Mark Nesmith drives along a road in Beaumont, Texas with his wife Elizabeth Pearson, when suddenly he stops the car. Nesmith gets out and immediately begins using his phone to snap pictures of the sun’s rays bouncing off a drainage ditch, trying to capture this moment of inspiration before it fades away. Elizabeth laughs and says, “Only you would stop at this ditch and think this is something to paint.”
For Nesmith, appreciating the moments and scenes of everyday life is crucial to his creative process. The representational oil painter is inspired by what he sees in the natural sites of Southeast Texas and his experiences teaching at a public school. However, if you try to look for the exact moments or places he depicts in his artwork, you won’t ever find them.
“I tell everybody that I base things on observation and representation, but they’re filtered through my memories and filtered through my imagination,” he said.
Childhood Inspiration and Modern-Day Creation
A great deal of the memories Nesmith uses to bring his work to life come from his childhood in Beaumont. Nesmith’s work often depicts wildlife and plants he saw on hikes with his father through the Big Thicket National Preserve, and the bodies of water such as cypress swamps, Bolivar Flats and other beaches he visited on family trips.
Nesmith’s artistic style is shaped by the religious artwork he was exposed to as a child, which he said was the only art his family had in their home. During Sunday service, Nesmith would admire the stained glass throughout the church and grew to love the medium. In his work, he tries to achieve the same luminance and vivid color emitted by stained glass.
Through these childhood experiences Nesmith grew to appreciate the natural world and said his work reflects a deeper message about plugging into the present moment, rather than our devices, in the digital age.
Despite Nesmith’s focus on real-world subjects, he uses the internet to share, promote and sell his work. Nesmith said he maintains a website, sends out e-newsletters and actively uses social media to help create new opportunities for himself and maintain a strong clientele.
Inspiring Students to Take Up Art as a Career
Although Nesmith’s childhood influences his work, it wasn’t until he attended college at Lamar University that he began to see art as a viable career. His life changed in 1994 when he took a drawing class with professor Larry Leach and began visiting his studio in an old bar in downtown Beaumont.
Leach became his mentor, and Nesmith said he was finally able to see the inner workings of an artist who was successful at creating, displaying and selling his work. With Leach’s encouragement, Nesmith knew he too could make it as a professional artist — as long as he could follow his mentor’s advice: “Get good at what you love to do and you’ll figure out how to make a living.”
“Looking back, as a student, he was receptive like a sponge toward information and he was bright enough to do something with it,” Leach said about Nesmith. “He was active, he showed up, he did a lot of work and he’s done that now for years — he never stops.”
Nesmith, who teaches sixth and eighth grade art at Port Neches Middle School, mentors his students and teaches them about the art industry, just as he said Leach did for him. Every year Nesmith gives a presentation to his eighth graders on the real possibilities of making art into a career, such as pursuing professional photography, entering the world of graphic design or becoming a painter like himself.
“I think it’s important for kids to realize that art and music aren’t just subjects in a history book,” Nesmith said. “There are people doing this today and there are careers available in the field.”
Using Social Media to Connect with His Audience
Nesmith posts images of his artwork along with stories about them in relevant Facebook groups, such as All About the Beach and The Bolivar Peninsula — but absolutely no price listing, he said. Instead, he posts simply to interact with clients on a personal level that might not always be achieved in the typical gallery setting.
“Most people want to feel like they’re part of the work, and often that comes from feeling like you have a relationship with the art and artist,” he said.
Through social media, Nesmith landed the opportunity to show his artwork at the Gallery by the Gulf exhibition in Bolivar Peninsula’s Crystal Beach over the summer, and has also been hired for commissions.
Being able to turn his online efforts into real-world dollars is a form of success Nesmith achieves through social media, but he said the tool also allows him to measure success in the metric that really matters to him: how his work impacts others.
“If somebody experiences something I’ve made or done and it makes them look at things differently with that sense of awe and that sense of beauty, then that is the most amazing thing in the world to me,” he said.