Willy Nicholls was born and raised in the surf rich region of Mt Maunganui in NZ, moved to the Gold Coast when he was 21 and has worked for Mt Woodgee as their surfboard artist ever since – a 27-year career-span during which he has sprayed more than 13,000 unique designs. He’s forged an impressive career in an unlikely niche but outside of work he accepts commissions from private clients, which include canvas art and street art, and has just launched a tee shirt range featuring original surfboard art of his rock icon series.
Willie first used an airbrush at age 17, inspired by an early mentor Dave Warrener, who Willie reckons was as good as Martyn Worthington, considered by many as the father of Australian surf art. “For most of my life I’ve tried to be as good as Dave, he not only inspired me to make a career of art, he encouraged me to be a student of the craft, and strive to be versatile across all media – airbrush, paint brush, pencil and stencil”. All time favourite artists include Salvador Dali, da Vinci, Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat.
“Versatility isn’t hard to achieve after working on 13,000 surfboards; “I get so many different design requests it forces you to be versatile as an artist. It also teaches you discipline, self-confidence and careful planning. I’ve learnt a lot of life lessons simply spraying surfboards”.
“Doing art on the shaped foam blank before it is glassed is really tricky. It teaches you to do things properly the first time and really think about what you’re doing. You can’t draw pencil guidelines; you have to go straight on the foam with your airbrush. And you can’t get nervous – if you stuff up you can’t paint over it, sand it away, or use some solvent to wipe it off. Make a mistake that’s $700-800 down the drain. But painting on foam is awesome because you get the most beautiful subtle tones from it. It’s not easy but it’s very rewarding”
Reflecting on his Fin Art submission, Willie said he’d never done fins before and “so I thought I’d do a design I’m currently working on with Bede’s (Bede Durbidge) boards – that was the one fin. The other is a tribute to Surrealist artist Dali’s 1931 masterpiece “The persistence of memory” which depicted melting clocks. I used a combination of Poscas and airbrush on both fins, and I really enjoyed it. Wouldn’t mind doing more of it actually.”
You can see more of Willie’s art at Mt Woodgee shops at Burleigh and Currumbin. Or here: