Welzie_Portrait

Picture 7 of 8

Nick Wells is the man behind the art.

North Shore artist Nick Wells spreads the stoke with surf-inspired works.

As a young boy in santa cruz, nick wells retreated into the blank pages of his sketchbook, experimenting with lines, shapes and colors and finding solace in the images he brought to life. “Make your darks darker and your lights lighter,” his graphic artist father would always say. As a teenager, he took paint pens to surfboards, copying styles he saw in surf magazines and artists he admired—Jackson Pollock, Andy Warhol, Keith Haring, Shepard Fairey, Georgia O’Keefe.

In 2000, Wells spent six weeks on O‘ahu riding as many waves as he could catch and using island life as his muse. He moved across the ocean a few years later, eventually bunking with a professional surfer who fed him boards to draw on, and began to develop his unique pen-work style. He left the Bachelor of Fine Arts program at University of Hawai‘i at Manoa shy of two classes when the opportunity to spend summers as a surf guide in the Maldives arose. In 2008, Wells and surfboard shaper Carl Olsen started Two Crows Surfboards, a collaboration mashing surfboards and freestyle art. At Olsen’s suggestion, he began signing his pieces “Welzie.”

After a yearlong surf guide stint in Australia, Papua New Guinea, Micronesia and the Maldives, Welzie returned to O‘ahu, hungry to get back to surfboard art. He bought a van for $600 to serve as both transportation and temporary housing. With little else to distract him, his side hustle morphed into a full-blown career in 2010: “I didn’t have much overhead, so I was able to put everything into making art and surfboards,” he says. “I was just so stoked to have the freedom to start working just for myself and no one else … and I never looked back.”

Today, Welzie is most recognized for his one-of-a-kind original resin creations that are fabricated just like surfboards in the Two Crows workshop, but using wood instead of foam. Each piece is covered with fiberglass and laminated with white resin to create a textured canvas, then painted with a mixture of pigments and resin, sealed with another layer of resin and finished off with a final drawing. Visually composed of an abstract, freestyle background overlaid with graphic popart images, his art embodies a yin-yang style he describes as “half intentional, half celestial.” He does the final illustrations in his home studio a stone’s throw from Banzai Pipeline, drawing inspiration from the banter among his surf buddies and other snapshots of surfer lifestyle. “The ocean is like 10 cups of coffee and a power bar and an energy drink,” he says. “I can be in the water getting barreled and minutes later, be creating in my studio. It helps me get tapped in and feel alive.”

Over a decade and a half as a professional artist, Welzie has uncovered a key truth: Art is a reflection of the self and a process of constant evolution. “I feel like I’ve lived multiple lives,” he says. “When I look back on what I’ve made, the tools and passion might be the same, but it’s like another person made it. What’s important to me is always changing.” Lately, he’s been learning more about 3-D and sculpture mediums, and working on translating his ideas into to large-scale murals. He’s the artist behind the shark mural at Banzai Skatepark, which he spontaneously painted in part to cover up graffiti. During surf trips, he delivers art kits to kids with limited resources in places like Baja and Sayulita, Mexico. Welzie’s bucket list career goals include a Museum of Modern Art show, opening signature galleries in Hawai‘i and California and reaching more kids with art education. “There have been a lot of people who influenced me in one way or another, so being able to pass along that inspiration is the greatest gift," he says. “It would also be pretty cool to have my kids read a textbook about influential artists and have Welzie on a page or two.”

Currently, Welzie is working on new designs for the Hale‘iwa Arts Festival, his biggest show of the year, and for upcoming shows in Palm Springs, Europe and Japan. His biggest intention for the year ahead? A firm commitment to tap his creative mind. “I just started making sure I spend a half an hour in my sketchbook every day. Just sitting down and doodling with no objective really helps,” he says. “I made so much art not feeling very confident … If I could go back and do it differently, I would tell the younger me of 15 years ago to bite the bullet, get a studio and get to work. Now that I’m getting to a place of feeling like I can call myself an artist, I see the power of what can happen when you put yourself out there.”