October 20th, 2011
Nancy Hadley is an experienced artist, designer and Art Director of many TV shows we watch on a regular basis. She is also somebody with a variety of experiences and talents which have given her the opportunity to work for familiar companies and television shows. Nancy has also become a good friend of mine over the years. I have always been fascinated with the path she has chosen in her career. Like most of us, we began our paths with the desire to use our artistic abilities and to find a career that we can be creative in. Nancy is one of us. She is the epitome of that creativity right down to her soul. She is a great person with an unlimited amount of energy. I have had the honor of working for her team on a handful of television shows, including Kitchen Nightmares with Gordon Ramsey, Extreme Makeover Home Edition and, more recently, Bar Rescue on Spike TV. I sat down with Nancy to discuss her journey as an artist and how her passion for her work influences every aspect of her life. I would implore you as readers and artists to find her Facebook page and “like” it. Drop her a note and say “hi” because she just might need an artist in your area and you certainly want to be on her radar!
Who taught you?
I studied studio art at the University of California, Santa Barbara and followed my studies with practical training through the California Academy of Sciences designing, building and installing natural history exhibits for 6 years. I was always determined to find work as an artist after a friend of my father teased him about my college major not being very good for finding a job. Through the years I met some incredible artists who mentored me. Two in particular built the foundation of my talents. Genevieve Wilson, a very talented medical illustrator, taught me how to be attentive to detail through scientific illustration and Alison Pearson, an incredible artist of 2D and 3D anything, taught me the importance of working big to small when faced with a huge project.
My family has always inspired me. Growing up the youngest of six children was pure chaos loaded with love. From the moment I could hold a crayon I was drawing everywhere. My parents and siblings encouraged my gift all the way. Currently my husband and children carry that torch and make it possible for me to expand my artistic horizons.
How did you get into this business?
I started working professionally in art when I realized I was not limited to graphic designer, gallery artist or teacher. Being creative gave me the tools to find work in very unique fields. I had not heard of museum exhibit building but in hindsight it was a perfect match for me out of college. I could utilize my design, painting, and sculpting skills in one place and feed my desire to work with nature. When I moved to Southern California I started my own business in design, sculpting, and mural painting. I was commissioned to sculpt master toy models for Mattel in the Barbie, Disney and Nickelodeon lines with breakneck turn around times. This gave me the speed I would need for television set design and fabrication.
Ty Pennington gave me my first big break in television. I was watching the first season, second episode to air on Extreme Makeover Home Edition and saw some of the challenges the design team was facing with doing children’s rooms. I thought, “I could really help them”. I sent an email stating my background and interest in helping not at all expecting to hear a response. Ty sent my information on to producers of the show and I was contacted. I donated my time painting murals, designing furniture and dressing rooms for three shows and was hired on as Lead Muralist/Scenic Artist and later was promoted to Art Director. One episode the Executive Producer said he couldn’t afford me so Ty paid me out of his own pocket to work on a room for a little girl with Hypoplastic left heart syndrome. I loved working with Ty on his rooms because his vision was clear and he trusted me to follow it. I worked on 80 houses and on just about every one of them I spent a good amount of my time working for Ty. To this day I consider him a very good friend and incredible boss.
What is your “signature” project?
My signature project has got to be the Eric Carle inspired Very Hungry Caterpillar room I collaborated on with Paul Dimeo of EMHE. Children’s rooms are my favorite things to design and Eric Carle is one of my favorite children’s book authors/illustrators, so to do a room in his honor with his blessing was amazing. Paul was a favorite of mine on the show because he shared my work ethic – stay until it was done.
What is your favorite project?
My favorite project was another collaborative effort with Paul Dimeo and Preston Sharp for EMHE in the Garay home season 2 of EMHE. It was the dinosaur room for three little boys.
How do you find artists from all over the country to work on these projects?
I have had the great fortune to meet some of the most talented decorative artists and painters in the United States. While working in reality television I often hire local talent as I travel. Time and time again I have relied on their incredible speed and skills so crucial to meeting the demands of a typical fast paced television design project. Sass Lassley, Christine Russell of Never Ending Room and Pat Ganino of Creative Evolution are among the most talented and professional artists I have met on the road. When I have any decorative finish or mural needs that I cannot complete on my own I call one of them. Whether it is their participation or the referral they provide I am able to complete the job properly and on time. -Some of my fondest memories on the road are from working on large rooms with multiple artists to paint intricate murals. The energy and camaraderie in these rooms was always incredible. We would usually work through the night, amidst the absolute chaos of a home being built at lightening speed, with dozens of volunteers and camera crews milling through the entire time. Ty Pennington loved to design elaborate murals for his secret rooms and it was my job to make his dream a reality. Often it would take 10 to 12 people 15 to 20 hours to hand paint his creation but in the end I would always find myself proud, exhausted, and 10 to 12 friends richer. Through the process we would all share our personal and professional stories. We chatted, sang, ate junk food and cried while pouring our hearts and souls into the walls through our paint brushes.
What are the types of projects you do?
Television show production design can be very exciting but also very taxing. I design but then I help build. Part of the beauty of a speedy makeover is the transformation process and knowing everyone is needed to make our tight deadlines. I probably get so involved because I am addicted to the amazing energy that comes from many people working toward one purpose.
How have your projects changed in the last 5 years?
Projects have become much much larger and faster. While this is exciting, it is also quite draining and at times I struggle to slow down when I come home for breaks. Working on the road is constant problem-solving and sourcing under pressure. I am learning to dial back the intensity with my family life and just enjoy watching my kids grow up.
My website has given me a regular voice. It has also helped me define what I took from all the time away. It allows me to document for my children and husband – the people who let me go on the road.
Anything else you think is important or interesting that you can share about your business or the industry?
Creativity has driven me my whole life. I apply my creative thinking to every problem and most of the time it helps me find a unique solution to challenges. At home I prefer to hand-make items that most moms would buy at a department store. On the road I strive to use a lot of found and recycled objects in my design.
How has teaching impacted you as an artist and what do you get out of it?
On the set for EMHE I worked with hundreds of volunteers with wildly varied skill sets. Teaching a group to execute a task at impossible speed was awesome. I always tell people when I traveled to 48 of the united states I may not have seen the sights but I met, worked with and cried with the people in each and every one of them so my experience is very unique. At my children’s schools I volunteer to teach Meet the Masters, a workshop that introduces grammar school children to fine art through the ages with lectures and art exercises. I love to see the wonderful interpretations from the children. The raw enthusiastic styles inspire me to stay connected to that energy.