traditions alive and helps pass down styles from generation to generation, she said. 

Nielsen has a passion for art, specifically painting. She has been painting for a year, and has seen her work develop over that short time period.

"As I have been painting for longer, I have learned the order in which to do things a lot better," Nielsen said.

She typically paints with acrylic paint on canvas. Sometimes, she switches it up and makes "liquid pours." To make a liquid pour, water is added to change the viscosity of paint. Then it is poured onto a canvas or surface, making for a unique effect. 

Nielsen said art means something different to each individual because everybody interprets it differently.

"Art is a very interchangeable medium to explore your own mind," Nielsen said.

Nielsen finds her inspiration in art through music or certain lyrics. Different styles of music lead to different styles of art, she said. If she feels an emotional connection to her art, she often times listens to a song that evokes the same emotional response.

She said there are times when she doesn't have any inspiration at all, but an idea will come to her and she proceeds from there.

"I just let whatever happens happen," Nielsen said. "It's just the motion of the ocean."

Nielsen's process is her own and she describes herself as "unorthodox, disoriented and quite disorganized." She is a self-taught artist – she has never received professional training. So, she also describes herself as "unprofessional."

Illinois sophomore Kelli Nielsen looks through her paintings in her room on Nov. 6 in Kesseler Hall.


She said she takes her time on her art. Some pieces have taken her a month to complete, but on average, she works on a piece from anywhere between eight and 15 hours, she said. 

She said her favorite piece, a painting of a skull, took her a month to do. She enjoys that piece because of how she used textures. Nielsen used a palette knife and a sponge to create texture in the background.  

She said she likes the contrasting pink and green colors, which are pleasing to her eye. She had never painted a skull before, but was very pleased with her result. The painting cracked in the corner, a detail that grew on Nielsen as time went by.

"I didn't like it at first, but it grew on me," Nielsen said. "There is a skull and a crack – it looks like it's dying."

Nielsen's studio for creating art is her dorm room. Art is just a hobby for her for now, she said. She said she has thought about using her creative skills in the business world, but for now is focused on majoring in hospitality.  

"I like to be around people and work with people," Nielsen said. "I'm just a social person."

However, she said she likes to paint by herself. When working with people, Nielsen finds herself socializing rather than working. She finds it easier to work creatively when she's alone. She likes to go into nature to read, paint and meditate. 

Nielsen said she isn't involved in any art organizations but would consider joining one. She hasn't taken any art classes but wants to. 

"If it wouldn't add an extra semester or $1,000 to my bill, I would definitely take some art classes," Nielsen said. 

CMU offers studio art as a major, with classes in drawing, painting, print making, ceramics and sculpting.