As a former hairstylist and makeup artist, Nancy Ness says it’s in her nature to explore different colors and textures to “make something beautiful.”
Her primary canvases in the past were always faces and hair, but three years ago, the Minot native shifted to literal canvases to try her hand at painting.
“I find that makeup artistry and hair coloring overlap with painting on canvas,” Ness says. “I like to see some shimmer, textures and colors in makeup, and it’s the same with paint. You’ve got gloss, matte, semi-gloss… I feel like it’s all in the same family.”
When she started, Ness created paintings for her friends and family. When she posted a pink and gold abstract painting on Facebook, she was pleasantly surprised when a stranger offered to buy it immediately.
“It really goes to show the power of social media,” she says.
This motivated the self-taught painter to continue learning the medium by watching YouTube videos and taking classes with local artists like Zhimin Guan and Barbara Benda Nagle. In the process, she discovered her propensity for creating non-objective pieces using bright, bold colors.
Now, Ness has steady commission requests, a growing social media presence, a website and a spot to sell her work at Gallery 4 in downtown Fargo, which hosts its grand opening reception at its new location 5-9 p.m. Thursday, April 25, at 115 Roberts St. N.
Ness is grateful to be one of 13 artists at Gallery 4 — the oldest cooperative gallery in the country — as it allows her to sell her work, reach potential clients and get more involved in the local arts community.
“It’s nice for people to come in and have a local artist on duty that they can talk to,” the artist says. “I just have to hope my art will speak to somebody. Sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn’t, but that’s the way it goes. I know my color choices are very bold.”
Like many artists, Ness grew up in a creative household. Her grandmother was a painter and her grandfather was Harold Newman, the founder of national sign company Newman Signs based in Jamestown, N.D.
“He painted signs in his mother-in-law’s garage to put himself through college,” she says. “So he was always my original entrepreneurial inspiration.”
When she isn’t working at the gallery or raising two young children with her husband, Ness paints from the comfort of her basement studio whenever she can. Because of her cosmetology background, Ness says she knows the color wheel “like the back of her hand” and enjoys experimenting with different combinations in her abstract pieces.
The painter prefers the non-objective style because it “stands the test of time a little longer,” she says. If Ness wants to change direction or makes a mistake, she paints the canvas white and starts over — another skill she learned from her makeup artistry days.
“What’s awesome about painting is that you can continually change it,” she says. “The same thing goes for makeup. You put on your eyeliner and the wing didn’t work, you wipe it off and start again.”
Ness rarely uses a brush in her paintings. Rather, she opts for a palette knife to add texture and “more randomness,” she says. To complete each piece, her husband, who works in construction, builds a frame.
The final touch is the title of the piece — or, rather, the name.
“I name all of my pieces after loved ones in my life,” she says.
The bright blue abstract piece in her living room, for example, is named “Leo” after her great-grandfather, grandfather, father and brother.
“Sometimes I let a piece sit for a few days before I decide what to name it,” she adds.
Going forward, Ness hopes to continue growing her client base and learning the medium.
“By starting to paint, I’ve discovered I can do more than one thing: I can be a mom, a painter and work in a gallery,” Ness says. “I just like making things pretty, no matter what it is.”
This article is part of a content partnership with the Fargo Forum and originally appeared in print on Monday, April 22, 2019.