This is me: I became a painter exactly on the corner of Barclay and Thurlow, downtown Vancouver, in 1999. I lived in a ground floor corner suite at the Biltmore Apartments, the green street signs directly outside of my living room window, almost close enough to touch.
The Biltmore. I loved my little apartment in the beautiful old character building. It had a tiny stained-glass window, hardwood floors, and large living room windows that let in so much light, even on the endless grey rainy days of the Vancouver winters. It was my cozy little oasis, right in the west end.
It’s not such a complicated story. I began to paint because I simply wanted to have something to put up on the white walls of my apartment. I had never really painted before, aside from a few small watercolours years before. I wanted to try painting with acrylic paint, on a real canvas, to make something large and bright and beautiful, to liven up my space. Simple.
I had always been considered the “artistic” one of my family growing up. As as a child, I was a precocious little tyke who loved to draw, as many children do. Happiest with a pad of paper and a bright crayon, felt marker, or even just a pencil in my hand, I would sit for hours, quietly drawing and filling the pages with tiny worlds I became lost in. Creating as a child came so naturally to me but rediscovering the creative process as an adult and teaching myself how to paint was a whole new and frustrating experience.
An Aquabus ride across to Opus Art Supplies on Granville Island was the first step of the journey. I didn’t really know what to buy—so many colors, and brush shapes, and tools I did not know how to use. I felt self-conscious and intimidated among the “real” artists there buying supplies, but I also felt a growing sense of excitement and possibility. A new world was opening up to me. Loaded down with bags of paint and brushes, and a large canvas clutched under my arm, I returned home. My living room became my first studio.
My early efforts as a painter were completely unremarkable. Filled with violations of the color theory I did not know, the subjects and compositions meaningless and banal, it was a frustrating time that taught me many lessons. I wasn’t having much fun, but I continued to paint. Eventually, a style began to emerge that I was pleased with. The first painting that I did that I considered to be “real” art was created,“Nasty Rumours at the Garden Tea Party”.Then I created another piece. I felt proud of myself. I had art on my walls.
It was around this time that my dear friend Matt W. asked me to do a painting for him, although he was undecided as to what he wanted me to paint. At the time, Matt owned a cocktail lounge called Lucy Mae Brown, in an old building that was rumored to have been the site of a brothel in the old days, operated by a proprietress of the same name. I decided to create a classic female nude for his painting and named the piece “Lucy Mae Brown”. Matt came to pick up his piece a few weeks later. I didn’t think it would be this good, he said. I thought to myself, maybe I could do this for real.
Shortly after I created Matt’s painting, my friend Sugar, who owned the event space sugarandsugar, offered me an exhibition. Having only two paintings on my wall, I asked for time to create more pieces. For the next 18 months I completed one painting each month. The exhibition was an exhilarating experience; I received so much positive feedback about my work.
Once again I thought: maybe I could do this for real. I was hopeful about my future as an artist.
Things changed after the show. I learned that my dear friend Matt had taken his own life two months prior, which is why he had not been present at my show. Not long after I received the devastating news, I left Vancouver.
I ended up in Calgary for the next few years. I hated the place. For the first couple of years I continued to paint, and participated in a couple of group shows in Chicago and Austin. And then I just… stopped painting. I would not touch a paintbrush for the next seven years. After a few more years in Calgary, I moved back to Vancouver briefly, and bought a tiny condo off of Commercial Drive. There was barely room for my couch, let alone my easel, so I did not paint.
Instead I did other things, reimmersing myself back into my beloved flamenco community and spending my creative energy in dance class instead. I was distracting myself and I knew it. I also knew that if I was to ever start painting again, I would have to go somewhere where I could spread out, free myself from distractions, and try to pick up the dropped thread.
A year after moving back to Vancouver, I packed up and moved across Canada, back to my home province of New Brunswick. I bought a house. I had room to set up my easel, and so I did. But still I did not paint.
Truthfully, I was afraid to pick up my brush again. So much time had passed. What if I had forgotten how? What if I had nothing to say? I would go into my studio, full of good intentions, but then do nothing but organize my paints in their drawers and brushes in their jars, sharpen my pencils, sit at my desk and sketch half-heartedly. Two years passed before I would paint again.
After a short trip to beautiful and ancient Scotland in 2015, I found myself once again inspired. I came home and finally picked up my brush once more. There was something I wanted to say.
I was so relieved to find that I had not forgotten. The muse came back, different this time, but I had not been abandoned. Something had been incubating in my creative process during the time I had been away from my easel. I was creating again, now telling different stories, richer stories with my art. The first piece I created after being away for seven years was called “Oh, How I Missed You!” And I had, so many things—other times, and places, and certain people. Some I still do.
This is where I am today. In my studio, painting, doing it “for real”, and looking forward to the next adventure. There is so much more I have to say. Oh, the incessant inspirations of a sentimental artist.