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EIU 360

Brush With Greatness

EIU alum and two-time Chicago 'Artist of the Year' Nancie King Mertz discusses her painting career


On any given day Nancie King Mertz is painting, she sets up her easel, chooses her paints and lets her paintbrush take over. She’s live on the scene, and while her paint soaks onto the canvas, she’s soaking in the surroundings herself. Whether it’s talking to the people that pass by her to ask what she’s working on or just observing the scenery, it’s all part of the artistic experience for her.

“You remember what the weather is, what the smells are like, what sounds you hear during the painting,” she said. “You’re much more connected to it than something you do in your studio.”

King Mertz, who has been named Chicago’s “Artist of the Year” twice and a 2009 EIU Outstanding Graduate Alumni, loves to paint what she sees on site in the city, like Lake Michigan or the gritty underside of the city. She doesn’t just paint Chicago -- she travels with her gear all over the world to paint whatever inspires her -- new scenes, new weather or new venues.

She has trekked across the United States, most recently California, and even internationally to become inspired for her latest paintings.

Even though nature gives her more variables to worry about, she’d still rather paint outside and get the true-to-life experience opposed to painting from photographs. In photographs, she said, shadows may be more blackened and may diminish the picture, giving her a less clear vision for her paintings; when she’s on site, she can see all the color more clearly.

King Mertz uses her paintings to fill up her 10-year-old art gallery and framing business, ArtDeTriumph & Artful Framer Studios, which she runs with her husband.

Never having taken a business class, King Mertz said she has to work especially hard to run her business; she engrosses herself in her gallery and works constantly to keep it going.

She said the business’ success comes from this attentive dedication.

“It’s like any profession -- you have to give it your all,” she said.

Before she ran the gallery, she was an undergraduate art student at University of Illinois and then a graduate student at Eastern.

She taught at Eastern for a total of three years, half as a graduate student and half as a faculty member. She found she was not able to paint as much as a teacher, so she started a business representing artists in Arcola, which eventually led her to start her gallery in Chicago.

She doesn’t teach anymore, but she still gives back to Eastern by funding a creative grant for all types of graduate students -- not just art students; usually the grant is divided up amongst two to six students.

She still tries to keep her teaching skills sharp, occasionally doing demonstrations or answering questions from other artists about technique, but her primary focus is to just “keep painting, keep framing and keep the doors open.” It’s not a chore for her, though, because whenever she paints, she knows she’ll be satisfied.

“It’s just like breathing -- it’s just it’s own reward,” she said.

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