Fast breakthrough

Northern California artist Jeff Nichol’s mural project for the Sacramento Kings led him to a crossroads

This billboard of Jason Thompson was part of a larger, regionwide Sacramento Kings art project. Muralist Jeff Nichol got his big break making one of these Kings art pieces.

This billboard of Jason Thompson was part of a larger, regionwide Sacramento Kings art project. Muralist Jeff Nichol got his big break making one of these Kings art pieces.

photo courtesy of Jeff Nichol

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

Graphic 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.

“They said, ‘This is great, we love it, can you be here Friday to paint it?’” Nichol remembers. “I told them, ‘Sure, no problem.’

“But I didn’t have any idea what I was doing.”

The artist earned the Kings assignment as a result of a contest he’d entered while studying at the Art Institute of California—Sacramento. And after getting the call from the team, he spent the next few days calling people to ask basic questions, such as what kind of paint he should use and other tips for doing a large mural.

“I was in the breezeway at Arco Arena,” Nichol recalls of his first day on the job, “with all these great artists doing these amazing paintings, thinking, ‘Please, don’t let mine suck.’”

Apparently, it didn’t. The painting—of Kings big man Jason Thompson—was featured on billboards around Sacramento and is still displayed at the Sacramento International Airport.

What’s more, the gig with the Kings was his big break into doing more and more artwork, including a continuing collaboration with the team.

“I’ve done a few more in the last year,” Nichol explains. “When they get a new rookie that’s going to be there a while 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.”

A new painting of Sacramento Kings rookie DeMarcus Cousins.

photo courtesy of Jeff Nichol

Nichol’s paintings are currently featured at four of the nine Arco Arena toll plazas. “My goal is to have a monopoly on all of them,” the artist says.

And Nichol’s work with the Kings was just the beginning of a winning streak for the up-and-coming artist and ex-Army Ranger. For instance, when Nichol was posting about recent Kings work on Facebook, world-famous and Sacramento-based artist David Garibaldi sent him a message.

“He liked my work and [wanted] to have lunch,” Nichol says. “I thought for sure someone was pulling my leg, like my friends playing a joke on me, but it was really him.”

After meeting Garibaldi, who commissioned him to do a portrait that now hangs in Garibaldi’s studio, Nichol also caught the eye of another capital city interior designer and author Kerrie Kelly, who asked him to do a painting for her home.

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

The domino effect continued. When a Sacramento-based television-production company was looking for artists, Kelly, Garibaldi and another prominent talent all dropped Nichol’s name. This led to him appearing on an episode of Yard Crashers, a show on the DIY and HGTV networks, less than a month ago.

“I didn’t have time for it and was already behind in school,” Nichol says, “but I had to take it.” He took a week off classes 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. Even when the crew left the shoot, Nichol stayed. “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,” he remembers.

Points in the paint: Jeff Nichol works on his Sacramento Kings Jason Thompson mural at Arco Arena.

photo courtesy of Jeff Nichol

Nichol says he hopes the Yard Crashers gig will lead to more television work. Still, his recent successes have him facing an odd crossroads in his life: “It’s kind of a race at the moment,” the 32-year-old says. “I’m a full-time student studying architectural design, but I would much rather do art all the time.”

Nichol says he hopes future opportunities will pop up closer to home. He says he’d love to do serigraphs, but is limited by time and also by the one-bedroom apartment that doubles as his art space. Plus, there’s always the struggle of balancing work, school and life.

“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.”