A Father-Son Interview: Jake and Tim Nyberg

I grew up around drawers full of colored pencils, markers, drawing charcoal, typesetting tools and early Macintosh computers running Adobe Illustrator 1.0 – all tools of a wildly creative entrepreneur who doubled as my father. Tim Nyberg is a Door County artist with a cosmopolitan style that, while drawing obvious inspiration from the peninsula, transcends sailboats and lighthouses. In my dad’s paintings I see his imagination most alive – reminding me of the awe with which I encountered his work as a child.

Tim Nyberg, Fancy Bird

“Fancy Bird”

Jake Nyberg (JN):  You’ve been a fine artist since well before I was born. Is there something about the act of putting acrylic on canvas that keeps you coming back to painting, as opposed to other fine art forms like paper sculpture, drawing and digital art?

Tim Nyberg (TN):  Although I’ve dabbled in sculpture and whimsical woodcarvings, and even carved out a nice niche as an illustrator in the 1980s doing paper sculptures, two-dimensional work has always been my preference. As a graphic designer and illustrator by profession, the 2D realm is familiar and comfortable for me. I know how to accomplish an image quite naturally without undue regard to the tools and/or media that I am using. It could also be that it’s less involved, requires fewer tools, makes less of a mess, and is more portable. 2D work can also be reproduced more easily in the form of prints and greeting cards – which account for much of my sales.

While much of my time has been spent using Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop for illustrative work, my returning to the paint on canvas about six years ago revealed new freedoms in style and expression for me. Once I got over the hump of “learning” the medium again, I found the unpredictable elements of brush, paint and surface texture intoxicating. I am as surprised and delighted by the images that appear as my viewers seem to be. This doesn’t happen so much with digital art. There, it’s more of a mechanical process to create the image desired. There are generally no pleasant surprises, no serendipity during the process.

Tim Nyberg, Trés Elegant

“Trés Elegant”

JN:  You’ve also been a commercial (see: “for hire”) artist for decades. What is the primary difference between commissioned art and your own work?

TN:  In “fine art” (and I use the term loosely – actually, I prefer “fun art”), I’m my own art director. I call the shots on what I’m creating, how it looks, and when it is “finished.” This is quite freeing. There are generally no deadlines, no expectations, and often no pay either (wink).

I think my art has a looseness and a whimsy about it that is not found in my commercial art – even though my niche as an illustrator has been humor. It could be the materials that I’m using, but I suspect it has more to do with a mind “unshackled” from client expectations. In the same manner, when I’m doing commercial work, I consider my best work to be that which has been created for clients who don’t over-direct, but who let me go and do what I do best for them.

While it’s easy to see the designer in me in my paintings, it’s now become apparent to me that my commercial work has benefitted from my fine/fun art as well. There is a cross-pollination of ideas.

JN:  It’s no secret that Door County provides inspiration for myriad artists. As a “Door County Artist,” what is it about the peninsula that speaks to you?

TN:  Its landscapes and waterscapes – particularly the simple planes of color of farm fields with blurred tree lines marking the horizon – have absolutely influenced my art. Similarly, the simple architectural shapes of barns and outbuildings have intrigued me. While I usually choose to capture Door County’s surroundings via photography (especially during the low-sun of morning and evening, or during one of our many foggy days), the images that go into my mind generally find their way in some form to the canvas – even in my abstract work.

Tim Nyberg, Twilight Harvest

“Twilight Harvest”

JN:  Your art is on the shelves of global retailers like Wal-Mart but also on the walls of local galleries like The Flying Pig. Is it difficult (or even possible?) to paint for mass and niche audiences at the same time?

TN:  The commercial artist in me makes it easy to create art that may be palatable to the masses – this is evidenced in my “Bistro Beverages” series – but I’m now doing so on my terms. I bring my fine/fun art sensibilities to every item that I create. Hopefully, being true to my gut instincts will result in distinctively different work. I believe there is an audience out there for art that crosses the safe line of status quo.

JN:  Your son calls to inform you he’s considering dropping everything and taking painting lessons. What do you tell him?

TN:  Not being one that ascribes to “lessons” per se, I’d say, if that’s what your heart is moving you to do, just pick up a brush and start painting. In over 35 years of self-employment, my overriding theme has been:  DO WHAT YOU ENJOY. Have fun. Let freedom of expression and creativity be your motivator.