An interview with Nik.

Today I have the pleasure of introducing you to Nik Bartunek. A talented guitar player, vocalist, and teacher, Nik is the lead singer of the band Picture Atlantic, but also leads worship each week at The Highway Community where I’ve had the pleasure of singing alongside him more times than I can count. Nik has a contagious passion about music, is a constant encourager, and I’m proud to call him my friend.tumblr_nlnj68CyJR1rceugmo3_1280

Do you consider yourself an artist? Why or why not?
I’ve often thought about that and I always come back to ‘yes and no’. I definitely acknowledge that I’m making music, but I can’t really tell if it’s art or not. Maybe I sit in this strange mental place where I have to be a bunch of these really stereotypical things to be an artist. Until I start hearing other people calling me an artist then I don’t know if I’ll exactly consider myself one.

Tell me a little bit about your background and how you got into music:
When I actually think about it a bit, I think I’ve always been into music. As a kid I spent an insane amount of time listening to oldies stations.  I probably also ruined a few of my parents old vinyls too. I remember playing this Beach Boys record over and over again, and I think, putting scratches into it on accident. I would record these songs onto an old tape player as a kid, and make up songs on the spot, and then send the tapes to my mom’s family.

My love of music didn’t really start taking off until I got this old acoustic guitar from a family friend, and I started learning chords from a baby sitter. I must have been about 10 or so. From there I learned rhythm guitar, and got into the youth worship band at my church. Those were really formative times, and they taught me a ton about music, and playing in a band. I had a blast.Eventually I started writing my own music when I was about 17. In retrospect I actually surprised myself, because I remembered  I made myself a promise that I wouldn’t start writing music until I had actually started listening to music seriously, and spent time expanding my horizons musically. It was when I was 15-16 that I really started listening to music seriously in some capacity, and I waited a bit before I started writing.

Once I had been writing for a bit and playing shows on my own, a group of my friends in high school became fans of what I was writing. When time came for my friends to reform into a new band out of their metal band they had been in for a while, they asked me if I would be the singer. From there we formed Picture Atlantic and the rest is sort of history.

What musicians inspire you and why?
There are a group of musicians that inspire me. And I think that some of the musicians who inspire me the most are the ones who are clearly filled with passion, sincerity, and humbleness. Jon Foreman of Switchfoot or Aaron Weiss of Mewithoutyou are some prime examples. To see people who clearly have cultural power, be so humble, and more concerned with matters of the heart, is really compelling for me.

Tell me about your band, Picture Atlantic, and how it came about as well as what you guys are currently working on:Like I mentioned before, Picture Atlantic came about because my friends were reforming out of their metal bands. That was back in early 2005, so about 10 years now. They got tired of the really homogenized metal-core sound and wanted to make music that they felt had some longevity, and most importantly, melody to it. We don’t have a really amazing formation story. It really just came out of people wanting to evolve their music and explore different styles.

Right now we are working on a new full length album. Pretty much everything is recorded, it just needs to be mixed, mastered, pressed, and then sent out to real people.15068358333_715d4aca21_o

Do you have any side projects you’re currently working on or any other forms of creating art you enjoy outside of music?
Yes, I do a bit of writing here and there. I’ve always really enjoyed writing. My aunt is a writer, and that has had a decent influence on me. In Highschool, and more recently, I’ve started reading a lot more. I’m definitely paying an employee of the Kindle App Store’s bills. So in some ways I think I’ve always loved literature, and wanted to try my hand at it.

In one way it makes some sense, since I am writing all the lyrics for Picture Atlantic, so it’s kind of a different way to do something I already love.

What do you find is your biggest struggle as an artist/musician? Do you have any struggles you’ve overcome? If so, how?

I have a lot of struggles, but ultimately I think the biggest struggles are mental. It’s really easy to get discouraged, depressed, and procrastinate, or avoid your art. I can’t really say I’ve overcome them necessarily, because I think they will always be there. It’s become really more about learning how to live with them, and not letting them control my life in a way that will hurt me. Sometimes it simply comes down to just doing music, and telling myself I need to just do what I can, and stay in the rhythm of practice, even if I’m not producing what I think is my best.

What would you consider your greatest success and/or victory as an artist?
Instead of having a great victory, I think I look at it like steady growth, and that has been a triumph for me. Pushing myself a little bit each time, in different ways, is really meaningful to me.

At the same time, I do feel really glad that I think my music has done what I intended to do, which is bless people, or help people feel connected in some way. I’ve received some really, really heartfelt messages online, or had people come up to me in person, and say really sincere things about how our music has blessed them in some way. That feels like a huge triumph, not just for me, but for them as well.

Any parting words of advice or wisdom for your fellow creatives and/or budding musicians?
Just do what YOU are. Yes, it would be really cool to emulate the bands you love, and the music that gets you excited, but ultimately it’s been done already, simply by the fact that someone else is already doing it. You will very, very, rarely ever get anywhere just trying to please other people with your music. Don’t fall for that industry lie. Sometimes it’s more than enough to just be you, and try to be what you are.

I’m an artist.

What?

I am an artist.

Part of me can’t believe I’m admitting that as such a bold statement at this juncture in my life. Especially in a form so seemingly public as the world wide interweb… but alas. I said it.

My earliest childhood memories go back to blissful afternoons spent with a tackle box full of art supplies given to me by my parents one year at Christmas that they continually replenished, sitting at the antique desk in my bedroom, coloring with colored pencils in sketchbooks. To this day, there’s even a giant puddle of dried glue in the carpet under the desk where I came up with some grand idea to create window stickers with Elmer’s glue, transparency paper and transparency markers. (Why I was sitting under my desk doing this, I’m not certain…)

And I can’t even begin to count the hours as I spent as a child in the basement of the house I grew up in sorting through my late grandmother’s doll making supplies and hot gluing buttons to magazine pictures to give them depth and texture.

I excelled on any school project that required a “visual element” and even was bribed to do some school projects for my big sister. (Shhhh, don’t tell!)

I loved creating, I loved learning, and I wanted to know everything about every art form out there. Instead of spending Saturday mornings watching cartoons, you could often find me lying belly to the floor, watching Bob Ross re-runs, episodes of The Carol Duvall Show, or programs about any number of the watercolor artists you’d find on public access television.

The people in my life knew, loved, and supported my bent for all things creative. I’d venture to say that many of them would have even predicted that I would settle into some artistic field as an adult, so it wasn’t a surprise to my parents when I told them I wanted to pursue my passion and go to college to study art.

In 2004 I began my college career at Eastern Kentucky University in Richmond, Kentucky. Initially I set out to get a degree in Art Education, but quickly changed my major after I took my very first oil painting class and absolutely fell in love.

At EKU, to say I was fortunate in the bounty of incredible art professors guiding and teaching me is an understatement. They taught me, encouraged me, supported me, and pushed me to think outside the box — to recontextualize whatever artistic medium I was working with.

My senior year in college, however, was quite a different experience.

The painting professor I had been working closely with up until that point went on a year long sabbatical and was replaced by another, newer painting professor who, at this point, I had never been in class with and did not have a learning relationship with at all. I quickly learned that he and I did not see eye-to-eye on… well… anything, and he took it upon himself to humiliate me in front of my peers and my professors. The exact details of the encounters and conversations I had with him aren’t important, but what is unfortunate is that a person in a position to teach, encourage, and mentor, used that position to push a personal agenda and tear me down.

I was crushed.

I was a young, twenty-one year old girl with the world at my fingertips running headlong into the end of my undergraduate career, and what should have ended with a bang ended with more of a splat.

I stopped going to class and I stopped caring.

I did just enough work to earn the passing grades I needed in my classes so I could graduate, but that was it.

I stopped creating.

It has taken me seven years to finally be able to look back at my college experience and not label myself a failure as an artist — a nobody.

The lies I’ve believed that my art didn’t matter, was irrelevant, and my voice didn’t deserve to be heard have slowly begun to fade away.

It has taken a lot of hard work and perseverance. Several dry spells. Lots of tears, countless sketchbooks, failed paintings, dried out markers and dull colored pencils, and also a heaping helping of courage to reclaim my title as “artist”.

Unfortunately, my experience isn’t unique. Over the years, I’ve talked with lots of creative people struggling with the ability to call themselves an artist for one reason or another — to understand that their voice is important, unique, and longs to be heard!

We all have our struggles and I’ve found that what helps me the most when I’m struggling is to hear that someone else has been there, too, and either they’ve already come out on the other side for the better or are willing to journey with me as they fight the same or a similar battle.

I’m really excited to share with you that I’ve been compiling a whole mess of blog posts that I want to share with you. Some are the stories of my artist friends’ struggles, some are their triumphant victories. Some posts are about the work I’ve done over the past 7 years to arrive at the place I am in today, and I’m even throwing in a few about my favorite projects, working methods, and supplies. (Because I have an insane art supply habit and I cannot get enough of the supplies! Anyone else with me on that?) Oh and let’s not forget the posts I have for you about the two cute little artists that join me in my daily work!

I can’t wait!

Love,
Janine