Q&A with Nekoda Witsken of Hue Murals

Photos Courtesy Hue Murals

Nekoda Witsken, the founder of Hue Murals, shares her love for large-scale art installations showcased all around Indiana. Her art not only captures the beauty in vibrant landscapes but the beauty in the communities she work with. PATTERN had the opportunity to learn more about the artist and what muralists bring to the city. 

How did you start doing murals? 
My grandpa was a cartoonist and my mom got an art degree, but ended up going into sales. My dad has his own landscaping business, so there’s a land-based art background there. They let me paint my bedroom wall growing up, so between nine and fifteen, I had the ugliest bedroom ever [laughs]. I also had a truly amazing high school teacher. She’s still at the high school, her name is Angela Fritz over at HSE High School. She encouraged all of her students in her AP class to do an eight-foot portrait. I had never created anything that big outside of my bedroom. Having the background that I did, and then an amazing teacher, catapulted me into wanting to go bigger and bigger with my art. I did my first public mural for the city of Fishers when I was twenty-one. I bounced between Rhode Island, Boston, and Los Angeles during that time, and then ultimately moved back to Indiana to make it my full-time job. Gosh, about four years ago and now here we are.

As a kid with a heavy artistic background, did you always see yourself growing up to be an artist? 
No, I’m really glad you asked, which is why I like doing these interviews. I always thought while growing up that being a full-time artist and the “starving artists” myth were my only options. There’s plenty of work for everybody out there, I’m doing much better than I did when I was doing corporate sales. When I grew up, I wanted to be everything from a marine biologist to an OB and deliver babies. I did pre-med and didn’t switch to art until my last year in college. It was definitely not something I thought was viable, but it’s always been something I loved. After doing the business side of things and studying entrepreneurship at Purdue, you realize as long as you have a business model, a place in the market, and the tools to market and sell yourself, you can do anything. It’s a newer dream, but the love was there. 

In one word, how would you describe your artistic style? 
If I could pick one word, I would say vibrant. I think the number one thing that’s similar in all of my murals is that really strong, bright, and complementary color theory in almost every single design. There are a lot of reds and purples right up against greens and oranges to really make those vibrate. Whether I’m doing a landscape, a portrait, something abstract, or a bit more urban, you’re gonna have what I call “color vomit.” All the colors are there and they’re screaming at you [laughs].

What would you say is the most challenging part of what you do? 
That is a great question. I think the most challenging part of making the mural is not actually painting. It’s the business part that leads up to it. It’s working with clients and understanding what design we’re going to put on the wall that meets their goals. It is not a situation where a client comes to me and says, “I have a wall. Put up whatever you want, as long as it’s pretty,” that doesn’t really happen. I’m more of a business partner. If a brand comes to me, say it’s a development group, right? Say you’re making a mural at Bottleworks and you have a fifteen-year plan, and you’re going to put in fifteen buildings, right? How is my art a part of that plan? How does it help drive people from building one to building two? How does it help people remember, “Oh, this is Bottleworks, a vibrant place to have fun, right?” How does it actually further the goals of the business? I think that’s the most important part. It actually has nothing to do with the art. Once the design is figured out, it’s like you black out, go into a flow state, and just create. It’s all of the meetings, understanding all of the stakeholder opinions and making proposals; that’s by far the most challenging part of the process.

Earlier you were mentioning a mural festival. I want to hear more about that. What is it?
I am so excited. It was one of my goals this year. I grew up in Indy; a lot of my murals are in the Midwest right now. To expand that scope, I really targeted national mural festivals. I’ll be going to Corpus Christi in Texas for their mural festival. Some mural festivals do let you throw up whatever you want, as long as you add something cool. Corpus Christi specifically wanted to add art with the community in mind so that people would enjoy it, use it, and see it as theirs–and not just something that an event left behind. We actually came up with this idea, since my mural is next to their new dog park, to have community members submit photos of their dogs. I’ll be going to Green Bay for a new event. I think this is only the second year. It’s called the Mural and Busker festival. It is part murals and part street performers. They’re just trying to bring people out to enjoy downtown. They specifically have a historic area of downtown Green Bay. It’s kind of like historic downtown in Indianapolis. It’s really difficult to get murals approved, because you have to get a historic board’s approval, the property owner, and the mural event as well. Most times all those people have different opinions of what should go in the mural. It’s really special this time, they all were pretty open to the artist’s ideas, as long as it celebrated Green Bay culture and history. They really wanted to celebrate indigenous culture, so I reached out to the Oneida Nation, the tribe that has been located in the Green Bay Area for thousands of years. They were super excited, and the Oneida people actually gave us reference images to say “this is how we want to be portrayed.” It’s a really fun collaboration between the historians in the city and the people who want to develop the area economically. It’ll hopefully be really fun and vibrant.

Are there any muralists or artists in general, that you’ve been into lately? 
Oh, my gosh, there’s so many. Locally, I think I always look up to two guys here. Dan Handskills; he goes by Invisible Hometown these days. He is just such a fabulous spray paint artist and a fabulous human. I didn’t pick up spray paint until about eleven months ago. Between him, and the other guy that I’ll mention here shortly, they showed me how to use caps and now I do one hundred percent spray paint murals. I am constantly looking at what they’re doing. The other one, his name is Josh Brinson, but he goes by Bezol One in the graffiti community. He is also a sweet human and literally wrote down for me how to use the skinny cream dab. I think nationally there are so many people that I’m looking at, whether they’re Brazilian muralists or Parisian muralists; sometimes they’re unnamed. I went on a trip to Paris with my fiancé last year, and the street art there is constantly evolving and turning over. I’m excited that public art, I think, is moving in that direction here where it’s definitely project-based to meet the goals of a client, but it’s also reactive to what’s going on. It gives people voices in ways that they didn’t have before.

Outside of the festival, are there any other cool projects or events that we should be on the lookout for involving Hue Murals? 
Yeah, absolutely! I would definitely encourage people to come to the State Fair this year. We’re doing a really revamped take on art. I think historically when people think of art at the State Fair, they typically think of a lot of those cardboard walls with second-grader art posted on them and people get ribbons, which is all wonderful. We’re going to do a mural concept where I put a mural on a bus. There’s also going to be a series of selfie stations that local artists have painted so that people can go and have their own photo shoots. We’re also going to have a car that people can come tag for fun if you’re at the fair. It should be truly mural-based and really different than anything they’ve done before. Everybody goes to the fair for the corn and hot dogs so stop by! 

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