When the pandemic hit, Nacho Moya knew he needed to get creative to keep his art gallery and studio in downtown Gilroy afloat. So he did something that is perhaps counterintuitive at a time when resources seem scarce: Moya started offering free virtual painting classes.

Hundreds of people signed up, seeking connection and inspiration amid the isolation and fear of the early pandemic days. His social media following exploded and, even as Moya provided a no-cost art experience for people in the Bay Area and beyond, his list of paying clients grew, too. Now, he’s making big plans for the future of Moya Art Gallery and Studio.

Q: How did you learn to paint? 

Nacho Moya: The dream began when I was in sixth grade — when I participated in this art contest and I won first place. My mom didn’t have money to buy me art supplies so I would just grab a pencil or pen and start drawing. Back in the day, there was no YouTube. I would go to the library and get sketching books. When you have everything in your hands, it’s easier. But when you don’t have anything, you get more creative.

Q: How did your interest in art as a profession evolve? 

NM: One day, in 2016, I said, “I’m quitting my job. I’ve been working in retail for many years. I’m struggling all the time. I’m going to take the risk.”

GILROY, CALIFORNIA – OCTOBER 12: Paintings by Ignacio Moya, also known as Nacho Moya, in his studio in Gilroy, Calif., on Tuesday, Oct. 12, 2021. (Nhat V. Meyer/Bay Area News Group)

I started sketching, posting on Facebook, Instagram. That helped me a lot because I put things on the market. I used all the tools. I thought, “I want to take advantage.” I started doing commissions. I told my wife, “Look, I’m getting paid for doing this.”

I started hosting paint parties in my living room. I would just post it for friends on my Facebook and then these people started saying, “I want to do the paint party with you.” I started posting pictures on social media. Other people from different cities said, “I want to hire you.”

In June 2017, I thought, “I need to get a place where I can host events and get more people.” I was so happy I opened my gallery. This is my dream. This is the vision I had as a little kid.

I started slow. I had to get involved in the community. During the pandemic, that’s when I decided to do the free classes. Now a lot of the big companies in the Bay Area, I’ve done paint parties for them online. I’m doing people and schools from LA. Everything virtual. I’ve done 300 free classes. To support my studio, I tell people, “If you want to purchase supplies, I have supplies available.”

Q: Lots of businesses are nervous about giving away stuff for free. Why did you think that was a good decision? 

NM: Do things without expecting anything. Just do it. I started helping people during the pandemic. Honestly, I get people messaging me saying they’re out of depression. Or people in the hospital or recovering taking my classes. This is my reward — hearing stories like that.

Q: Financially too, though, right?

NM: Yes, I’m getting booked by all these companies. They pay. They appreciate what I do. That’s something I really love. People value my time and my talent. Financially, this is helping me a lot because sometimes I get booked for 300 people. I never thought I would make this money.

GILROY, CALIFORNIA – OCTOBER 12: Ignacio Moya, far right, also known as Nacho Moya, prepares for an art class via zoom in front of his painting of boxer Canelo Alvarez in his studio in Gilroy, Calif., on Tuesday, Oct. 12, 2021. (Nhat V. Meyer/Bay Area News Group)

People started requesting paintings. I’m selling art, doing business here. But I’m giving back. People thought I was going to stop doing free classes when everything started opening up again. I said, “Hey guys, I’m going to keep going, don’t worry.”

Q: There’s so much online. Why do you think your classes and art resonate? 

NM: The way I teach, I really interact with people and I always say positive words. “Relax, don’t stress. Do your best.” They always see me so happy doing this. I’ve been working with kids that were at the border, kids at risk, kids on probation, kids that go to private schools, too — so everyone. I work with kids with special needs, too. I love doing that.

Q: How would you describe yourself as an artist?

NM: I like to paint about what’s going on around the world at the moment — and also paint things about my heritage and the American Dream. Sometimes people want to see me doing more, like, Chicano art and I say, “I was raised in Gilroy.” I like to paint both of my cultures now because I have my American culture and Mexican culture and I do both. I paint people that inspire me. Like Jose Hernandez, the astronaut.

Q: What do you envision for your studio and gallery space in the next five years?

NM: I visualize myself going around places and doing shows and doing exhibitions — classes for big crowds. This is going to be my home, but my vision is to travel and keep my studio as a gallery. Kind of remember my beginnings. My plan is also to expand and open different galleries with my own art.

Q: It sounds like the pandemic was actually in some ways helpful business-wise because it helped you expand? 

NM: Some people say, “I’m not going to give free things or waste time.” Sometimes you think you’re going backwards but you’re going forwards, you know?

Q: What else should people know? 

NM: Sometimes I didn’t have money to put gas in my car. We never had presents for my kids for Christmas. So now I’m adopting a family this year so I can go shopping for gifts. That’s what I’m going to do every year. Now we live in a nice neighborhood. Safer, for my kids. Better home. I drive a better car. That’s something that I like to tell people. Not to brag but to let them know that they can do it. I was there and I’m here now.

Ignacio “Nacho” Moya

Position: CEO, Moya Art Gallery and Studio

Age: 39

Free art classes: https://www.facebook.com/moyaartgalleryandstudio/

Birthplace: Guanajuato, Mexico

Hometown: Gilroy

Five interesting facts:

  1. Moya, who has a wife and two children, enjoys playing basketball in his free time
  2. He likes to garden and play piano for fun
  3. Moya speaks English and Spanish, and he wants to learn Portuguese or Italian
  4. He is a huge fan of Star Wars-themed Lego sets
  5. Moya and his son watch movies like the Harry Potter series together