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Rising Stars: Meet Nadine McDowell

Today we’d like to introduce you to Nadine McDowell.

Hi Nadine, we’re thrilled to have a chance to learn your story today. So, before we get into specifics, maybe you can briefly walk us through how you got to where you are today?
Becoming an artist and owner of Clay-Z Face is a long story of self-discovery. I still struggle with calling myself an artist, because the word comes with a stereotype and differing levels of expectations depending on your personal perspective. Meaning, people may think of famous creators such as Salvador Dali and Elvis Presley, or they may think of a street performer using paint buckets. I want people to see me as a visual storyteller or a sculpting illustrator.

My development as an “artist” began as a child. I had hearing problems and eventually had tubes but in my ears. I had challenges in school and social development, because of my inability to hear and consequently communicate. To this day, I still have people ask me if English is my second language because I form my sentences differently. In turn, I became pretty good at reading body language and body postures based on mood. The silver lining is that I was able to take this learned behavior and express it in silly putty sculptures, which led to my parents buying me actual clay.

Despite their joy in my creations, I lacked confidence in myself as an intelligent, strong woman, so I certainly didn’t believe in myself as an artist. I received a Bachelor’s Degree in Public Relations, and completed several internships. I joined the U.S. Army and deployed to Korea, Iraq, and Afghanistan. I decided to change my career and got a Master’s Degree in Business. However, it wasn’t until the COVID-19 pandemic that I decided to pursue art as a profession.

I made this decision after 1) I noticed that I was working too hard at jobs where my skills were undervalued 2) I had jobs where I was helping people, but I felt I wasn’t making a big difference to fix their problems, 3) The pandemic was causing a lot of depression and anxiety in our society. I had a few creative ideas that would hopefully help people cope with these feelings in a positive way. I created an art business hoping to help people look at art and life in a positive way.

I’m sure you wouldn’t say it’s been obstacle-free, but so far would you say the journey has been a fairly smooth road?
It has not been a smooth road, because it has been about 30 plus years for me to build confidence in my skills as an artist and a businesswoman. My early education was limited because my teachers assumed my development was temperamental rather than audible. It was these struggles that have led me towards communicating through my art and sculptures. The Army and my Master’s Degree helped me build a business.

Another struggle is the growing pains of an introvert who now shares her feelings and perspectives with strangers. Opening my artistic self to the world is challenging because I have based my art on making common connections with viewers in unexpected ways. I strive to create sculptures that get people to think about their experiences and I use my experiences to provide specific details to a common story, but it is my hope that my art will also open people to new thoughts and experiences.

Alright, so let’s switch gears a bit and talk business. What should we know about your work?
I am a sculptor who creates narratives that capture a moment in time. Most of these sculptures are fictional characters in some kind of predicament. These often-unfortunate subjects portray symbolic and relatable real-world experiences to viewers. I specialize in personifying non-human subjects such as fish and birds.

I have two main goals with my artwork: 1) to create an emotional connection between the viewer and the artwork, 2) to remind people to enjoy humanity, 3) to create artwork that will inspire viewers to make positive changes in their life and in the lives of others.

I am known for my whimsical fish (wall-hanging sculptures) because it is easy to create personalities with the limitless varieties of colors and shapes in the ocean. I am also known for science fiction characters such as cupids, vampires, and zombies. However, I hope to become known for my military-themed sculptures.

What sets my work apart from others are my goals in eliciting strong emotions and aspirations, as well as my unique style. This style is a cross between whimsical, surrealism, and sometimes satirical. Meaning, my sculptures are imperfect and not symmetrical, but it is charming in their own way.

Can you share something surprising about yourself?
People might be surprised to know that I am self-taught and I don’t have formal art or sculpt training.

Another thing people might be surprised to know is that I don’t sketch before I start sculpting. I like to let the properties of the clay lead me to creative forms. I may make sketches for complex custom sculptures.

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