The Art of Gillian Nordlund: a Colorful Corner of the World 

Tacoma artist Gillian Nordlund, who also works at the Diner, poses in her studio with her most iconic work: Brenda. Photo Credit: Caitlin Yoder // The Trail

by Caitlin Yoder

  It was a typical rainy Tacoma evening when I arrived at Gillian’s house. I met her at the gate to her backyard and was greeted by her cat, Rick. After some introductions, she led me to her studio to show me her work. As the door creaked open, I was greeted by a wonderful sight: delightful art covering every part of the walls, ceilings, and workbenches. It was like being transported into her own little pocket of the world, full of color and whimsy.

  Gillian Nordlund is a local Tacoma-based artist who works right here at the on-campus Diner. She works with various mediums, creating all kinds of offbeat pieces. Her work is fun and vibrant, depicting a range of everyday objects. Currently, most of the items in her Etsy shop are art prints, but she does so much more – garlands, clothing, jewelry, and my personal favorites, hanging decorations, which she makes with glazed clay shapes strung together and tassels at the ends. Every single piece she creates is unique; however, her most iconic work by far is Brenda. Brenda is a pinkish-purple life-sized doll who has become a Tacoma staple, with people all over wanting to take pictures with her. I was lucky enough to get a photo with Brenda right in her home!

  As Nordlund walked me through her work, I was struck by her depictions of the nude feminine form, especially the vivid color and simple yet powerful bodily details. When I asked her what her inspiration was, specifically regarding womanhood and body positivity, her answer was straightforward: “Because I’m a female, that’s what I choose to draw.” She continued, “I think that’s why women are in my work, because I know what it’s like.” Being a woman is her experience, so she primarily uses female bodies in her work. In terms of nudity and body positivity, she emphasized the idea that “that’s just us stripped down. That’s what humans are. That’s what bodies are.” Her work represents all people stripped down to the natural, unpolished human form that we all have in common. “It’s just like, that’s what we all look like, you know?” she said. It’s a great reminder of our common humanity and the futility of judging one another based on or finding discomfort in our natural state.

  Gillian also said she wants her work to remind people to appreciate the more mundane aspects of life. Her goal is for her art to help people recognize the small joys of life, despite its struggles. “I just think it’s really hard to be alive but it’s like super awesome, too.” She also urges people to recognize that everybody is struggling, so we should be kind to everyone. “Life sucks. Everyone’s having a hard time with something probably and so like, let’s just all be cool,” she said. This philosophy translates into her creative process. Gillian’s process is as joyful and humanistic as her outlook on life; she prefers to allow her ideas to evolve through experimentation rather than careful planning.

  However, she is less flexible when it comes to working with physical materials like fabric, clay, and pom poms over digital modes of artistic expression. A lot of that preference is due to the tactile experience that comes with physical creation. “I think humans are in reality and we need to touch things and manipulate things,” she said. The process of creating something that exists in the real world is beneficial for all humans, despite the outcome. The limitations of tactile art, she argues, add a layer of consideration that allows people to grow as artists. “It’s just good for our brains to work through those processes and like, even if we end up not being good at something creative or whatever, it’s way better that we figured out how to try to do it, you know?” 

  For Gillian, digital art eliminates many of these boundaries, but it doesn’t allow people’s imagination to grow because there’s no trial and error, no learning from your mistakes. This concept connects back to her artistic process. She enjoys the act of experimenting along the way rather than trying to create the perfect plan, because it forces her to face those boundaries and learn ways to create wonderful things despite them. This further connects to her philosophy on life, serving as an optimistic outlook that we could all benefit from. There are many struggles that we must face in order to find the bright moments of life, so it’s important to recognize that those rough patches are for the better, and we can maybe even find ways to appreciate them, just as Gillian appreciates the limitations in her artistic process.

  Through her art, she hopes to inspire everybody to realize their inner artist. “That creativity is something we all like, totally have it and it comes out in whatever kind of way,” Gillian said. She wants people to feel able to take the time to be creative without fear of failure. “The output is not what’s important. It’s that they did it.” Her sentiments are a reminder that creativity is inherent, and art is accessible to anybody.

  Her closing remarks were more personal. She told me her daily routine, which is to go to work from 5 am to 1:30 pm, then when she gets home she tries to work in her studio for another three or four hours. The significance of this is that anyone from any background has the potential to be an artist, even if they are not dedicating their life to it, because artistic talent and creativity can come from all kinds of unexpected places. “There are people that do this for a living, but then there’s also just, you just never know who’s like lurking around the corner making weird shit,” she said. That’s why it’s so important to appreciate everyday life. There are so many hidden wonders in every corner of the world, waiting to be found. Each one, if you’re willing to see it, can let a little bit of light into your life. I was lucky enough to find Gillian’s studio, a vibrant and beautiful corner of the world, and I’m so happy that I get to share her light with more people.

  Nordlund’s Etsy shop is madebygeegee, where you can find lots of her “silly and sincere arts and craps,” as her bio cleverly puts it, and her Instagram is oh_mygeegee. Also, her next appearance will be Thursday, Feb. 9 from 12-6 pm at Pure Vintage (218 St. Helens Ave)!