As a child, little did Nancy Eckels know when she won a prize in a children’s art contest, it would be a hint of what her future would hold. She had submitted a small still life drawing of a composition that her mother had set up for her, and the reward was having the drawing reproduced in the company magazine where her father worked. Of course, other hints were there. The most obvious being the fact that her mother and father met in an oil painting class and together took lessons from a famous east coast illustrator named Frank E. Schoonover. Many of Eckels’ aunts and uncles were artists, so she and her sister (who is also an artist) were immersed in art from the beginning. When her mother’s family got together, there was a lot of giggling, storytelling, and art conversation. Whenever she visited her aunts and uncles, there was always a chat with them about whatever they had just painted or sculpted.
A childhood full of exposure to art began in upstate New York in the 1950s. When she was 7, Eckels’ father, a chemical engineer in the defense industry, was transferred to Salt Lake City, Utah where she did most of her growing up amidst beautiful scenery, snow skiing, and a handy proximity to many national parks. Her father considered their home National Park Central. Everyone who visited the family was soon hustled into the car and driven off to a national park like Zion, Yellowstone or Arches. Eckels has visited many of the parks…several of them more than once. In addition, the family spent time in the mountains fishing and having picnics in the rustic canyons east of Salt Lake City. Her father was instrumental in instilling a love of everything mother nature could supply. Her mother, a painter and sculptor, stayed at home to raise her two daughters, and in addition, was often involved in creative endeavors. She taught the sisters many of the lessons of art. Eckels participated in art as a child, drawing portraits of her favorite celebrities, and sketching still life compositions.
There was never a pivotal moment or event when she suddenly knew that she wanted to be an artist…Eckels just always dabbled at it, even when involved in other pursuits. She knew early on that she wanted to be in show business. She went to a college in Southern California that emphasized the performing arts, and after graduation, Eckels spent 25 years behind the cameras in the television industry in Los Angeles. She was a director on a daytime drama called, “The Bold and the Beautiful” when she decided to try her art as a profession. She wanted to do something that was truly an expression of herself, that didn’t involve the opinions and influences of others. She began to paint full time and within a few months, was participating in art shows and festivals all over the U.S. Wanting to get her work in front of art lovers as fast as she could, she realized that these shows were, at least temporarily, the best way to do that. In addition to her education from family artists, Eckels participated in workshops from several experimental artists who influenced her, getting her headed in the right direction. Among those were Carole Barnes, Pat Dews and Katherine Chang Liu. She also spent a lot of time looking at art in books, museums and galleries.
Since her work is totally abstract, it comes entirely from her head, heart, and imagination. Anything that has contributed to her sense of color, texture and composition, becomes the basis of what eventually comes from her hands and brushes. Her visits with nature during her childhood were, she is sure, a very big part of what comes from her brain when she’s painting. Her mother, a traditional watercolorist, has jokingly stated she would be interested in seeing the inside of that brain.
Developing her technique has been, and probably will always be, an ongoing and delightful pursuit. The most difficult part early on was reigning in her impulse to try everything at least once. When she finally developed a look that was all hers, it happened because she kept what she liked about her work, and gradually let the rest slip away. Eckels says she is influenced by everything she sees. For instance, she’ll see a painting, or flower garden, or photograph that contains a certain combination of colors and will try to use that in her next painting. She explains that she really has no major influences that relate to specific artists, but she’s sure that she subconsciously uses ideas from every artist whose work she has looked at or admired. She says, “I have always had the idea in my head that I did not want to be like anyone else. I did not want to be average, and I did not want my work to look like anyone else’s work. I remember my artist aunt visiting me in my art booth during a show years ago and mentioning that she had been looking at the work of my neighbor artist. She told me that she could tell who that artist had studied with, because the work was similar to the work of the teacher. I thought that was the worst thing I would ever want to be told….that my work "looked like someone else’s.”
Currently, she enjoys her life of “commuting” from her bedroom to her studio down the stairs. It’s a great improvement from her years commuting by freeway to her television job. She has also left behind the days of traveling long distances to fairs and festivals which has given her more time to paint and enjoy other aspects of her life.
Art is a solitary endeavor, so social occasions are important. She especially appreciates her three local art friends who join her for art lunches. They talk art marketing, art making, and enjoy some mutual ego-boosting. She says it’s a wonderful grounding experience to have these friends, and they truly appreciate each other.
Nancy has had a lifelong interest in the ocean. Eckels loves to snorkel and scuba dive. The colors of the beach, the tropical ocean, and the fish and corals that live below influence her when she paints.
Her other very unusual and unrelated obsession, in addition to painting is poker. Several decades ago, purely by accident, she watched a poker tournament on television and was fascinated by the math, the odds, the bluffing, and, yes, the creativity of being a great poker player. She plays in a group once a week near her home, and occasionally travels to a big tournament.
Several years ago, Nancy was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer. She is healthy now, but through the chemo, two surgeries, radiation and recovery, the two things that kept her mind from dwelling on her treatment were painting and poker. She says that they were a great combination! In addition, she has a wonderful husband who is her best friend and greatest supporter. She explains, “We have been together for a very long time and he is priceless.”