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August Feature: Colleen Telford

"I was born and raised in Guelph and am a self-taught artist who sees and understands what the natural world can teach us about the strength of being human. Throughout my life I have been driven by immense creativity and versatility; enjoying exploring different ways to express myself, from photography, competitive floral design and watercolour. Most recently I have been exploring and working with acrylics and the wide variety of mediums that work so well with acrylics. I have developed a technique of layering paint that portrays the balance between the stability of trees in these natural scenes with the ever changing environment in which they live. I believe that trees are very much representative of hope, strength and resilience. The environment in which they grow is often more so the focus in my paintings. My work asks the viewer to sit with the story being told; reflecting on the peace, calm, chaos, messiness and violence we all experience in our lifetime. We may be faced with circumstances, situations and environments that are challenging but we always have the choice to stay firmly planted and grow beyond pain and trauma.

As someone who is a survivor of domestic violence being creative helps me to process and heal from my past. Making art allows me space to work through the trauma I have experienced at the hands of my ex-abuser and helps me to calm my anxiety while giving my mind the freedom to work through the complicated feelings that still remain almost 10 years later. Much like the trees featured in many of my art pieces I see my journey as one of never-ending growth and evolution."

Q: Tell me about what kind of work you are currently making?

"My most recent work has been an exploration of letting go of expectations and preconceived outcomes. I have been experimenting with applying layers of pastel ground, fine pumice gel or fibre paste on canvas. After allowing the base to dry I will re-wet the canvas and float sumi ink and acrylic inks on the surface allowing the colour to dance and flow on the canvas determining its own path. Once dry I add trees to these landscapes using the natural peaks and valleys created by the layers that were chosen as the inks dry. Typically my work is full of colourful layers that blend and intermingle but I have been also working with just sumi ink on canvas that has been prepared with acrylic mediums adding layers to suggest misty or foggy landscapes. Once dry I have been testing several types of gold, silver and copper leaf applications to add additional textural interest to these otherwise monotone pieces. This forces me to allow the process to happen organically rather than trying to work to a predetermined destination. This process has been difficult for me, as a bit of a control freak I typically don’t allow myself this kind of trust and freedom with creative work. I have found that this process is allowing me to embrace change and avoid feelings of not meeting my own expectations."

Q: What is a day like in the studio for you?

"My studio is in my very small apartment that is located in my daughter and son-in-law’s home (think basement in-law suite). I don’t have a regimented studio schedule; I would find that difficult to adhere to. For me, working for long periods on one idea or piece can be draining, both physically and emotionally so being able to walk away and take a breath, even forgetting about it for a while allows me to come back with fresh eyes.

Although I am retired from my 30 year “9-5” job, I still work part-time and help out with my two VERY active grandchildren as well as spending as much time with my elderly Father as I can since my Mother passed away during Covid. It’s a chaotic life and art is my way of grounding myself. I usually have several pieces on the go and can pick away at them as I have time to. With my works in progress moving around my living space as needed I can reflect on them and plan my next moves as I prepare lunch or have my morning coffee.

I like having all my supplies at hand. If I find that I unexpectedly have a block of time I can jump in and start something new or take a work in progress to the next point in its journey. It is a system that works very well for me at this point in my life, and having a lightweight, portable easel adds to the flexibility of using my entire space as my studio as I need to."

Q: Who are your most prominent influences on your art practice?

"My earliest influence would have to be my Great Uncle. He was an art teacher and an artist himself. When I was a child he would casually make suggestions as I was drawing or making something, it was just part of life. He made it seem like making art was something anyone could do, even me. His way of teaching was so subtle I didn’t realize it was teaching until I started looking back on our times together. He was also a traveler and camper and I would go away with him and my aunt during the summer to Haliburton. This, I believe, is where my awareness of and love of nature began and was cemented as a part of my personality. When he did a sabbatical in New Mexico, to learn the art of salt fired pottery, we went to visit and it was an almost immediate love affair with the rugged and stripped down landscape of the desert in and around Las Cruces. I believe this is when my love of photography began.

I was mesmerized by Tom Thomson’s Jack Pine the first time I saw it as a child; I think because the tree wasn’t perfect and that resonated with me. I have long been enthralled by and find inspiration in Emily Carr’s use of colour. I’m not unique I know and it’s most certainly a bit cliché but The Group of Seven and the way they portray the Canadian landscape is, to me, beyond compare."

Q: What are your preferred mediums to work with and why?

"Watercolour was my first love and continues to be a part of my artistic journey. I find myself returning to watercolours when I am experiencing a bit of a dry spell or artistic block. Watercolours are quite unforgiving in that once they are on the paper they are, mostly, there to stay. This has assisted me in planning my work a bit better, as I tend to get ahead of myself with a main theme and jump over steps that could have made my piece more expressive or display more depth.

About 7 years ago I started exploring acrylics. I have found that acrylics are very versatile and provide me with many options. Acrylic mediums add more depth and texture to pieces and allow me to build colour and move points of interest. I like that acrylics dry quickly if I need them too but can also be extended to provide and almost watercolour wash effect. This medium also plays well with ink, pencil and pastels which is great for adding the values and texture that I’ve developed in my style."

Q: What major themes, concepts or methods are rooted in your practice?

"Nature and landscape speak to me in very specific ways and have since childhood. On long drives I would turn my attention outward and watch the landscapes roll by from the back seat of my parent’s car. In the days before portable entertainment and as an only child the way to pass the time in the car was to observe the world as it passed by. I have always been drawn to the imperfect, the wonky tree; too tall and lopsided from bearing untold storms yet still alive and flourishing in its space. As I grew into adulthood this theme of resilience where you stand came full circle for me in a very personal way as I navigated a world where I wasn’t safe in my home and then to life after escaping abuse. As I move through my art journey growth and resilience remain but also connectivity has been an evolving theme of late. Portrayals of flowing water enmeshed with impossible tree lines and mountains move seamlessly on my canvases demonstrating a world that is forever dependent on all of its components to thrive."

Q: Where can we find more of your work?

"I have a group landscape show coming up either in late 2023 or early 2024 at the Wyndham Arts 3rdFloor Gallery. Look for updates on my social media pages. My work can be found on Facebook and Instagram. To follow me on either of these social platforms search Ivy Barn Art and you will find me there!"

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