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Nicholas Heilig puts brush to canvas at stage-side 

click to enlarge COURTESY NICHOLAS HEILIG
  • Courtesy Nicholas Heilig
Nicholas Heilig is an unconventional accompanist. He doesn’t use his voice or a guitar or drum. Rather, he employs a brush.

“I tour around the country painting live with bands,” he says. He’s been on the road May through September for the last six summers running, painting alongside acts like Gang of Thieves, Secret Machines and G-Nome Project, as well as his fellow Vermont natives in jam band Twiddle.

“I have an uncle who is a watercolor painter, and he lived on a sailboat,” he explains. “That lifestyle kind of appealed to me.”

Heilig holds a BA in studio art from the University of Vermont. For live painting, he works with ink and water on archival foam board. As for subject matter, that varies.

“In the first year, I was kind of doing this anti-war message, which was a bunch of very simple cartoon characters from my childhood dropping bombs and being oblivious,” he says. While he still goes to a gig with a plan more often than not, he’s a little more flexible with content and reflective of the gig as context. At past Twiddle gigs, for instance, he’s painted sea turtles that carry the world upon their shell, an image he associates with the band’s imagery in general.

But while he’ll take inspiration from his collaborators, he has final artistic authority. These pieces aren’t commissions, though he’s done those in other circumstances.

“It goes a long way when you are doing something you are really, genuinely interested in,” he says. Generally, he likes to complete the piece by the end of the gig. At first, that meant he had 45 minutes to whip something up in black and white alongside an opening act. Since, he’s taken full-weekend festival gigs and spent 20 to 30 hours on full-color works.

While Heilig used to live in Colorado, citing our dry climate as ideal for his medium, he’s spent the last few years on the East Coast for personal reasons. He intends to move back to the Denver area in May. To see his art and performances, check out his site at patreon.com/heiligart.

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