Painter of Kings

Billboards for Sacramento Kings put Chico artist Jeff Nichol on the map

Jeff Nichol on site at Arco Arena working on his billboard painting of the Sacramento Kings’ Jason Thompson

Jeff Nichol on site at Arco Arena working on his billboard painting of the Sacramento Kings’ Jason Thompson

Photo courtesy of Jeff Nichol

Local graphic/pop artist Jeff Nichol is not one to shy away from an opportunity. So when the Sacramento Kings called him last year to paint a 12-by-25-foot billboard, he didn’t let the fact he’d never painted anything larger than a standard canvas get in his way.

“I thought they’d just print it out on vinyl, but when they called they said, ‘This is great, we love it, can you be here Friday to paint it?’” said Nichols. The assignment was the result of a contest he entered while studying at the Art Institute of Sacramento.

“I told them, ‘Sure, no problem.’ But I didn’t have any idea what I was doing. I spent the next few days calling people to ask what kind of paint I should use and what I should keep in mind.

“I was in the breezeway at Arco Arena with all these great artists doing these amazing paintings, thinking, ‘Please, don’t let mine suck.’”

Apparently, it didn’t suck. The painting—of Kings forward/center Jason Thompson—was displayed on billboards around Sacramento and is still displayed at the Sacramento Airport. It also led to further work.

“I’ve done a few more in the last year,” Nichol said. “When they get a new rookie that’s going to be there awhile or lose a player and take their painting down, I’ll sometimes get a call from the Kings’ marketing director to come do another one. I’m in four out of nine toll plazas at Arco Arena and my goal is to have a monopoly on all of them.”

It seems Nichol’s work with the Kings was just the beginning of a winning streak for the burgeoning artist and ex-Army Ranger.

“I was posting about my last three pieces for the Kings on Facebook and got a message from David Garibaldi, who’s a really great, successful, world-famous artist based in Sacramento, telling me he liked my work and would like to have lunch,” Nichol said. “I thought for sure someone was pulling my leg, like my friends playing a joke on me, but it was really him.”

After lunch with Garibaldi, the senior artist commissioned Nichol to do a portrait that now hangs in Garibaldi’s studio. He also caught the eye of another capitol city luminary, interior designer and author Kerrie Kelly, who asked Nichol to do a painting for her home.

“It’s a huge honor for me that these incredible people like my work that much,” Nichol said.

And the snowball effect continues. When a Sacramento-based television-production company was looking for artists, Kelly, Garibaldi and another prominent artist all dropped his name. This led to Nichol’s filming an episode of Yard Crashers, a show on DIY and HGTV networks, less than a month ago.

A fresh painting of rookie DeMarcus Cousins.

Photo courtesy of Jeff Nichol

“I didn’t have time for it and was already behind in school, but I had to take it,” Nichol said. He took a week off school to design the art, gather materials and go to the filming, which tasked him to complete two murals covering a total of 244 square feet in less than 48 hours.

“I worked for 28 hours and tried to go straight through,” he said of the marathon task. “After everyone else had gone home for the night I stayed, because I figured I know myself and I know how long this is going to take me. It got to the point that the paint wasn’t drying because of the moisture so I had to call it a night and get a few hours sleep.”

Nichol said he hopes the Yard Crashers gig will lead to more television work and his recent successes have him facing an odd crossroads in his life: “It’s kind of a race at the moment,” he said. “I’m a full-time student studying architectural design but I would much rather do art all the time.

“I’m 32 right now, so it’s kind of like, do I pursue art or keep it as a hobby and look for a regular 9-to-5-type career? But a lot of doors are opening up and I don’t want to not go through them.

Tyreke Evans at an Arco Arena toll plaza.

Photo courtesy of Jeff Nichol

“Sometimes you just have to go where it takes you. I’m not going to dog my studies; I believe you just have to push hard in everything you do.”

Nichol said he hopes a future opportunity will pop up closer to home, as he’s never had a local show or any artwork displayed in Chico, where he’s lived since 2000. He said he’d love to do a series of serigraphs, but is limited by time and the one-bedroom apartment that doubles as his art space.

Examples of Nichol’s murals and other artwork can be seen on his website ( and his episode of Yard Crashers is scheduled to air this November.