The Refined Man

The Refined Man Creates



When I barely knew how to turn on a camera and was looking for inspiration, my photographer friend Ben Sasso told me about Nick Onken.  I was immediately drawn in by the movement, laughter, and effortless ease of his subjects. Everyone looks like they’re having a blast.  His images are part of what has inspired me to try to evoke life, laughter, and movement from my subjects.

All these years later, it turns out Nick is my neighbor here in Brooklyn!  He has helped me with my business, and challenged me to push the envelope not just on my work, but on my personal growth.

He’s a risk taker and a fear shaker, and he is committed to creating and helping others do the same.  I’m honored to feature him on The Refined Man.




1. How would those who know you well describe you?
Passionate, driven, creative and loyal.

2. What do you do, as a profession? Why do you do it?
I’m a photographer. I photograph people, whether it’s celebrities like Justin Bieber, Usher, Jessica Alba or African kids for Pencils of Promise. There’s something about capturing the essence of a moment or a person that gives me creative resonance. Creative resonance is what drives me, it’s a magical feeling of creating something that hits your tuning fork in the right key. I love capturing people people from all walks of life.

My other passions include my podcast, Shoptalk Radio, where I get to interview and dive deeper into the lives of creatives. I also love hand drawn type and mixed media art, both of which have been evolving into my professional realm.


3. How do you define success? Are you successful?
Success is living a rich life where money is a vehicle, not a means of happiness. Creativity and quality relationships are at the top of what makes me happy. I think success is being able to wake up every day and do creative work while my basic needs are met, and I have the ability to enjoy the finer things in life. I believe I am successful because of that.

4. What aspect of your work do you connect with most?
The freedom to create across different mediums. I love taking pictures, capturing people and moments, but if I want to wake up and do a painting, I can do that too. I also schedule an interview with an insanely interesting person, connect and learn from them. Then share that with the world. I love creating things that influence and inspire people to create a conscious change in their life.


5. Most artists have have seasons in which they feel uninspired. Is that true of you, and how do you keep creating when you feel uninspired?
For me, lately, it’s been creative plateaus — times when my growth flattens out, and it’s a struggle to push through to the next level of my journey. There are a couple things I do to keep pushing through:
– Remember what I love about my work
– Trust that I WILL move through the plateau
– Try out other mediums to inform my primary medium


6. Did you ever imagine you’d be living in NYC as a professional artist? If not, where did you envision yourself at this stage of your life?
I never had an inkling of a thought that I’d end up living in NYC, let alone be making a good living as an artist. I feel insanely blessed to have the life I have now. I don’t think I had a clue of where I’d be at this stage of my life–maybe owning a design firm or studio in Seattle where I’m from, but that was never a clear vision.


7. You’ve started a movement called Create Your Moments (I’ve loved following it online). What’s the vision behind it?
The vision behind #CreateYourMoments is to inspire people that creating their dream life starts from the smallest of moments. Anyone can do it if they so choose. We don’t all have the choice of what circumstances we come from, but we do have the choice to rise above whatever we are to create what we want. It’s meant to inspire people that they CAN and have the POWER to choose. It all lies within.


8. Describe a significant moment you’ve created this year.
My year had many moments of exploration and discovery, and the most memorable are the ones in new places I traveled to. One was Antarctica, my 7th and final continent, which was like another planet. The other being seeing Cuba, a country I’ve always dreamed of visiting.


9. What legacy do you hope to leave, through your life and/or your work?
I hope to inspire people to create their dream life, whatever that may be. To live in a place of color, and do what excites them. Get out of zombie mode, and be proactive in life.

10. Who or what inspires you?
People, interesting conversations, art and photography that make me wish I made it, traveling to new countries and having new experiences. Other artists also inspire me.


11. What are you most excited about right now?
Everything I’m working on, especially my new lifestyle brand NION which is the product form of all the things I’ve talked about.

12. A well-spent day includes…
Meditation, exercise, great conversations, and making cool stuff.

13. Lastly… and most importantly… what’s your favorite Beyonce song? (Don’t blow this).
Drunk In Love

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