Steve Nowicki and art lived in two separate universes for the majority of his life. The house painter didn’t find his way into the world of creativity until about five years ago. Now, his Oak Harbor shop gleams with metal art: welcome signs decorated with landscapes or sea life, an intricate table and even a life-sized metal tree complete with nesting bird.
Talk metal art with Nowicki and visit his studio during the 16th annual Whidbey Island Open Studio Tour from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 6 and Sunday, Oct. 7.
The free two-day tour brings art lovers from all over to Whidbey, when 55 painters, sculptors, photographers, potters, glass blowers, woodworkers, jewelers, weavers and textile artists open their studios to the public at 45 different locations island-wide.
The Whidbey Island Open Studio Tour is a cooperative effort by artists and the Island Arts Council. A brochure can be accessed at islandartscouncil.org. Bright yellow tour signs will also guide visitors, and the brochures include a QR code to help find studios.
A bonus of the tour is the chance to explore the island’s rural back roads, finding unusual living spaces and resourceful artists blending their artistic lives with pastoral surroundings.
Observing the process of creation also enriches the Open Studio Tour experience. Most studios offer “artist in action” demonstrations, including Nowicki.
Nowicki’s passion for metal art began with an old car. After purchasing the car, Nowicki decided to repaint it, which required fixing rust and holes.
“I bought a welder and burnt more holes than I fixed,” Nowicki laughed.
He took a couple of welding classes at Skagit Valley College, “and the rest is history,” Nowicki said.
“Everything that anybody does kind of evolves. I was goofing off in welding class and made this fish,” Nowicki said, pointing out the metal art above the door to his shop. “People start out with a little pea patch garden and it becomes acres of farm. People just can’t stop because their hobby keeps on going.”
Nowicki had been a house painter for 38 years and owned the business North Sound Painters, which he sold in 2009 to pursue his art fulltime. He now owns Shock ‘n Awe, a metal art business named by his daughter.
“She was either shocked or in awe of everything I did,” Nowicki said. The Christmas gift she gave him in 2008, an application to the Coupeville Arts Festival, showed him that people are very interested in purchasing his art.
Nowicki does commissions and sells work at festivals.
“I tell them if you can draw it, I can make it,” Nowicki said.
The secret to Nowicki’s success is the evolution of his art.
“You don’t everyday do something and keep doing the same thing,” Nowicki’s wife and the other half of his business, Mary Ann Nowicki, explained. Nowicki is always looking for the next step, from starting by making salmon and moving to crabs, then following the line of evolution to mountains.
Nowicki said he’s looking forward to the Studio Tour.
“I like showing them how I do it. There’s no secrets involved; you just sit down and play with the steel,” Nowicki said.
Visitors will also enjoy the shop, Mary Ann Nowicki said. From welders to grinders to benders — “you name it, we got it all,” she laughed.
The most important thing the Nowickis hope Studio Tour participants take away from the experience is to just get involved with their creative passion. Steve Nowicki said it amazes him how many people see his art and say they wish they could do that, and he said they absolutely can do it.
“People when they have an interest in painting or carving or in landscaping, just do it,” Steve Nowicki said.
“That’s the thing: just do it! You might not be a great craftsman but at least you did it,” Mary Ann Nowicki added.
“Whatever studio you go to, just try it. Get out there and do it. Some of your best creations are from your biggest mistakes,” Steve Nowicki said.
Reporter Betty Freeman contributed to this article.