Reining in the Reindeers: Nack Puts Paintings on Paper

By Steven Libowitz   |   December 17, 2020
Santa Barbara artist Brad Nack’s new artbook Brad Nack: 100% Reindeer collects samples from nearly every annual herd of the antlered animals

Three years ago, a few of us attended Brad Nack’s 21st annual 100 percent Reindeer Art Show – a perpetually packed reception at Roy where folks jostle each other to get first dibs at the new paintings – decked out in N95 respirator masks to shield against inhaling smoke and particles from the then still-growing Thomas Fire. But this year even a willingness to wear the most protective of facial masks wouldn’t have been enough as the pandemic and the recently increased-restriction protocols would have prevented the opening event from taking place. The thing is, the caribou collection didn’t fall victim to COVID, as the gathering still wouldn’t have happened anyway because, as longtime fans are aware, in 2020 Nack stopped painting new reindeer portraits, or at least went on hiatus. The painstaking practice he’d been perfecting for more than two decades that included adding many layers and alterations to each piece over a period of many months – even though the final canvases are measured in square inches – has truly been reined in for the first time since he painted the first reindeer as a Christmas present for a friend’s mom. 

But fear not: You can still enjoy a large crop of the cute critters in your home, and not only by purchasing one of the 45 or so remaining elegantly framed paintings that didn’t sell at the show that are available online on Etsy, but also because the native Santa Barbara artist has just published a new art book called Brad Nack: 100% Reindeer. The 128-page book collects samples from nearly every annual herd of the antlered animals, capturing the way out and the whimsical depictions of the winter-time mammals in ways Santa could never have imagined. 

The project came together over the course of the year and finally reached fruition through a Kickstarter campaign that just ended last month. The finished book is due back from the printer at the end of the week, and Nack talked to us about both the book and the beasts over the phone during the quiet time between finishing the final edit and fulfilling the pre-orders. 

Q. This was the first time in more than 20 years that you didn’t make any new reindeer paintings. How was that for you? 

A. It was definitely weird because I was so used to painting them and was thinking, wow, it’s going to be really strange not to. But it turns out that doing this book was just as intense as painting the reindeer. The Kickstarter campaign was crazy because I only  had half the money I needed with just 10 days left. 

Seems like it paralleled the panic and rushing you used to do to get your reindeer done on time for the show at Roy. 

You just summed up everything that I meant to say. That’s exactly it. The panic of getting a show together became the panic of getting a book together because there’s a deadline for the holiday season. Same thing. 

So what was it that prompted you to do a reindeer book at all?

I’d always wanted to have a book of the paintings, which is why I took all those photos, thousands and thousands of them, over the years, which I had to go through when it turned out that I was the one to do it. I had never pursued it earlier because I knew it would be a big job. But some friends who have been supportive and bought paintings over the years had canceled their summer travels because of COVID and offered to help back in March. 

I always felt that the best representation of the reindeer was when people would come to the show and see the whole herd, all of them hanging in one place together. The people that get the most out of them are the ones that create their own herd by buying one a year. After a few years, they’re their own little group. I realized a book would be a perfect way to create a big herd. There’s something like 150 reindeer in it – I haven’t actually counted – and they make a bigger statement as a group than they do as individuals. Their expressions and personalities play off each other. That’s also why I put them into categories of emotions as a way to organize the book: amused, bold, curious, nervous, sad, and happy.

That reminds me, you have said that the emotions of each new herd that came out in December largely represented the opposite of what you were feeling during the year. So I’m wondering, how was it for you not to have that outlet during 2020, perhaps the most insane year we’ve lived through?

Well, what I ended up doing was have the reindeer speak on their own behalf in the book. So I took their voices and wrote something as if they were speaking to the reader. I hadn’t done that before, but it felt natural because I have always liked being like the supporting cast, not the center of attention, even when I was a musician. I liked having the reindeer speak in this book because it’s not really about me. It was much better to have them talking because they could say what they wanted.

But yeah, I’ve told people that if I were doing the paintings, they would have been the most happy, happy reindeer ever. So in a way I’m really looking forward to maybe getting back and doing a few more, just for fun, next year that will be the saddest I’ve ever painted because next year has to be better. 

(Check out the remaining reindeer paintings and order copies of Brad Nack: 100% Reindeer Art Book at www.brad or


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