My inspiration for this series of paintings came from a recent conversation I had at a virtual conference. The conference was for recipients of a grant focused on enhancing church worship. Half had received the grant during the pandemic, but the other half of us received our grants just before COVID hit and we had already made plans that fit life during “normal” times. Clearly those plans would no longer work.

When someone asked me what it was like to change direction mid-grant in the face of all the COVID limitations, the metaphor of painting using a limited palette came to me. Often artists will limit the number of colors they use to bring harmony to their work or to reduce noise and focus on the composition. The big question for me and our grant committee was, “how do we keep the same composition using such limited mediums of expression?”

At first, I felt overwhelmed by our limitations. How could we possibly accomplish the same goals? But slowly, the magic began to happen. Forced to rely on means other than meeting in person, we were challenged to get creative in the ways we thought about connecting. With restricted resources, new ideas emerged, some that might have seemed bizarre under normal circumstances. With meetings restricted to zoom, our communication was careful and deliberate. I forged new relationships on the screen that I wouldn’t have otherwise sought out. I actually enjoyed being on the grant committee because we were constantly breaking new ground. The process was dynamic. Limited ingredients brought a new sort of alchemy.

This experience led me to ask, in our COVID reality, how has living with a limited palette helped us to see things more clearly? Has there been less noise in our field of view? And with so much stripped away, what do we choose to add back in when the opportunity arises?

With so much content available at my fingertips all of the time, I feel the need now to carefully curate what I let into my life. Just because there are opportunities doesn’t mean I need to say ‘yes’ to them all. Saying ‘yes’ to one thing often means saying ‘no’ to another. The starkness of the forced ‘no’ during these COVID times brought so much limitation, but also a new kind of freedom clothed in simplicity. Now I must evaluate which colors to let back onto my palette.

Sometimes less really is more.

These paintings were created using cold black, titanium white, and French burnt umber oil paints combined with cold wax medium.

painting by Nicki Lang

painting by Nicki Lang

painting by Nicki Lang


  • Nicki Lang

    After retiring from over a decade of creating with leather, Nicki Lang picked up the palette knife and hasn’t looked back. Nicki captures iconic northwest landscapes with bold strokes and a fresh eye. Her unique palette knife work brings sculptural depth to each piece. With a background in the natural sciences, Nicki’s attention to detail grounds her work in time and place. When she is not painting, Nicki can be found writing, playing the banjo, or spending time outside with her husband, two boys, and goofy dog, Lupinella. Nicki lives in a co-housing community in Bellingham, Washington. You can find her art and writing at