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Pathway to Beauty: Artist Profile of Nick Stokes


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Can you believe that Nick Stokes spent hours in his kitchen to produce his Evolution masterpiece? Yes, that’s right. Nick didn’t borrow his graphics from stock photos. Stokes went in search of his next form by dribbling water over different kitchen objects such as strainers, wooden spoons, and glasses while snapping photos with his high speed camera. The winner was an upright martini glass. He utilized the martini glass image in his "Water" portrait to create a “gown” around the body of model Alexis Rush. 
"The whole idea is to see what I can turn something into,” Nick says. "Water" is his favorite portrait. It was a challenging feat to get the water graphic to cover Alexis’ body perfectly. 
The three portraits that make up Evolution, "Fire", "Water" and "Ice", hang inside The Crush, located in the B.O.B. The initial title was going to be "Fire, Smoke, and Ash," but the design felt a little “dark” for Stokes as its detail would show the death of Alexis. It was also supposed to be in black and white; however, during retouching, he always comes across a color that works perfectly, so Nick is pleased that he chose to use color. Each portrait is printed on half inch gator board measuring eight feet high and four feet wide. Stokes is incredibly grateful to the printing company, Corporate Color, for sponsoring his ArtPrize piece. The printing itself would have costs hundreds. “They [Corporate Color] do unbelievable work," Stokes says. "The magnitude of these pieces would not have been possible without their sponsorship."
The purpose of "Evolution" is to show the progression of a raw photo to its final product. The slideshow that revolves on a nearby television illustrates this progression. Nick wanted to show onlookers that re-touching and graphics are used in commercial advertising everyday to make images appear flawless. “What we see in advertisement is not real. Nothing is real if it is in a magazine, period,” Stokes says directly. He feels that young girls’ attitudes are distorted because of advertising. Although Alexis is stunning without re-touching, one can still see how the original photo is changed using digital enhancements.
Stokes utilizes programs such as PhotoShop to transform his photos. He mentions this is a time consuming system. “No one can just use the program and make a striking photo. You need to have the proper training and know how to do it right or your image will end up looking like a cartoon.” And trained, Stokes was. During high school, Stokes lived in New York and attended a private prep school, and then Columbia University. As a Grand Rapids native, Stokes was ready to return to Michigan. He spent four years at Kendall College of Art and Design and earned his Bachelors Degree in photography and graphic design.   In 2008, he returned to New York and had the opportunity to work for Indiracesarine, a photo retouching company that dealt with celebrities and beauty photography. His duties included retouching photos for the photographers such as removing blemishes and adding an edge to make photos more appealing. Although this was a great opportunity, he later had the pleasure to work for Kevin Michael Reed, a photographer who specializes in fashion, especially prom dresses and evening gowns. Stokes already was very capable of using graphics and digital retouching; however, this experience definitely “boosted my resume,” he grins.
His passion for fashion photography and retouching is largely due to his role model, David Lachapelle. “David is the most famous celebrity portrait photographer in the world. His vibrant use of color is amazing.” That is the work that encourages Stokes to snap photos of fashion and beauty and bring an edge to all of his creations. How does one create an edge? “It’s the original photo, the graphics, the lighting, the model, and the photographer."  Stokes has had the chance to create designs for many of The B.O.B’s theme parties inside The Crush, such as "Toxic", "Rain", and "The Bed Party". The designs are permanently installed inside the nightclub, Eve, on the top floor of The B.O.B.
Stokes is grateful to friends who participated in his submission for ArtPrize. Cody Wyland, owner of Cheveux Spa, gave up his Labor Day to do the hair and make up for model Alexis. Alexis Rush, a professional model, also donated her Labor Day to Stokes entry.
Stokes participated in last year's ArtPrize with a piece displayed on the ceiling over The Crush’s dance floor. It was a hanging portfolio of photos placed inside crafted metal cages. His purpose was to show the complexity of the install. “Artists spend hours or weeks getting their work installed at the venue.” 
When asked how he felt about last Monday’s storms damaging many contestants' outdoor pieces, Stokes said “it is just awful to see other artist’s hard work demolished. As contestants when displaying at an outside venue, one should also know they need to prepare for the Michigan weather.” He was joyful that many of the artists were able to recover their losses and re-build what the storm had ruined.
Lucky for Stokes, he has no work to do picking up the pieces. Now is the moment where he gets to sit back, relax, and enjoy viewing other participates' artwork. At this time, he doesn’t have any ideas for next year's ArtPrize, but he does know he will participate as long as Grand Rapids offers it. 
As Stokes and I sit near his portraits in The Crush, a little girl in pig tails runs up to "Evolution" and her mother snaps a photo of her next to it. When asked how he feels about people fawning over his submission, “It is crazy to see this. It’s so surreal. I like to watch them, but I never hound them and push for votes. Some of the artists practically corner the visitors!” You don’t have to worry about that with Stokes. Come on over to The Crush to check out "Evolution." Stokes will be resting on the sofa.


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