“It is truly wonderful to see your child find her passion,” shares Kim Urban, mother of 17-year-old Nicole, known as Niki. The passion this proud mother refers to is her daughter’s new portrait business, bold black and white paintings of top recording artists rendered out of their own music lyrics —“it has flourished and so has she.” Through her art, Niki has created a booming business that has allowed her to put aside money for her future and help impact the lives of so many others by donating a considerable portion of her proceeds to Lurie Children’s Hospital.
How did you develop an interest in art?
At New Trier, there is an art requirement. I decided to satisfy it my freshman year and fell in love with art. The idea of doing portrait art didn’t come until my junior year. I built a great foundation of skills freshman and sophomore year, but junior year we started applying them. Tell us about your process and how the business was born. I think the process came to me through listening to music. Once my family and friends started to notice my artwork, I would get requests for different artists. It all started with Bruce Springsteen, my first big piece. My mom’s friend offered to pay me for a portrait—I thought the idea was a bit crazy, but I happily obliged. After selling my first piece, I knew I could turn this passion into a business. Now, I take requests of artists and the customer’s top 10 favorite songs.
What inspires your art?
I am inspired by the way that different shapes and words come together. As I am sketching out the piece, it usually looks like random forms and shapes scattered, but the end result looks like a painted portrait from far away, which I love.
How long does it take to create each piece?
I love detailed pieces, so the longer a piece takes, the more I love it. I find a picture, or get one from the customer, and split it up into black and white tones. I sketch the outline on paper and designate which areas the lyrics will fill and start writing. Depending on the detail of the piece, it can take anywhere from a day to a week for me to finish.
Tell us about a favorite portrait you’ve created.
My most moving piece of work was for a friend of my sister’s whose mother had passed away from cancer. I was asked to do a portrait of her mother using the daughter’s eulogy and the ‘Footprints’ prayer as the lyrics. This piece meant a lot to me and my family, knowing the family and the impact that I hope it made on all.
How did you come to team up with Lurie?
My mom has been a big influence because she has been very involved with Lurie. She has served on the Founders Board I believe since 1997. I think giving back to my community and to Lurie Children’s is so important, and the fact that I can give back through something I love to do is a win-win!
To purchase one of Niki’s original works, visit instagram.com/nicoleurbanart.