Name: Nicole Banks, artistically known as "Nikki Lavi"
Location: Washington, D.C.
Bio: Nicole Banks, also known as Nikki Lavi, is a self-taught artist born and raised in Southeast, Washington D.C. Nikki began her art career creating alongside her father, Marvin Banks Sr., an artist in his own right, at the tender age of 3. Her passion for art was evident early when she independently completed her first painting at the age of 5 years old. Nikki continued to hone her craft using all mediums including but not limited to oil, pencil, chalk, watercolor, and acrylic. Nikki continued to master her craft throughout her teen years, and by age of 25, her art began to take on a more sensual tone with her vibrant and colorful “CandyGirls” which has become recognizable as Lavi creations. If you should ask Nikki about being an artist… “I feel like I was born to be an artist and I am at my happiest when I am creating and sharing my visions with others.” Nikki currently resides in Clinton, Maryland where she continues to strive to make her mark in the art world.
Describe your experience as a current as an artist.
My experience as an artist has been amazing all of my life. Specifically because I have learned not to follow a standard - I let my feeling towards creating and when to create come freely. This has allowed me to not stress over the pressures that come with trying to keep up with the fast pace world of art. Also, adapting to this mentality works when having a family that is need of quality time (which I need from my family as well). With that, I'm always comfortable when working, and creating is always a pleasure for me because the timing is just right.
What was your occupation/education prior to becoming an artist?
I proudly received one dollar for my first drawing at the age of 4, so I would consider being an artist as my first occupation, lol! I felt amazing about that! Currently and for quite sometime, I have worked as a Facilities Director with a non-profit organization in that provides transitional housing, medial, dental and behavioral health care for low or no income families in Washington, D.C. The work is absolutely rewarding! Being able to help people in need is a wonderful feeling. So daily I juggle work, family and art. At one point in my life, I attempted to work as an artist full-time, but honestly it didn't work for me with having a full family at that time. Will I try again? Yes, but when the time is right for me. I would encourage any woman that have to prioritize when to take the leap into becoming a full time artist to NOT get discouraged if it doesn't happen at the time she visualized. When it finally happens, it will happen BIG and BLESSED as long as she continues to plan for it until it comes to fruition.
What has been your biggest challenge/obstacle in pursuing art and how did you overcome it?
My biggest challenge when creating was overthinking. I used to analyze every single paint/pencil stroke. I used to compare myself and my work with others. I used to stress over how much work I was putting out and whether it was enough. It became crippling to me and I literally stopped creating for years because the interest wasn't there for me anymore. Then finally, after the birth of my first Son, I felt a spark again to create when I wanted to paint him. That's when I realized that before, I was trying to force the inspiration to create instead of allowing the real inspiration to just come to me. Since, when I feel it, I create and on my own terms as God intended.
Describe your biggest milestone or project/series achieved since pursuing your art.
I feel my biggest project is my current series of paintings, "Sun Benefits and Moon Offerings" which are a series of pieces reflecting the strength, sensuality and intellect (among other wondering qualities) of my people which can also be found in the Sun and in the Moon. I look forward to creating more inspirational and hearty pieces in the future. I believe my current series will keep that inspiration going for me.
How does your personal style and identity translate into your artwork?
My personal style and identity doesn't always reflect in my work. In some cases, I paint subjects that I want to relate to or don't want to relate to but want to learn more about. It all depends. However in all cases, whatever the subject it, I use each piece as a stepping stone to learn more about the subject, myself and to grow more in my craft.
What is your favorite art technique and why?
I love to paint in acrylics. Although I don't create daily, when I do create, acrylics seems to be just right for me because it dries quickly which allows me to create the piece I'm working on quickly. My thoughts on a piece are rapid and I want all of those thoughts on the canvas, so working in acrylics allows me to achieve that. I also have noticed my pieces taking on more color. In the past, I used to be afraid of color and how to place it on the platform. Now I don't care, lol. I don't plan it, I just feel it and lately that has worked out best for me.
How do you maintain your mental health and inspiration?
A life hack for me is taking a mental break when needed. I may take a break from social media to return to reality to spend time with the people I love. Getting some fresh air by taking a long walk or creating a piece for my eyes only (which are my completely uncensored and raw works). The most important life hack for me is praying. The relief and freedom I feel from praying can't be described in words. It will forever be a source of refreshing myself for me.
What is some advice or tips you would give to a fellow BGWP interested in furthering their art goals and/or business?
I would encourage BGWPs (especially with families and jobs) to go at your own pace, but just keep going. Even small progress is progress. Continue to create and plan, but also take time for yourself. Study the techniques of your favorite artists to learn more, but don't consume yourself totally in their works in order to stay true to your style. In the meantime learn about business, because when the exposure hits, it will hit fast and hard, and knowing business will be important in your success as a full time artist (if that's your goal).
What is next for you?
In the future, I plan to enter my pieces into festivals and exhibits/shows in an attempt to gain more exposure (and to curve my introverted ways lol!). I also want to work on my first solo show that I plan to coordinate with the help of my support system. This is a goal of mine that I hope to achieve soon.
What does being a "black girl who paints" means to you?
Being a BGWP means everything! It's a privilege that I don't take for granted because I didn't have to be chosen by God to be a creative. Black women are extremely talented individuals that unfortunately didn't have many platforms to highlight our wonderful talents until now. So having the ability to discover so many amazing BGWPs and knowing that I'm among that group is something that I'm very proud of.