Selective Focus: Samantha Nielsen

This week, we hear from watercolor artist and urban sketcher Samantha Nielsen. Also, this week we have a first, a Selective Focus artist teaching on Skillshare. Read on to hear her story and get the preview for her Skillshare class.

SN: I work in watercolor and ink with a style that many describe as ‘whimsical’. My artistic journey started after my third year of college, when I switched my major from music education to art education. I went into some of my first art classes feeling as though I didn’t have my own artistic voice, and I had very little experience, so all of the mediums were new to me. The first year was spent experimenting and learning the basics, but the following year a project for my illustration class is really what made me feel at home with watercolor and ink. We were instructed to completely fill a sketchbook throughout the semester, but we could only use permanent materials (so no pencils or erasers). This is where my love for watercolor and ink began, and this project really challenged me to step out of my comfort zone.

Gulls on Brighton Beach
Watercolor and ink
5×7 inches
Originally created for a story I had featured in the Star Tribune

When the class was done I had a whole new interest in watercolor. I started buying travel sketchbooks with watercolor paper and bringing them with me everywhere I went, I stumbled upon the urban sketchers organization which brought about a passion for sketching the hustle and bustle of the city as well as quiet corners of a coffee shop, which then led to challenging myself to do a sketch every day for a year in 2016. I’ve been urban sketching and working with watercolor for about 4 years.

Duluth Views
Originally watercolor and ink; now a print on fine art paper
Size: 5×7

In the beginning, many of the challenges came from fear: the fear of sketching in public, fear of sharing my work, but it’s incredibly rewarding to be able to look back at where I started and where I am now. One of these moments that really brought everything full circle was when I did a watercolor/sketching demo for the grand opening of Bailey Builds and Makers Mercantile this past fall. A few years ago I would have been terrified to be sketching around that many people, but it didn’t phase me at all, and it was such a treat to be able to interact with people passing by and answer any questions they had about my process. That brings me to one of the greatest rewards of creating: nothing can beat the connections I make with others through my artwork. Whether it’s painting a custom piece of a house that loved ones used to live in, capturing places that hold a special meaning for others, or being able to share my passion and knowledge with anyone who wants to start creating, each of these experiences are cherished and fill me with life and excitement.

Wisconsin Sailboat
Watercolor and ink

People can find my work locally at the following locations: Lakeside Gallery, Makers Mercantile, Duluth Pack, Zenith Bookstore, and Bella Flora.
Shop online:
Instagram: @sj_nielsen
Email: @

Take my first watercolor class on Skillshare:
If you’re interested in signing up for Skillshare, click here for 2 free months.

Palisade Head
Watercolor and ink, Stillman & Birn Sketchbook
Roughly 5×7

I’m currently working on writing and illustrating a book about watercolor techniques. The last deadline from my publishing company is the end of February, so I am nearing the end! The book is set to be on shelves Fall 2018. The next pop-up market I will be at is the Hygge Market on March 3rd (located at Makers Mercantile and Bailey Builds Studio).

Duluth themed stickers (Duluth, MN, Canal Park, Seagull, Lake Superior)
Originally created with watercolor and ink; now a vinyl sticker
Varies (around 3-4 inches)

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