I had such a lovely interview with artist and author Ms. Anne Neilson. I interviewed her on a fun and busy Monday. She was in the process of moving her studio, and tons of natural light was streaming in. You will find that her words and interview are quite light-filled. I walked away from our conversation with an overwhelming feeling of peace. I hope you walk away from our conversation with the same stillness and joy.
Thank you Ms. Neilson and Icon Media Group for making this interview possible!
Anne Neilson (“AN”): Everybody’s got a testimony. They have a story.
Modern Witnesses (“MW”): Absolutely.
AN: Regardless of what it might look like, we all have a story to tell.
[We started by discussing upcoming projects]
AN: In September, we have a book coming out called Entertaining Angels. Those are true life stories. The bulk are my stories, but then, every other entry is a guest writer. [They talk about] how their lives have been impacted, you know, a car accident where angels protected them— very inspiring stories.
MW: That is so exciting. That is September of this year?
AN: Yes! What I love about Entertaining Angels is I grew up watching the show Touched by an Angel.
MW: I love that show. The theme song!!
AN: So, Roma Downey wrote the forward to this book.
AN: It really is a neat alignment of our faith and the journey, and it’s going to be great.
MW: That is a full circle moment right there.
AN: It sure is! Did you get a copy of the new one [the journal]?
MW: Yes, it’s gorgeous. I love journaling.
AN: It’s like, Have you done the work? I started digging deep. It asks some pretty powerful and deep questions. Hopefully, you can go back over time and see how you change, how He shows up and how He equips. I am glad you got that.
MW: It’s really beautiful, and I love how dynamic it is. I like the role chart; it’s very neat. I am so excited to feature it.
AN: I love how God has this way of intercepting our lives. I talked about this— when we have open hands and an open heart and surrender to Him, we can really see what He can do in and through our lives. It really has been a neat moment to see all that line up.
“When we have open hands and an open heart and surrender to Him, we can really see what he can do in and through our lives.”
MW: Something that really stands out to me in your work is—there is a saying I like that says, Expect Miracles. And I just feel like your work is very much in line with that. This idea that God is constantly intervening in our lives, and yeah, providence. It’s beautiful. I can’t wait to read the new book.
AN: I can’t wait to get it out there.
MW: Congratulations! I want to start off with your art. You are an established artist. Your art is lovely. What led you to being an artist? What was that process like?
AN: When I was a little girl, in the third grade, I wrote a paper on “What do you want to be when you grow up?”, and I wanted to be an artist. Fast forward tenth grade Art, I had a D minus…
MW: And at that point, did you still want to be an artist?
AN: I did! I was doodling and creating. I think I was coloring outside the lines of this class, and I am not sure he really liked it, but I was just like, “God’s got a bigger plan!” I was not a great student– Cs in English; Ds in Art. I went off to college and came back after two years. I was at Florida State, a big school. [I] kinda got lost.
“I think I was coloring outside the lines of this class, and I am not sure he really liked it, but I was just like, ‘God’s got a bigger plan!’”
MW: Florida State? I went to the University of Florida—rival schools. *I laugh*
AN: I am more of an intimate person. They are big schools. So I came home, and it took me a while, but I finally got my education degree. I taught school for one year, and that desire to create was bubbling up. [In my] third grade class, all my bulletin boards were 3-D, with flowers and crickets. It was a colorful classroom.
MW: That was the class to be in!
AN: That art and creativity started bubbling up. I started a pottery line. That kind of took off. I quit teaching school, and I started a little business. Then, I got married, had kids and put all that on hold until they were kind of going to school, and they were all gone. We built a house and built a little studio off my kitchen. I’ll never forget this– I came home from all the wives [who] were painting and doing things. One of my friends was having an art show, and I went to this house and came home, and I was just sobbing. I was like “I just want to create.” And my husband looked at me and said there will be a time for that, but now is the time for you to raise your children.
Fast forward and we built our house, they are off at school, and I start mixing colors and start creating. Everyone was like, Why didn’t you pick up pottery? It was a lot. I had my own kiln and processing.
MW: How did that feel? I mean, you had that hunger. What was that like when you started mixing your colors?
AN: It was my happy place. My soul came alive. I knew that I was born to create. And I was painting still lifes and figures and landscapes, but I wanted something that reflected my faith. So I experimented with color and texture, and I painted this tiny little angel. Very colorful and very ethereal. Abstract and lots of paint, lots of layers, and I sent a picture to my sister and said, “What do you think?”
And she said, “I think you found your voice.” That was 18 years ago, and that voice kind of turned into my life song, and I had no idea that God would put my feet on this path. I was painting and selling the angels, and I listen to praise music when I paint, so that is kind of my time of worship. Just allowing the Lord to work through me onto a canvas and listening to the words being sung and so all these stories started happening, like one of my paintings sold for almost $19,000 at a fundraiser, and Oprah Winfrey called me one night, and you know, it was story after story, and then they [the angels] were going into galleries.
They were not selling like they were at my tiny kitchen counter, and I said, You know, I am going to do a coffee table book, that way everybody can have an angel, and they can have the stories. I had no idea that that would have taken off, and we have done a gallery, and we’ve got several products and several published books now. The coffee table books were self-published. It has been like, “Okay Lord, open hands; open heart, see what He will do.”
MW: I love your certainty of knowing that that was what you were born to do. That is powerful.
AN: There’s a lot of times when there is doubt that creeps in. You have to squelch that doubt. I would doubt so many times, and the Lord would always show up and say, “No, this is what I have given you. I have given you a paintbrush. Use this for my glory and for my kingdom here on this earth.” There were times when I felt, Am I being too selfish by escaping and going to my studio and painting and creating? My kids will tell you, “Yeah, you left us at the bus stop, not once, but maybe twice.” And I am like, “Did I?” I think I have selective memory about that. It was a hobby, but God had different plans.
“It was a hobby, but God had different plans.”
MW: You mentioned praise music. Is there a group or someone in particular you like to listen to?
AN: I love it all. I love Bethel music, Steven Curtis Chapman, I love Matt Redman. I love you name it.
MW: So you have a good mix going.
AN: A good mix and what I do is I don’t have a one set person, and if I do, I am not sure who the artist is singing it. I have to Google that. Let the Lord surprise me. Anything that has to do with worship music. I will have to tell you this really cool story—so when the first coffee table book came out, about six months later, I got an email, and it was kind of my time of doubting.
Am I really supposed to be doing this? What am I supposed to do? And I get an email from Matt Redman’s [group], and he is in London, and he is coming out with a new album/CD, and he wants to change his entire cover. He wants to put an angel on the cover, and would you know it was the very first angel that I ever painted. That was another way of God saying, I see you; I got you and this is what I have called you to do. And so, his album, Your Grace Finds Me – that was my very first angel. It was full circle. Listening to praise music and Matt Redman putting it on his CD.
MW: That is amazing. Do you have any other rituals that you do when you are in creative mode?
AN: I am a really messy sporadic painter. I really feel like I need to have that music to get me centered, and it’s a part of my worship. I have the blank canvas sitting there, and I try to use as few palette colors as possible. In the beginning, I was a big crayon box. Every color in the world, I was putting out on my palette, but now I try a limited palette and let those colors kind of mix and create, so it’s praise music, a blank canvas and some really good oil paints. That will create some ethereal beings on that canvas.
MW: You mentioned worship. There was a quote that stood out to me in the journal. You said, “My work is both my service and where I offer worship.” I want to know more about what that means to you. I know we have already touched on that a little bit, but that stood out to me.
AN: I really feel like I am being fed, when I am listening to that worship, but I am also activating my prayer life with a living Lord Jesus Christ who is here, alive, and you know, He is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow.
There are times that I am painting for a body of works to go into a show. I was doing a show, several years ago in Florida with Kathy Lee Gifford. We were doing this dual book signing, and I also had an art show and my prayer was, I don’t want to just crank out these angels. I really want what I am doing and the prayer and my being fed in this worship time to really minister out there to the world. I don’t want to crank out angels just to be an assembly line, and we got there and we were signing books, and this girl came up to me and she said, “I’ve got to share with you, my father just passed away,” and so we are getting her story and signing the book and she leaves.
Within five minutes—not even five minutes—two minutes, she turns around sobbing, saying, “I’ve never had art speak to me the way that painting spoke to me at the front door,” and I was just like, that was God’s way of telling me this is not about cranking out these angels. I have a lot of clients that have come in and they’ve lost a loved one, and so I am doing a painting for them, and I am praying for their family. Or I am praying for the unknown collector that might have that connection. It is kind of my worship, but I pray that goes out in the world that, through this work, you know, it shines a light on who Jesus is.
I told someone today, I don’t want to worship angels. It’s not about the angels. God created those angels. And they are real, and you’ve got warring angels, ministering angels, I just feel like that is something that I have been called to paint, and it brings that collector, that viewer—I want their hearts and their souls and their spirits moved to trust in the One, not the angels, but the One. The only one.
“I want their hearts and their souls and their spirits moved to trust in the One, not the angels, but the One. The only One.”
MW: That is beautiful. What drew you to angels, to begin with? I know you mentioned you wanted it to reflect your faith, but why angels specifically?
AN: Well, that is a good question. I was at that time, 19 years ago. Got the colors out and the paint and had the palette. I did a couple of crosses, because I thought the cross was very, you know, powerful. I didn’t like any of the crosses, and I thought, Ok, I am going to try an angel, and so I did this one angel. It was very—the shape and the composition were very elementary in simplicity, and then the textures on the painting. And then I sent it to my sister.
MW: Ahh, that is the one you sent your sister.
AN: And they have evolved over these 18 years. What I like to tell people is, We know there are no two fingerprints alike, and there are no two snowflakes alike, I would like to say there are no two angel wings alike.
As I paint them—and I don’t want it to be an assembly, but I believe each one is different. They evolve. We put this on the back of all the paintings:
“The angel series began on a piece of paper as sketches reflecting my faith and evolved onto the canvas as ethereal abstract beings sculpted out of oil paint. Much like our lives, which start out as a blank canvas, we face trials and tribulations on the journey of life. Through these experiences, whether joyful or difficult, God adds color and texture along our paths to create a beautiful masterpiece. My prayer is that the art born in my studio will always be a beautiful reminder for your home and life that God is our Creator and the fulfiller of His promises to you.”
I try to put that on the back of every painting just to remind [people] that we all start out as a blank canvas, and we add the color.
MW: I love that. Random question– do you have a favorite color?
AN: I think every color is my favorite. I do love greens… I love how you can, the different values and shades of greens. It is kind of hard. That is a hard question to ask an artist.
I will say, I usually have a white shirt on and blue jeans. That is my uniform. You won’t see me in red a lot, but I do like a pop of red in my paintings. I do love mixing colors just to see what kind of different colors you can get from a few pieces or squirts of paint out there on the palette.
MW: What is your hope that the reader/journaler will come away with?
AN: I was thinking about this while I was digging deep. I think peeling back layers. We all kind of come looking our best but as we peel back those layers or unfilter those photographs, I want it to take the person a little deeper with their relationship and to trust a little harder. To let go of things that might hinder. For me it is control.
I love control.
MW: We all do.
AN: It’s really hard to let go of fear. I did a guided journal probably 22 years ago, and it was really—I reference it in here, it was the 40-day prayer journal. I am not a disciplined person, really. I wish I could say I wake up every morning and spend 30 minutes journaling every day. That is not me. I wake up every single morning and before my feet hit the ground I try to say, Lord, this is your day, take it. I try to carve out that time to sit down. Whether it is reading one Psalm or reading just a sentence to get my feet grounded.
That act of having that discipline of digging deep into your faith walk, after the 40 days or however long it takes you and to see how God moved in those areas of your life. Some may be all joyful things, some may be in a deep pit and they need to know that God, one step at a time, will draw them out of that pit or just trusting and peeling those layers back and dig in deep. Trusting God, who is a big God. We need to get him out of that box.
MW: You have a really beautiful voice in your writing, as well. Did you journal as a kid? I know I journaled as a kid. Is that something you did?
AN: I might have. I do know— my dad just found this and sent this to me about six months ago– but I went on this intense outward bound trip, and I came back from that—obviously I journaled because I typed out my 50 page, ten day trip, and I looked at that and thought Wow. Even the quotes I pulled out of the experience. I am not sure if I might have kept a diary and journaled a little bit. But again, if you look at my journals, I will go for months and journal, and then I will come back and go, Ooh what happened here?, I already picked up another journal, or there are blank pages, and I start again. I do have drawers of all my journals from when I was a young adult until now and when I was having my children. Usually my journaling is more of a letter to God and just saying, Dear Abba, Dear Daddy, and asking Him to help me with whatever I am going through or my kids need prayer, or whatever. They are kind of love letters or letters of “Help, I need you”.
MW: Maybe this is sort of a spoiler to your next book but do you have a notable experience with an angel?
AN: A couple things, and I think I do talk about this. I personally have never had an encounter. Maybe, maybe not, there was one that this is kind of how we talk about we, that one verse from Hebrews that you can entertain angels and sometimes unaware. But also I believe that God puts people, we are not angels, but He puts people in our lives too—
This is a story in my book, but one particular night, Friday nights, (before COVID hit) we loved to go to the movies. Every Friday night we would watch a new movie. This particular Friday night, this movie, the one we wanted to go see, was sold out. [We were] a little disappointed but there was another one ten minutes away, so we hopped in the car and if we went real fast, we could get there. We made a couple of turns, and it was getting dark and it was cold and we see this lady in a wheelchair. She was struggling up the sidewalk, and you know I just kind of brushed it off, and then that nagging spirit [made me feel] like we needed to turn around.
So we turned around, and she was trying to get to a drugstore to get some needs, and it just so happened that the driveway that we had turned into when we went to help her– it was a church. They were having room at the inn. They accepted her. My husband went across the street to get the needs that she needed, and I realized that she is someone’s daughter. She was very disoriented. She was homeless. I sat there and asked if there was anything she needed, and she sat there with tears in her eyes and said, “My mom would always rub my head and brush my hair.”
I sat there and brushed her hair that night, and it was almost like God put me in her path, as an angel to her but she was an angel to me, just changing my heart and my life. We just never know.
For more stories, read the book (release date 9/20/22)!
MW: I can’t wait to read it. You have a gallery in Charlotte, NC. What is another must-see spot in Charlotte that you recommend? A place that you love to go to?
AN: The museums are great here. [One is the] Bechtler Museum. They are fabulous.
MW: What are your top 3 essentials?
AN: Lip gloss. My kids laugh at me. Anytime we go shopping or anything, I am like, “I need to get another lip gloss,” and they are like, “Mom! You’ve got way too many.” A good pair of jeans – and with that pair of jeans is a good white shirt, and a Bible. That is number one. Even if I am going on a trip, I have a lot—I have like five in my office, and I’ve got one in my bedroom– I always pack my Bible.
MW: I love that. I know people have it on their phone. I still use the physical book as well. I have one on my bed.
AN: I really like to highlight and date in my Bible. If I am on the go and don’t have time to sit and spend hours reading the Bible, I will hit the Psalms. So for example, let’s say today I was in Psalm 16, I love to write the date if there is something a verse or phrase that is really speaking to me. Or if there is a prayer that I am praying for my children, I will do that.
MW: It is almost like a form of journaling inside of your Bible. This one we love to ask everyone– If you had to define Christianity in a sentence, it would be:
AN: Four letters, love. We are called to love those who are not like us and those who are like us. The number one thing is that unconditional love. To love your neighbor as yourself. As I tell people, preach the gospel at all times and when necessary, use words. This is how I believe we as Christians ought to be. Not judging. We all fall short from the glory of the lord. Someone told me this once– We need to love those who sin differently than we do. This is the best way we can show we are followers of Christ.
For more Anne:
Instagram, Facebook & Pinterest: @anneneilsonhome
About Anne Neilson:
A lifelong artist, Anne Neilson began painting with oils in 2003 and quickly became nationally renowned for her ethereal Angel Series. Neilson’s paintings are inspiring reflections of her faith. In 2012, Neilson self-published Angels in our Midst, her first of three coffee table books. Following its success, Strokes of Compassion and Angels: The Collector’s Edition were released. The books follow her journey through the Angel Series, sharing inspirational and personal stories behind her paintings and the organizations she supports. Neilson also launched Anne Neilson Home—a growing collection of luxury home products including candles, notecards, scripture cards, prints, and journals.
Neilson also owns Anne Neilson Fine Art, a gallery located in Charlotte, North Carolina. Representing more than fifty talented artists from around the world, the gallery is dedicated to being a lighthouse, illuminating the work of both emerging and established artists. As a wife, mother of four, artist, author, and philanthropist, Anne paints and creates with passion and purpose, always giving back to others by contributing to local, national, and inter- national charitable organizations. Learn more about Anne Neilson Home and her gallery, Anne Neilson Fine Art, at anneneilsonhome.com and anneneilsonfineart.com.
Until next time, keep witnessing!