Category: In The Artist's Studio

Noah Desmond: Painting Poetry

Bright, vivid and complex, Noah Desmond‘s works are built with a multitude of layers, marks, and colors. In a conversation with our galleries, Desmond shares insight into his creative process and inspirations — Dive in and learn more about the artist.

“Paintings are like journals—depictions of where you are in life and where you’re going.”– Noah Desmond

Noah Desmond in his studio
Noah Desmond in his studio


What inspires you?

ND: Paint and the act of painting inspires me — the artist’s search always gets me going. We’re all always learning something, and always trying to get better each day. Knowing that I’ve done this for a long time, and that I knew early that I wanted to do it inspires me because I know that to get good at anything it takes time and daily practice. It’s kind of a monastic life — I’m not married, I don’t have kids. I have my dog, which is enough.

Noah Desmond, Naples, Oil on Canvas, 48 × 48 inches
Noah Desmond, Naples, Oil on Canvas, 48 × 48 inches


Describe your creative process

ND: The creative process is always changing for me. I’ve gone through so many different styles — I’m just a curious person. I went to the University of Wisconsin, Madison, where I was an English major, and I thought I would be a poet or writer. I journal every morning at breakfast — I’ve done a page every morning of my life for a long time — it’s just a natural instinct. Paintings are like journals of where you are in life and where you’re going.

I get up very early, have breakfast, write, and then come back and work. I work on 6-8 paintings at a time. I’ll usually watch a video on an artist every day — whether about Giacometti or a Diebenkorn lecture — to refuel me, especially if I’m down or stuck. I love the saying “Don’t work too hard, but work all the time.” I think that’s absolutely lovely and right on, because you can burn out and that’s my personality — to go off the deep end. But you get older, you calm down a bit, you get better perspective and you just slowly build on the paintings and they become more solid in the end.

Noah Desmond in the studio with his two dogs
Noah Desmond in the studio with his two dogs


How would you describe your studio?

ND: My actual studio space is downstairs and at least 2,000 feet, and then I have the upstairs with a deck and my bed on the floor of course, and a small kitchen — it’s truly an artist’s paradise. 40 foot ceilings, skylights, track lighting, and it’s all painted white. I’ve worked hard for a long time to reach this point and I’m really fortunate to have this place. For me, the work reflects the size of the space. Space is very important. An artist’s studio is their bedrock, their muse. It’s where you spend all of your time, so it’s important.

How do you balance abstraction and representation in your work?

ND: My work is becoming more abstract, but I used to push it too hard. I used to have sleepless nights, I wanted that style in between abstraction and representation, and that balance is really so difficult. Now I’m not thinking about it as much, I let it go and breathe and chill out and let the style, paint quality and the handling happen and take the pressure off myself. Artists put way too much pressure on themselves. That’s why it’s good to have a bunch of paintings going at once… I can go from painting to painting, adding a bit here and a bit there, and see how they change, see what happens — just build slowly. That’s taken a long time to learn and the work is just so much better that way, rather than when it’s more purposeful.

I’ve studied in the classical realist tradition, and that is hardcore drawing from a model for 6 hours a day, working on value, carving out the figure and so on. Basics are important – it’s just like a poet knowing words and studying syntax or anything like that. Even if you don’t use it in your later work or you go towards abstraction, it’s in there, it’s in the guts and it will show through whether consciously or not. So I still come back to basics on and off — I’ll go in and draw live from the model, which keeps my chops up.

Orchestrating chaos: Desmond's palettes employ wide ranging hues and tones.
Orchestrating chaos: Desmond’s palettes employ wide ranging hues and tones.


How do your surroundings in the Midwest influence your process?

ND: Throughout my travels, I’ve always come out here to Santa Fe — it kept calling me back, every 4 or 5 years — and I had no idea why. It’s got a really special light. I’m close to Colorado, which I absolutely love. It’s still in the West, and there are a lot of actors out here, lots of films being made now, so it’s totally an artist community. Most importantly it’s a walled city- you don’t really have those in America, so it’s romantic- and it’s sort of unusual in that way. And the Adobe architecture is really picturesque. Santa Fe is easy on the eyes and artists usually want to be around beautiful things.

Is there anything else you would like to share with us?

ND: The ritualistic process of being an artist is what you do every day and it’s is really what makes the great ones great — you have to show up. It isn’t a joke. One of my heroes is Van Morrison and he approaches it like a dock worker, that’s why he comes out with an album every year. In a way you have to drop that facade and really take your ego out and show up to work every day. Of course some days won’t work, some days will be a dream, others are just flat line — but I think that’s really important. It’s a game against time and time can be a friend, it can be an enemy, but you get better with time. You just show up and you try to get a little bit better. You also have to make an effort to keep learning and not get complacent and fall into a pattern. The key thing — the heartbeat of being an artist — is a curiosity to try new things. An artist is always willing to risk it all for change and just to keep moving forward. That’s really why they live long. Not many occupations have that. You gotta stay young and keep your ego in check.

Noah Desmond, Nature's Pattern, Oil on Canvas, 48 × 48 inches
Noah Desmond, Nature’s Pattern, Oil on Canvas, 48 × 48 inches


To view Noah Desmond’s works in person, visit the gallery nearest to you.