The world in silhouette

It sounds like the setup for a movie about an aspiring Broadway star: Young hopeful moves to competitive cultural mecca, gets bartending job to pay the bills, passes demanding audition and soon has people congregating on the sidewalk to get a glimpse of her through the window.

Replace Broadway with the Laguna Beach art scene, and it's also the story of Nichole McDaniel, whose work has hung at the Village Gallery since May.

"If it's something that you're passionate about and you love, I feel that you have to at least give it that shot, which is where I'm at in what I'm doing," the artist said Friday inside the gallery, where her latest stencil-in-progress occupied the long table by the window. "It's better to know and say you tried than always wonder."

A manager for four years at Ranch Sports Grill in Ladera Ranch, McDaniel quit her job earlier this year, moved to Laguna with her boyfriend and took a more time-flexible position serving drinks at Nick's Laguna Beach on Pacific Coast Highway. Shortly after moving, she stopped by the gallery, which is near her workplace, and showed a few images on her phone to co-director Edward Bobinski, who told her to email more pictures when she had them ready.

McDaniel followed through in April, and the next day, Bobinski asked her to bring the pieces in for him to view — the gallery had a cancellation for the coming First Thursdays Art Walk.

"I said, 'Basically, in order to be in this gallery, you have to complete the following steps,'" Bobinski said. "Most painters will say, 'Yes, yes, yes' and never deliver on that. She did."

Among the guidelines Bobinski gave the artist were to favor red and blue, which he called the most popular colors now in the art world, and to create panoramic scenes on long canvases. McDaniel, who said she takes up to 50 hours to create a stencil, got to work in the rented Laguna home that she's converted to a studio.

Since then, her stenciled landscapes, which depict Laguna sites and other Southern California landmarks, have been fixtures in the gallery and its sister location at the Irvine Spectrum Center. With world-renowned artists like Thomas Kinkade and Fabian Perez dominating the Village walls, McDaniel stands out as an up-and-coming local.

"It's nice to foster careers of young artists, and that's what we're about," Bobinski said. "All of these guys that are in 65 galleries, some gallery gave them their start."

As a child in Indiana, McDaniel found herself captivated by the notion of silhouettes — bare tree branches during winter, the landscape during sunset. Later, studying art at Western Illinois University, she began experimenting with stencils, designs that she laid over canvases while applying spray paint through the cut-out parts.

To prepare an image, McDaniel visits the location and takes a series of photos, which she pieces together to form a panoramic view. With a single stencil, she can create up to eight canvases before the designs begin to fall apart from too much paint absorption.

So far, the gallery has sold about half a dozen of McDaniel's paintings, which are priced between $695 and $2,495. About a dozen times, she's cut her stencils by the front window as passersby stopped to watch. And with her artistic name spreading, she's been noticed more than once at the bar down the street.

"I've had a couple people [acknowledge me]," McDaniel said. "It's pretty entertaining."

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