Emily Nielsen #040

Big John sits down with longtime friend and fellow Warped Tour alum, Emily Nielsen, founder of Punk Rock & Paintbrushes. They dive into the deep end of where Punk Rock meets Art and all things in between. She has showcased her clients work at art galleries, music festivals and even pivoted to a covid-friendly tennis court gallery due to the pandemic. Emily has also written a book with the Vandal’s Warren Fitzgerald, called “The Insides of Artists Written by Outsiders” which is available online here.

Art Management with Punk Rock & Paintbrushes

Emily T. Nielsen has worked in and out of music and art management most of her life. In 2006, she was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and went into remission the following year.

As a show of support and encouragement, Tim McIlrath from Rise Against gave her a gift referencing the lyrics from his song Survive. That’s when someone suggested that she auction the gift. In the moment, Emily loved her gift too much to part with it, but that idea came back up in the future. 

Now, Emily collaborates with artists that have been affected by cancer, lost someone to cancer, or anything to do with the pain that cancer causes, and they paint ribbons to bring awareness.

The musicians will paint the lyrics over top of the ribbons, they auction them off, and give proceeds to different non-profits. The idea was to give the proceeds to better the lives of those that have been affected by cancer. While it would be great to find a cure tomorrow, that’s not Emily’s goal.

Punk Rock & Paintbrushes

The Early Days of Art Management

In 2015, Emily was hosting another show, and they were reaching out to musicians and artists to have them write the lyrics on pieces of art. A few of them asked if they could create the whole piece from scratch instead, for a friend or a family member. It turned out, many of these musicians were artists as well! Some of the people who created the art pieces turned out to be really talented, and Emily realized no one knew who they were, or what they were capable of. 

Shortly after this event, they were asked to put together an art show in about six days. So they took these musicians out of their comfort zone and put their art on the walls. Many of these musicians had been successful for 20, 30, 40 years, but to put their art out rather than their music was nerve wracking. They weren’t as confident in their art, because sure, they’re out there, but this is a whole new level.

Punk Rock and Paintbrushes works with an enormous amount of musicians, from metal, to country, to hip hop, and all of Emily’s art management clients lift each other up. Especially in the last year, these artists had much more time on their hands to create, which means more and more activity for the company.

Punk Rock and Paintbrushes started about six years ago, so it’s still fairly new. 


There are two different styles of shows. All of the events are at art galleries, and no matter who they feature, whether it’s five artists or twenty artists, all of the artists are present.

In the beginning stages, they did a few shows featuring artists that weren’t able to make it, but it  didn’t work because people wanted to interact with the artists. They wanted to see the artists, they wanted to ask them about their art, and for Emily that was an easy change.

They have a holiday show every year, which consists of around 20 artists in Los Angeles. They’ve also got DJ sets by various artists, and guests. But what Emily loves the most is how open it is. There’s no backstage, no VIP, no barricades. 

All of the artists, musicians, and everyone involved is approachable. It’s unique, raw, and vulnerable in the best way.

There’s no rockstar attitudes, they’re all there intentionally to hang out.

The second type of event is their onsite galleries. These are usually at music festivals, and this was one of their favorite events early on. 

Previously, they used a pop-up tent, selling thousand dollar plus art on gritted Mertz walls. For Emily, something important was missing in that experience. Beautiful art, original pieces, sometimes $4,000, should never have dirt on top.

To resolve the issue, they had a gallery built with hard gallery walls. This was the perfect way to have a pop-up art show at a festival. 

While some might assume no one wants to buy art at a festival, Emily’s experience proves the opposite. Everyone does!

These events evolved into a built-in fan base and audience.

As their reputation at festivals grew, more artists started to get interested. Suddenly, Emily was getting approached by incredible musicians/ artists, and growing her network in an explosive way.

Special Exhibits

Emily believes strongly in artists having control over their profits, which means all of the proceeds go directly to the artist unless specified. This also means that artists choose what organizations they want to support- it’s completely up to their own discretion.

Sometimes, however, they partner with a company like Vans footwear for special exhibits like The Art of Shoes. Artists paint on the shoes, and then they auction them off, sending all proceeds to different nonprofits. 

Emily believes this balance between non-profit interaction and profitable business is incredibly important.

Virtual Events and Navigating Covid

When they first started trying out virtual events, Emily had a few concerns,  mainly because she could barely turn on a computer. 

In addition, the social aspect of events is a huge part of their success, and it’s much easier to make a connection when you’re face-to-face.

So far, the one virtual video art show they hosted was a huge success. However, for their own community, they’ve chosen to move into Instagram interactives instead. 

They have every artist take over the social media for one day every week, and they post funny, lighthearted things. 

Luckily, through the generosity of a friend, they were able to build an outdoor gallery to continue doing what they love while keeping safe.

They had all of the artists come physically to the show, and then they had interviewers to interact with the artists.  They had about five minutes per interview, six feet apart, and everyone wore masks. 

It would’ve been easier to give up, but Emily was determined to find a way to continue her business safely- the outdoor event was evidence of the benefits of choosing the harder path.

The Insides of Artists Written by Outsiders

Emily partnered up with Warren Fitzgerald to create a coffee table book, diving into the inner world of artists called: The Insides of Artists Written by Outsiders.

Before this idea, they had come up with dozens of different projects to keep them busy, but none were received as well. All of the artists were excited and 100% in from the first mention of the book.

There are twenty-nine artists featured in the book, and each artist shares their journey with their music, with their art, and with their personal life. There are also some super obscure facts about them that no one has ever heard, to give their community a little bonus. 

The title, Emily shares, highlights that the book is about a bunch of misfits, though successful misfits. The team as a whole wants children to read this book and believe that they could be a successful artist. Twenty-nine different people share how they’re different, but still have a common goal of sharing their art, whatever the medium.

Some of the artists featured in the book grew up with learning disabilities, and they still live with them as extremely successful musicians. The book gives a very personal insight to all of their lives, which is why it’s such a unique and important project for this moment in history.

Currently, it’s on presale at punkrockart.com, and it physically hits the shelves on April 15th. On April 24th, they’re having a book launch/book signing in the Los Angeles area. It’s completely COVID compliant, though they could’ve avoided the complications by hosting it in another state. The truth is, their team wants to be safe, and continue supporting and loving their community in every way they can.

Big John

About Author /

Big John got his start as co-founder and playing guitar in former Chicago band SweaterGirl. After 4 consecutive summers on the Van's Warped Tour as one of the first ever DIY bands to be invited to tag along, Big John was ready for what's next and stumbled into the event industry in 2005. Big John stayed on the road managing Mobile Marketing Tours, logging over 3 Million miles on the Warped Tour as well as a plethora of experiential tours, campaigns, events, and initiatives.

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