Today we’d like to introduce you to Lexi K. Nilson.
Hi Lexi K., can you start by introducing yourself? We’d love to learn more about how you got to where you are today?
Making has always allowed me to engage with the world around me. I’m grateful for creative parents who encouraged me to explore art in various mediums and kept the house stocked with opportunities for exploration and imagination. I had lots of imaginary friends and began coordinating my outfits at a very young age, which, I believe, helped me learn to make space for creativity in seemingly “normal” tasks. I learned to value the idea that “those who don’t believe in magic will never find it” (Roald Dahl) and continue to feel strongly about highlighting the magic hidden amidst mundanity.
In high school, my mom made a deal with me that if I could keep my room “clean,” I could do whatever I wanted to it design-wise. For me, this didn’t mean an all-expense-paid room makeover; it meant that my stick collection could become a forest (thank you, Command hooks) and the walls my canvasses. My last four years at home are documented on those walls, ceilings, and floors, with everything from collages and murals to paper maché relief sculptures. I attribute so much of who I am today to those formative years, being allowed and taught to prioritize creativity and play.
I got my BFA in illustration from Brigham Young University and studied with professors and mentors who continued to encourage me to try new things and honor the stories only I can share. “Audacity is worth more than talent,” I learned, and that principle led me to apply for a school grant that led to my first book, Jane Was Here: An Illustrated Guide to Jane Austen’s England, published by Hardie Grant UK in 2020. Since then, I’ve continued to work as a freelance illustrator and recently graduated from the Illustration Practice MFA program at Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore. I’m very grateful for an incredibly supportive husband. He moved here with me during the pandemic and continuously offered love, advice, and space for a creative bounce back through all my ideas and roadblocks.
Baltimore and my graduate program have been incredibly formative in my artistic practice. Both have taught me more about what being an artist is. Before it is a career, illustration is a lifestyle, and as my program title indicates, it takes practice. Throughout my professional journey, I’ve been constantly reminded of the lessons I learned very young: make space for play and honor connections to self, moments, places, and people. My time here has reiterated that when I open up to play, I am curious, and I have room for new ideas and love. As long as there is creative flow, there is abundance.
An illustrator by profession, I am a maker first, foremost, and forever. I am seeking other illustration opportunities to highlight the magic and whimsy every day! I currently work with my agent, Linda Pratt of Wernick and Pratt Agency, to make kids’ books.
Can you talk to us about the challenges and lessons you’ve learned along the way? Would you say it’s been easy or smooth in retrospect?
I think my biggest struggle has been learning to trust my instincts and believe in the stories I have to share. It’s easy to get distracted by trying to do/make what I think others want me to do/make when my intuition has been the most powerful and successful. Creative careers are only partially technical skills and abilities. Most of it is faith and the will to make, not to prove anything, but because we lose connection if we don’t. Finding the balance between profession and expression is always difficult, and there’s not always money immediately. I’m grateful for scholarships, grants, and supportive family and mentors who have given me space to keep trying even when it’s bumpy.
Can you tell our readers more about what you do and what you think sets you apart from others?
I am an illustrator, writer, letterer, animator, collector, and overall, I’m a maker. My work ranges from book illustrations to needle-felted dogs, reflecting my fascination with softness in both medium and concept. I think I’m known for “sophisticated whimsy” and for highlighting the wonder and joy found amidst small moments in the everyday. The moments I illustrate, whether in two dimensions or four, are “soft spaces,” spaces that inspire joy, wonder, and rejuvenation hidden amidst the hustle and bustle or monotony of daily living. My art explores connection in response to my faith in God and the relationships I share with the world around me as a part of something bigger than myself. I think there is so much beauty in the shared human experience, and I make things to connect more deeply to the spaces I fill and share with others.
While I am proud of every project because each one teaches me something new, I think that I’m currently most proud of my MFA thesis project, Dogs I Met in the Elevator. It is the joy-filled result of learning to navigate the pain, sorrow, depression, anxiety, and disconnection I experienced throughout the pandemic. When I moved to Baltimore in August 2020, I didn’t know anyone besides my husband and didn’t know how to find roots somewhere that I couldn’t even touch the ground. I began collecting pictures I took of dogs I met during my weekly outing to the store while waiting for my apartment’s elevator. That collection became a life-changing project of grounding, growth, and healing. I feel an authenticity about that project because of the vulnerability it required from me. I’m always proud when I can successfully share my heart and find a connection with others in the process.
We’d be interested to hear your thoughts on luck and what role you feel it’s played for you?
I could say I’ve had good luck in my life and business, but I think it’s more an awareness and capacity to follow the stepping stones of intuition. I notice that when I am open to abundance, I find it, and I am more willing to accept that that abundance may look different from what I wanted or expected. Every experience leads me closer to my authentic path. Allowing those experiences, whether good luck ones or bad luck ones, to inform my steps moving forward enables me to keep the creativity flowing. I repeat my adage “audacity is worth more than talent” when I say that the “good luck” I’ve had often comes from a willingness and capability to think big and try big things.
- Pet Portraits/People Portraits: $250
- Custom Needle Felted Pet: $300
- Other service quotes available upon request.
For the Jane Was Here book, the photo credit goes to Hardie Grant UK. For my profile photo, the credit goes to Lucy Gantman.