“I was told by my professors that when you’re in school, it’s really good to take the time to experiment,” Cecily Nishimura (C '23) tells me in a crowded coffee shop. So that’s what she tries to do.

As a senior who makes herself present in nearly every art–related field—with a major in design, and minors in fine arts, architecture, and art history—Cecily experiments and takes inspiration from all around. Her latest works include animations, oil paintings, risographs, web design, and paintings on fabric. “I feel like this has been an ongoing thing with my academic career that I’ve been switching from one medium to a different one,” she says. “It’s not that I get bored with it, I just like experimenting with different things.”

In the past, she’s done more animation and design projects, but while working on her theses this semester, Cecily wants to focus more on physical practices. “They’re more direct,” she muses. Along with these theses in fine arts and design, Cecily has been busy making a risograph zine and oil paintings in the last few classes of her Penn career.

For Cecily, inspiration comes from earlier periods of her life. Growing up in Providence, R.I., she was raised in the art community surrounding the Rhode Island School of Design, where her mother taught art history and now works in library administration. As a child and teenager, she took continuing education classes at RISD, as well as sewing lessons that now influence her practice.

This idea is present in her recent work, Dove: an oil painting of cloth framed by ribbon, with a small dove cupped in two hands on top of the fabric, surrounded by cream–colored lace and ribbons. Cecily’s theme of experimentation strikes again. “I wanted to push looking at different mediums and ways to create paintings that weren’t just oil paint.” 

Her academic path at Penn has been as experimental as her art practice. Cecily came to Penn as a visual studies major, quickly switched to architecture, and then to design. With her three minors, though, she keeps herself in each pocket of the arts here on campus.

But each sphere influences the others. She tells me about how a religious studies and art history class trickled into her art practice with ideas of symbolism, and how her animations influence her paintings. The realization comes later, though: “When I approach it, I don’t necessarily think about the connections, but then afterward, it’s like there’ll be things that [are informing] each other and [I’ll] draw connections between them.”

Cecily has been trying to loosen up with her style, as in her painting Girl with Horse this past semester, and an animation she made earlier called Where’s My Horse? One can’t help but draw connections between the two, as she does. After the tedious process that is animation, Cecily is painting more because it’s more “direct,” making it more natural and unrestrained. “This semester, I just want to be a bit more experimental,” she says. I find another recurring motif between her painting Dove and her risograph zine, both of which include images of birds.

From all the art she’s shown me, I know Cecily has accomplished just that. She takes advantage of the luxury of being able to experiment and decide what you like in college, which is a reminder that many students on the Penn career conveyor belt need.