What Matters to Nicole Sleeth

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Debbie Millman has an ongoing project at PRINT titled “What Matters.” This is an effort to understand the interior life of artists, designers, and creative thinkers. This facet of the project is a request of each invited respondent to answer ten identical questions and submit a nonprofessional photograph.

Nicole Sleeth is a painter whose work explores the female gaze, power, and lived experience. She brings a classical understanding of the human form to her representations of the nude female figure.

What is the thing you like doing most in the world?

Painting. When I get into a good painting flow, it just feels like the absolute best thing in the world.

More generally, I like to make things.  Whether it’s painting, knitting, cooking, gardening, or building things, I like to work with my hands and see tangible results.

What is the first memory you have of being creative?

My parents were very big on crafting as an activity when I was growing up.  Creating clothespin dolls, boxes out of popsicle sticks, clothes for my stuffed animals, and polymer clay figures are some of my earliest creative memories.  I’m grateful that they taught me to make my own fun, rather than relying on prepackaged games and toys.

What is your biggest regret?

The times I have hurt loved ones by being so single-minded and self-focused that I was blind to their needs.

How have you gotten over heartbreak?

Allow a certain amount of time for grieving, and then keep busy, exercise, and live with integrity.

What makes you cry?

Almost any dog video. Even if it’s a happy one! I just love dogs and think they are so pure.

How long does the pride and joy of accomplishing something last for you?

The pride and joy of accomplishment is fleeting because I tend to find more fulfillment in the action of doing the work. I think of “accomplishment” as the byproduct of a good process, rather than something to strive for in and of itself. Each painting is a study.

Sometimes I have to remind myself of what I’ve accomplished, because I forget, and feel like I’m just spinning my tires. 

An uninterrupted, focused day at the studio spent painting, unfettered by anything else (dog puking, dentist appointments, parcel deliveries), gives me an immense sense of accomplishment.

Do you believe in an afterlife, and if so, what does that look like to you?

No, I do not believe in an afterlife. I think this awareness (and fear) of my own mortality, and that of those close to me, affects how I work. It’s not a dress rehearsal— this is all we’ve got.

What do you hate most about yourself?

I don’t use the word “hate” lightly, and don’t hate anything about myself. Not to say that I don’t have qualities that I dislike, or areas I could improve upon, but I don’t feel so strongly negative about them that I would call it hate. I do wish I wasn’t so conflict-avoidant. Conflict can be healthy, and can happen when standing up for oneself and others. It just makes me so anxious. Usually the anxiety is worse than the conflict itself.

What do you love most about yourself?

My work ethic and internal sense of motivation. I’m never bored! I also try to be fair-minded and non-judgmental towards others; it’s a mindset I really believe in.

What is your absolute favorite meal?

When my partner and I were first dating in 2009, we were hungry in the middle of the night, but I didn’t have much food in my apartment, so I sliced up a raw tomato and we ate it with salt and pepper in bed. I don’t think I’ve ever had a better tomato.