Meditation in Mural Form: An Interview With Artist Nicole Poppell

Meditation in Mural Form: An Interview With Artist Nicole Poppell

Posted Jun 26, 2024

Walking into the Outerknown shop, a groovy oversized floral mural immediately pulls me in. I almost didn’t notice the artist Nicole Poppell standing 10 feet above me. “Hey! I’m up here!” Nicole excitedly shouts and waves. 

Nicole’s artwork is Outerknown in mural form. Big, bold shapes in earth tone shades, grooving together across the wall as one beautiful, nature-inspired piece. And Nicole, is Outerknown in human form; Warm, smiley, extremely grateful and happy to be here.  

Last month, Nicole painted her environmental-inspired mural inside of our shop at The Point. Visitors had the chance to watch the art unfold in real time, and we celebrated with a mural party once it was complete. I couldn't pass up the chance to sit down with the talented creator to learn more about her journey from interior architecture to mural painting and founding her own art installation company.

Before we start, I see you’re wearing our Chroma Blanket Shirt, is that also a Sojourn Ribbed Tank?
YES! I am full-blown Outerknown, I am obsessed. These Westbound Utility Pants too. I love it all. I can’t wait to do the embroidery on this Blanket Shirt. The corduroy overalls, LOVE those. I have some overalls that I’ve had forever that are falling apart, but I love these because they’re super lightweight and comfortable and I can move in them. I’ll be wearing them all the time.

Where are you from?
I’m from Phoenix originally, I was born in Albuquerque, New Mexico but always grew up in Phoenix. After college, I did an internship in San Francisco and then after college the same company hired me to move out there. I was there for six years and was kind part of the COVID exodus, we were late to it but in 2021 we moved back to Phoenix to figure out what our next steps were.

I also read that your background is in interior architecture, which seems to go hand-in-hand with painting building murals. When did you first discover your passion for architectural artwork? 
I grew up doodling and always loving art, but honestly, I never thought you could have a job in art. That was just what I was told and what was kind of normal in society at the time. I learned Adobe Illustrator from my dad when I was super young, so I did a year in Graphic Design before switching to Interior Design at ASU (Arizona State University). I just really love the scale of physical spaces. I studied a little of each design discipline and took bits from each throughout my work. I took product design, screen-printing, wood shop, and metalsmithing. I never took drawing, sadly, but I think I’ve always just been interested in the mixing of architecture and art. After graduating, it was really hard to get into art installations. That was a very niche field at the time and still is to this day. I moved out to San Francisco to do commercial interior design, where I was specializing in workplace - a lot of corporate tech offices. Even in those projects, I was like, how can we do an art installation in the lobby, and how do we make this an experience? It was a very natural fit to go from interior design to large-scale art full-time.

That's so cool. It sounds like interior design and architecture were the perfect catalysts for your pursuit of the art you really wanted to do.  
I feel like my whole career has been this wiggle path of falling into these. It's the best.  

How do you decide what art to put where? Do you visit the spaces and start brainstorming ideas? 

There's not a lot of time when I get to physically be in the space when I start designing. So, I do get photos and I try to get as much context as possible for the space and then I'll come up with ideas and sketch and then overlay it onto any photos I have, trying to convey it in a mock up.

I think my company Mural Mates and what I do is unique because I come from the interior design background. I can blend brand identity into murals, which I think a lot of people are drawn to.

Hell yeah. When I saw the mock-up of your mural for our store at The Point, I was like, she nailed it! THIS is so Outerknown. 
Yeah! That's a huge thing, too. I always tell artists who are starting out to find the people that they really love and try to only take those projects because you'll just keep getting more and more of those. And when Madeline Adams (Outerknown Senior Graphic Designer) reached out, the color palettes and everything were so easy for me–THIS is fun! 

Were there any surprises when painting this mural?  
It’s been so smooth, and everyone has been so helpful! I was planning to start on Monday, but I decided it would be better to put the design up on Sunday night after the store closed instead. Luckily, my friend and fellow muralist Coco Nella came to help, and I’m so grateful because it was a two-person job. The rest of the week was smooth sailing, and I could get into the groove while painting. It’s been great! I’ve scared a few people because I’m up high, and they don’t notice me until I start moving the scissor lift. 

So cool. I also read that your work is very environmentally inspired–very groovy. But how would YOU describe your artwork?  
Ooooh. That's a good question. 

All of my artwork has some sort of tie or inspiration from nature, whether it’s super abstract or not. What interests me the most are the textures and the shapes you can pull from everything around you. An abstraction of observation from nature.

You can really tell. Your work almost moves like nature without actually moving. So rad.  
Thank you! Wow, what a compliment.  

Aside from your company, Mural Mates,  I haven't heard of many other companies that solely specialize in building murals and art installations at this scale–it's so impressive.  
What's interesting is that for the longest time, I kept my personal art separate from my corporate art, and now it's blending more and more. I'm learning a lot about myself through my personal art. I just love things that feel like they're fitting together, and they're changing and moving, and that's very much me. Like this piece for your store, it blends together, but they're all separate imagery. Because it started as a meditation for me  that's blended in. 

Totally, and meditation alone teaches you how to flow more. Hearing that your personal and professional art was separate but is starting to blend is interesting. What brought those two worlds together for you?  
I think I took more of a consulting approach to my corporate art. I want to make sure the voice of the client comes through more than my aesthetic. But now, people are seeing the examples of my personal style, and that’s resonating, especially with Outerknown. It’s fun for me to find more and more people who see my art the same way I do. It’s a great feeling, and I feel super lucky. Part of the reason I started Mural Mates, like you said, there’s not a lot of companies that specialize in murals and there’s a lot of artists out there that are only known for one style. I think it’s fun for me to get to test a lot of things out and find the right fit for the client. I'm also slowly doing more curation and collaborations to bring more artists in. No opportunity should be missed to connect artists.  

I'd love to hear more about your artistic process when painting murals.  
There are a few different ways you can go about it. Typically, I use a projector, which is the easiest way of getting it up there. This space is a little unique because it's high up. I used a method that sign painters use: a pounce pattern. It's essentially a piece of paper with a bunch of tiny little holes in it along the artwork. I get it printed, get the artwork pounced, and then you put it up on the wall and bang chalk through the holes, which puts the artwork on the wall. Every project is so different though. I’ve been doing this forever and still get nervous before each install. It’s a lot of problem-solving on the go. But there are always tricks for everything.
It's really cool to see people's reactions to my work. Earlier today, there were these 10-year-old girls, and they were like, "I love your art!" They shouted from outside. It was so worth it. I was like, "This could be you!" Haha. 

Have you dabbled in any other industries or art forms?   
Before I did murals, I did more sculptural art for a company. We would do wild shit. It was what I always dreamed of doing, which was tactile, physical art on walls for clients like Google and Adobe. That was really fun.  I would love to go get back into that. I sort of fell into doing murals, but I love it because it's consistent in the sense that it's painting. There's a craft to it, where art installation changes for each project and that can be really stressful. I want to get more into textile design, doing patterns, because I already do that, I've done it for a long time. Doing more brand partnerships would be really cool for me. I actually just partnered with a cycling company to do a kit. So, that would be my second collaboration on clothing.  

I could totally see that. Your patterns would look insane on clothing.  
I actually grew up wanting to go into fashion, but my family couldn’t afford to put me through fashion school. It's funny that I'm coming back around to it. Clearly, it's influencing my art. I still love patterns and statement pieces, and I think they can go onto everything.

And I still can't believe you never took an art class! 
I know it’s wild, but you learn through experience! I had been painting as a hobby my whole life, and luckily, my parents always encouraged me to pursue my creative side.   

How did you decide to start your own mural company?  
I had always wanted to start my own company, that's always been in my head. I had been learning, learning, learning, and then when COVID hit, I was ready. I was bringing in clients, doing budgets, managing projects, along with designing and painting. I finally felt confident to do it on my own. We also knew we wanted to move at some point, so I was like, alright, let’s move home where I have more community, start the company, and it just all fell into place. I gave myself six months to get it off the ground, but I was already painting and freelancing at that point while I was launching the company. And it’s been busy ever since I launched it!   

Do you ever bring in other artists to help?  
Right now, I'm still designing everything, and then I’ll bring in assistants to help with the installation. When I travel, I try to find local artists to help paint. But I do want to get to a place where they can take on projects and design them, and then I can help either paint them or not. That's definitely something I'm thinking about if I want to grow the company. And if so, what do I want it to look like? I have a pretty big database of artists, and I love being a connector. That's why I love doing what I do now. I can now teach people how to run their businesses and grow. It's been so fun, and there are so many avenues besides just mural painting.

I think that's a testament to who you are! How open-minded you are, inspiring those around you, and keeping yourself open to any opportunity.  
I do have that entrepreneurial mindset, so for me I love bringing ideas to life, whether it be my ideas or not. Whatever you want to do, let’s figure it out together and break it down into tangible steps. That’s one of my passions.    

Obviously, you're inspired by nature, but are there other sustainable, planet-friendly practices that are important to you?  
I don't approach it like I'm going to have a program for sustainability; it's really in the little things, how I live in general every day. I learned a lot from living in the Bay Area and have been trying to hold onto it wherever I go. Things like re-using paint for my personal art, minimizing single-use items, being aware of water usage (especially in the desert), and being a conscious consumer are all important to me.

What you said about "it's all in the little things," that's so important. I think some people are deterred from living more sustainably because they think they have to change everything all at once. And it really is in the little changes you make every day.  
So true, you must start somewhere. I do feel like it’s easier to be more sustainable nowadays because there is a lot more education out there, but it does take some effort to build up good habits. It's so cool hearing about all the things Outerknown does.   

What's next on the horizon for you?  
I have a couple projects in Phoenix, hopefully before it gets too hot, one project in Nashville and one in Douglas, AZ. I’m waiting for final approvals but will be painting a big project in Santa Barbara in July, and then we will see. It keeps me on my toes.

If you're in El Segundo Calif., stop by our Outerknown shop at The Point to see the beautiful mural for yourself and get some custom embroidery, artwork courtesy of Nicole Poppell

Posted Jun 26, 2024