Community//

Niki Woehler: “Do what you love”

One of the biggest contributing catalysts to everything “scary” I’ve jumped into is a video I stumbled across many years ago. I don’t know how I found it, or what made me watch it, but it created a paradigm shift in my mind. Boiled down, the message was, “we all have an expiration date, we […]

The Thrive Global Community welcomes voices from many spheres on our open platform. We publish pieces as written by outside contributors with a wide range of opinions, which don’t necessarily reflect our own. Community stories are not commissioned by our editorial team and must meet our guidelines prior to being published.

One of the biggest contributing catalysts to everything “scary” I’ve jumped into is a video I stumbled across many years ago. I don’t know how I found it, or what made me watch it, but it created a paradigm shift in my mind. Boiled down, the message was, “we all have an expiration date, we just don’t know what it is. If you knew yours was in three years, two days, and seven hours, would you still be doing what you’re doing? Would you still have that job, live in that city, travel the same rate you currently travel, eat the ice cream, spend the same amount of time with the people you love most, etc? If your answer is yes, then keep doing what you’re doing. If the answer is no, then why wait? Take the leap. We never know when our time is up, and wasting a single day doing what you don’t love is a travesty.”


As a part of our series about women who are shaking things up in their industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Niki Woehler.

Niki Woehler, an Arizona-based artist, who recently opened her first gallery and working art studio in the heart of Old Town Scottsdale. The gallery serves a place for Woehler to create while also displaying her two different types of works: organic, textural canvases and high gloss resins that often resemble stone scattered with minerals. Woehler straddles the line between the corporate and private art worlds. Her large-scale pieces are great visuals and very popular amongst collectors, corporations and interior designers.

Described as modern and abstract, Woehler’s art is filled with lines, layers and textures that invade smooth facades, imbuing surface beauty with depth, character, strength and wisdom. Her unique approach to creating her masterpieces has made her one of the one of the most collectable emerging artists in the West.

Woehler was the presenting artist for the opening of Iconic Haus, a luxury designer showhouse in Paradise Valley featuring beautiful rooms and outdoor spaces created by 19 top marquis design firms. She’s also represented by several galleries throughout the country, and was one of a few select artists invited to show as a “Resident Artist” at the Found:Re Hotel, an upscale boutique hotel dedicated to the visual arts downtown Phoenix.

One of her works, “Silent Partners,” took first place at the Arizona State Fair Fine Art competition and was handpicked from more than 1,100 submissions to be part of a group show titled “Face Off” at the Herberger Theater Gallery. The same piece is currently being turned into a one-of-a-kind rug by David Adler. She has been the featured artist during the Telluride Art Walk October three times in the last four year and successfully showed her art at Art Expo New York, selling out her entire collection of resin works within hours of opening.

To make an appointment to view her work, hire her for commission or learn more about her process, visit nikiwoehler.com.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

I definitely didn’t take the road most traveled to find my path as an artist. In fact, as a kid I didn’t love art and I would try to find ways to skip art class. In retrospect, this was most likely because they wanted me to paint fruit in bowls and I’ve never been one to color inside the lines.

When I was in my mid 20’s a friend and coworker died in a car accident, needlessly…he fell asleep at the wheel. On my way home from his funeral, I looked up to the perfectly blue sky from my little convertible and told Michael (my friend) that he should have been here with us on this beautiful day. Then I heard a little voice whisper in my ear to pull in. I looked over and there was a Michael’s store. Still not sure why, but I pulled in, parked my car, and purchased 3 canvases, a bunch of brushes and several tubes of paint. I went home and painted my first painting.

As luck would have it, my neighbor was an art professor at ASU, so I knocked on her door and asked her to come and give me some advice. When she saw the painting she asked, “This is your first painting?” I said, “yes.” She turned on her heels and started to walk out the door. Perplexed, I asked, “Is it that bad!” She said “No, that’s good. Just keep painting.” And she left.

I painted two more paintings, and shortly thereafter, gave birth to my first child. Then two more children came rapid fire after that. Between three kids three and under, and a full-time job in marketing, I simply ran out of time and I didn’t paint again for almost 10 years. But as the kids became more self-sufficient, I would paint to relax on my down time. It was my escape.

Flash forward a few more years and one day a client caught me playing hooky from work so I could paint (by then I owned my own boutique marketing agency). She asked what I was doing, and I told her, sheepishly. She then asked to see some of my work. Reluctantly, I sent her some photos. Next thing I knew, she sent me back a photo of a blank wall and asked me to paint her something for it. I did. She loved it and commissioned two more. At the end of it, she told me I was an idiot if I didn’t quit marketing and paint for a living. I forced myself to be brave for 20 seconds, and posted one of my paintings on Facebook, just to see what my friends would say. It sold in under an hour. Shocked, but encouraged, I did it again with another painting. That one sold as well, in the same timeframe. So I looked up to the sky again and said, “ok, I’m listening. If it happens again, I’ll quit marketing and be an artist.” It happened again. I closed shop within 30 days. That was seven years ago now. I’ve never looked back. And I’ve never been happier or more fulfilled in my life.

Can you tell our readers what it is about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?

I wouldn’t say my art is disruptive, but what IS disruptive is bucking conventional wisdom, leaving the safety of what you know and jumping off of an enormous cliff to do what you love, at the risk of everything. I walked away from almost 30 years in my field of expertise, a single mother of three, to be an artist. Let’s face it, no one goes into art because they think they’ll get rich (they didn’t coin the phrase “starving artist” for no reason). People probably thought I was crazy! And maybe I was, thinking about it now.

However, in my early 20’s I was hit by a city bus as I was walking across the street. The bus launched me 40 feet through the air, and I somehow landed on one foot, still holding my mug of raspberry tea (thank you for all of those years of gymnastics when I was a kid). Granted, I couldn’t put my right foot down again for 8 months, but I remember so clearly thinking, “I should be dead”. It changed me forever.

I no longer say no to dessert, no longer sweat the small stuff, and most importantly, I lost my fear. It really drove home quickly that life is short. We should do what we love, because we never know when our time is up. Don’t waste your time on this planet. So now, I share my story whenever I’m able to, so that it might give someone else the courage to follow their dreams.

I read somewhere that people used to say that it was impossible to break the four-minute mile, until the first person did it. Then thousands of people broke it shortly thereafter. Things are only “impossible” until someone proves that wrong. Then the doors are flung wide open for everyone else who believes they can. I’m here to tell you, do what you love, do it with passion and heart, and you’ll be amazed at what you can achieve. The universe will conspire on your behalf in ways you cannot fathom!

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Oh, I have a few of those, but I think I’ll share the one about when I set a canvas on fire and hurled it into the pool. It was about a year into my art career. I had landed representation in a really great gallery that had two locations, Slate Gray in Telluride and Kerrville, TX. I was working with the gallery director selecting from my works for the Texas gallery, and she requested a specific painting. Unfortunately, that painting had sold already. When I told her it was gone, she asked me to paint something similar to it, but instead of it being my rendition of the mountains in Lake Louise, make it a mountain scene from Texas.

Typically, I paint abstracts, but I had been to Lake Louise twice in my life, and each time was struck so deeply by the incredible beauty. I had to paint it. It came from the heart, which is why the painting was so beautiful. Because I was so new, I didn’t have the courage to say no to the request of a Texas rendition. I was more concerned with pleasing them more than I was about staying true to myself. I set to work on that painting. I fought with it for weeks. In my heart I knew it wasn’t great, but she seemed to love it and against my better judgement, I delivered it, along with several other paintings.

A year later, when the painting didn’t sell (surprise surprise), I took it back. I was so annoyed with myself that I turned it around so I couldn’t see it and forgot about it. Later, when in need of a canvas, I decided to paint over it. For weeks I wrestled with that canvas again! Absolutely nothing I did to it worked. In fact, I started to think maybe the canvas was cursed. I told myself that I would try one last time, and if I still didn’t love it, I was going to roast marshmallows over it with my kids that night. I started painting again…and this time, I was LOVING what I saw and in an effort not to overwork the piece, I left the canvas to dry, and went to work on another that I was doing simultaneously.

Hours later I returned to the table, super excited to see how it had dried, and was horrified. It was awful. I got so angry that I grabbed the cans of spray paint I used to touch up the paint on my outdoor potted plants and wrote “F**k Art” across the canvas. I then set it on fire, and tossed it in my swimming pool. A few minutes later it dawned on me that it was sinking, and being late fall, the last thing I wanted was to have to jump in to fish it out.

When I pulled the canvas out of the water I couldn’t believe my eyes. It was so damn cool. For fun, I posted the painting on Facebook and it sold in minutes. In fact, there was a lineup for it. I ended up naming it “The Teacher”, because it taught me incredibly valuable lessons: have courage to stay true to yourself, and always work from passion. When you do, it will resonate. Its where palpable connection comes from.

We all need a little help along the journey. Who have been some of your mentors? Can you share a story about how they made an impact?

I wouldn’t say I’ve had “mentors” in the traditional sense of the word. However, I’ve had people and experiences that have made enormous impacts on my life and way of thinking. One of the things I’ve learned is that the universe will give you what you need, when you need it, you just have to ask, and then be open to the source.

One of the biggest contributing catalysts to everything “scary” I’ve jumped into is a video I stumbled across many years ago. I don’t know how I found it, or what made me watch it, but it created a paradigm shift in my mind. Boiled down, the message was, “we all have an expiration date, we just don’t know what it is. If you knew yours was in three years, two days, and seven hours, would you still be doing what you’re doing? Would you still have that job, live in that city, travel the same rate you currently travel, eat the ice cream, spend the same amount of time with the people you love most, etc? If your answer is yes, then keep doing what you’re doing. If the answer is no, then why wait? Take the leap. We never know when our time is up, and wasting a single day doing what you don’t love is a travesty.”

Curiously, this video showed up during the same time that I was feeling “stuck” in my marketing career. Even though I had taken the leap and built an agency I was proud of, with great clients, it had lost its luster. I no longer felt that same passion for what I was doing and wanted something more. There are no coincidences. The universe gives you signs every single day. The question is, are you listening?

In today’s parlance, being disruptive is usually a positive adjective. But is disrupting always good? When do we say the converse, that a system or structure has ‘withstood the test of time’? Can you articulate to our readers when disrupting an industry is positive, and when disrupting an industry is ‘not so positive’? Can you share some examples of what you mean?

For me, it’s all about INTENT. Are you disrupting with the intent for good? Then it’s a good thing. But if you’re disrupting for the sake of disruption, or to cause a negative effect, then it’s not good. I want to leave this world a little more beautiful than it was before I lived. Whether via my art, or through inspiring just one person to live their own dreams because I had the courage to live mine. Can you imagine how amazing this world would be if we all followed our dreams??

Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.

Often when I post images of my work on social media I attach inspiring quotes from famous artists or poets to them. I remember so clearly reading the quote “Don’t think about making art, just get it done. Let everyone else decide if it’s good or bad, whether they love it or hate it. While they are deciding, make even more art.” — Andy Warhol.

This one was HUGE for me. I painted this painting a few years ago that was so atypical for me, but I had to paint it. It was screaming to get out. The problem was, I didn’t know what to do with it. It was colorful, and had so many elements that I’d never incorporated before. I was afraid to show it to the galleries that represented me because it didn’t look like a “Woehler”.

In fact, I almost painted over it, worried that no one would like it. For whatever reason, I snapped a pic of it and posted it on instagram, calling it “squirrel” because it made me think of the dog from the movie UP. Not that it looked like a dog, but rather, how it would go on a tangent and then suddenly get sidetracked by a squirrel. Anyway, the next day I received an email with “squirrel” in the subject line. A woman had seen the photo, and she was hoping I still had the painting. I took it to her house and was completely blown away. Never was there a more perfect painting for her space. In fact, even if she had commissioned me to paint for her, I wouldn’t have come up with it.

I renamed the work “Connecting the Dots” because I realized how right Warhol’s words were. Just paint from your heart with abandon and the universe will connect the dots for you.

Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each:

In the very beginning of my art career I gave myself a gift and hired an artist consultant to help me navigate my start. We don’t know what we don’t know and I flat out refused to be a “starving artist”. She helped me build an art appropriate website, guided me on things like artist bios and statements, and most importantly, she told me to value my work. if I didn’t, no one else would either. And she was right.

I know this probably sounds strange, but one of the most impactful pieces of advice I ever got was courtesy of Denzel Washington- “fall forward”. What he meant by that was don’t be afraid to fail. Keep trying new things, keep perfecting your craft, just keep going, even when you do fail. Because everyone who’s ever accomplished anything great in their life failed several times first. But they kept advancing. When they fell, they fell forward. Did you know that Thomas Edison had 999 failed inventions? But each of those didn’t matter, because his 1000th invention was the lightbulb. No one talks about the 999 that didn’t work.

We are sure you aren’t done. How are you going to shake things up next?

I’ve got so many incredibly exciting things in the works, like a series of silk scarves of my art being made in Italy, limited edition prints, but the one that has my heart beating a million miles an hour is taking flight after years of dreaming it into being. I’m working with a team of engineers and Hollywood riggers to create a custom motorized flying system in my studio that will allow me to hover over huge canvases to paint fluidly and freely!

Yep, think “Mission Impossible” kind of hovering! I paint with my canvases lying flat, and for so long I’ve been limited by my ability to reach the middle of the really giant ones, so I’ve been restricted. Those days are almost over! I’ll be able to paint enormous paintings with complete abandon. I’m not sure I’ve ever been more excited about anything in my entire life!!!

In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by ‘women disruptors’ that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?

When I first began my career in art, I was told that women artists have a much harder time getting their work into galleries and art museums. In fact, I know of a few women who paint under a man’s name, just to avoid that. I don’t know if I have personally experienced that, but it’s entirely possible. What I can tell you I’ve experienced is the juggling act of being a full time artist, single mom of three, friend, significant other, and all of the other roles women play at one time, while trying to build a business that requires creativity. Some days it’s a challenge to quiet the noise and manage all of the “duties” long enough to let inspiration flow.

Do you have a book/podcast/talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us?

I’m not sure where I’d be today without Eckhart Tolle or Abraham Hicks. I’ve listened to their videos/talks almost daily for the last year, and my entire life has changed as a result. It was a paradigm shift in the way I think that’s led to everything I’ve ever dreamed about coming into being. The truth is, I’ve learned that thoughts really do become reality. Choose what you think about, and how you speak to yourself wisely. The universe is always listening and will find a way to give you what you focus on, whether it’s good or bad. And happiness is a choice.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

If I could inspire a movement it would be “Do what you love”. That means walking away from the things that no longer bring you joy, and doing what does. We all have our gifts and talents, but so few of us are living them. When we’re young, we’re so idealistic and full of promise. And then life happens, and we let our dreams fade away. I can’t tell you how many people have told me they still haven’t figured out what they want to do, but they don’t like what they’re doing. My response to them is always the same, “lay down on your bed and quiet your mind for a moment. Then imagine you just won the lottery, and you don’t ever have to worry about money again. After the killer vacations, and the new house, etc, what would you CHOOSE to do every day that brings you joy? What would you do if money didn’t matter? Would you be a painter? A singer? A guitarist? An attorney for children’s rights? Would you teach people how to trek through the mountains? What would you do with your days? Because THAT is what you’re meant to be doing”. I often imagine what the world would be like if we were all living our lives doing what we loved…I think it would be amazing. People would be happy, fulfilled, and full of life.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life”. Don’t get me wrong, the almost 30 years I spent in the ad/marketing world were really satisfying in many ways, and for many years I really loved what I did. I think I was pretty good at it and accomplished some great things along the way. But it doesn’t begin to compare to my days as an artist. Even my best day in the office doesn’t hold a candle to my hardest day in the studio. I’ve never felt so much satisfaction or so fulfilled when I complete a painting I love, or better yet, see the joy it brings to its new owner. Going to the studio never feels like work. It feels like play. And who doesn’t want to spend their days playing?

How can our readers follow you online?

They can go to my website nikiwoehler.com or follow me on Instagram, NikiWoehlerArtist. My instagram page is definitely the most up to date (I need to get better about adding new works to my site), and is far more personal. I love showing peeks into my process, my life and my thoughts on IG. It just feels like I’m talking to a friend there when I’m posting.

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

Share your comments below. Please read our commenting guidelines before posting. If you have a concern about a comment, report it here.

You might also like...

Community//

Niki Dawson: “Do what you love, and love what you do”

by Edward Sylvan
Niki Tonik
Community//

Talking About Creating Your Own Healing Reality with Singer-Songwriter Niki Tonik

by Randy Radic
Community//

“Think of a Business as a Puzzle and If One Piece Doesn’t Fit, Try Another” The 5 Lessons I Learned Being a 20-Something Founder

by Jean Ginzburg

Sign up for the Thrive Global newsletter

Will be used in accordance with our privacy policy.

Thrive Global
People look for retreats for themselves, in the country, by the coast, or in the hills . . . There is nowhere that a person can find a more peaceful and trouble-free retreat than in his own mind. . . . So constantly give yourself this retreat, and renew yourself.

- MARCUS AURELIUS

We use cookies on our site to give you the best experience possible. By continuing to browse the site, you agree to this use. For more information on how we use cookies, see our Privacy Policy.