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On Drawing the Dark and Winding Path of Life with Local Artist Jamie Smith

Artist and entrepreneur Jamie Smith is the founder of THRIVE Art Studio and the person responsible for Mount Pleasant’s free art walk event, ROVE.

In spite of all of that action, Jamie recently found time in her schedule – while preparing a series of new works for the fast-approaching Eastside Culture Crawl (November 14-17), no less – to answer a handful of our most compelling questions…

Please tell me about the project you’ve been creating for the ESCC. Apart from the stylistic similarities, what is the common thread throughout the collection of illustrations?

Last year I started creating small 6” x 9” drawing studies, called “Collections.” I have always been drawn to patterns on fabric and in nature, particularly florals. Whenever a pattern captures my interest, I take a photograph of it. For this series, I have used these photos to inspire my drawings and weave in mementos of places, adventures, objects, travels and people I have experienced.

I’m very curious about your use of repetition and motif in this series…

I also use these small studies as a way to prepare for creating my larger drawings. I like to try out ideas and experiment with the patterns and shapes a few times before I jump into the larger drawings, which take close to 60 hours each to complete!! Basically, the “Collections” are my warm-up stretches before running the big race. I will often repeat flowers and practice their scale in these drawings so to better understand how the lines move. My goal is to have 100 studies done by next summer. I am halfway to my goal. The first 50 of the series are finished and will be displayed at The Crawl. I have been doing my stretches and am nearing the finish line!

Despite appearing decorative, your recent floral illustrations have a very personal aspect/narrative that may be lost on a casual viewer who has little or no context. What sort of impact do you hope to make on your audience and how much of your art and practice is about self-discovery?

The body of work I am showing at the Eastside Culture Crawl started off as a meditative practice and a way for me to get through a hard time. I started drawing during this time and you can see the repetitive floral patterns have this sense of a giant floral doodle. Over the last year, I continued creating the work and the larger compositions now include my personal symbols and the compositions have become more complex.

In some of the series, the viewer will see vases; many made of florals and some more realistically rendered. For me, the vase is a symbol of the fragility of life. The vase is a vessel for holding life. But an urn, although having the same look, shape and feel, is for the opposite purpose – to hold the remains of someone who is gone. I think life is like this. We are constantly walking the line of the here and now, yet it all could be gone in a moment.

There are a lot of winding dark roads in my work, which will often become dark pools. These represent the path or journey of life. Sometimes it doesn’t go where we think it will and our world may look different than we imagined it would. The doorways are my exploration of the idea of fate. Was our path always meant to go this way or do we choose a door taking us in another direction? Are we fated to go through one sliding door verses another, or is it all chance and luck? The work does not pose answers to any of these questions, but rather is a way for me to work through my own winding path and journey.

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Your art is deeply influenced by travel, yet your home, practice and businesses are still based in Vancouver. What is it about this city and its art community in particular that keeps inspiring you to return and put your energy into it?

When I was in my mid-twenties I traveled a lot and eventually lived abroad in the Middle East. I thought that was the beginning of the next phase of my life; I would live abroad and come home to visit. But when I was living away, I had a sense that I was searching for something. I was restless in what I thought was my destination. I ended up returning home after a year of living abroad and I felt an overwhelming gratitude for this amazing country.

The decision to make Vancouver my home changed everything for me. It helped guide me to start my art practice here and to start THRIVE Art Studio (a community of female artists). I am a bit of a wanderer, and now my art practice and my business have become an adventure for me. Traveling helps fuel my creative spirit, but I know the work is done here – in Vancouver, my home.

I believe the most sustainable part of one art practice is the support system you create for yourself. I am very lucky to have friends and family in Vancouver as I was raised here but when I moved back I did not know any artists. I am grateful for the community that I have created and contributed to here. I have met such generous, helpful and talented artists in Vancouver and I am proud to be a working artist in this city (I just hope we are able to protect artist studios so we can all stay here!).

Through all of your travels, what have been some of the most valuable connections that you’ve made – to people, objects, landmarks/buildings, traditions and/or rituals – that continue to resonate with you?

When I travel, I am reunited with the beautiful curiosity of travellers. I love the ability travellers have to talk to anyone and ask questions. It makes me sad that “real life” can often dampen the natural curiosity we all have. It takes going away sometimes to see things differently and question your norms.

I love learning about symbols and important traditionally ceremonies. I have found flowers are usually a part of this. Recently, I completed a commission drawing that incorporated each family member’s birth flower and it was fascinating to learn why each flower was paired with a certain month. Another series I did a few years ago was based on the funeral rituals of other countries and the flowers they use to celebrate their dead and why.

I am fascinated by peoples’ rituals and how culturally they create art, monuments, religions and whole societies. As a visitor, you get to witness their world and take it in, ruminate on it all. I think my art is an expression of the people and places that I have had the privilege to meet and see in my life.

In the past the limitations of your medium/equipment/technology (I’m thinking specifically about your Holga camera) has largely influenced your artwork. I know that you’ve more recently started using an IPad which, I imagine, is a much more reliable and predictable tool…How has this change affected your creative process? What new challenges has it presented and what “happy mistakes” have happened as a result?

I think constraints are so important to spark creativity. When I was backpacking and using my Holga camera, it had basically no settings so it limited my control of the final work. For me, it was a process of letting go. I was constantly moving on and hoping the picture I took in the country before would turn out! Some did and some most certainly did not. Now, many years after that, my recent series came from the constraint of me letting go of my art studio on Main Street. I moved all my supplies into my home and because of this, got rid of many of my large canvases and bigger paint supplies.

This began my journey with working on paper and I love it. I began painting on paper and it wasn’t until I was traveling in Australia for a month, with just a sketchbook and a black pen, did I begin my current series. Having only paper and pen made me use only what I had in front of me and around me (I happened to be sitting in a botanical garden in Sydney at the time). I have been creating black and white drawings since then and now I have incorporated the iPad into my process. I am able to digitally collage and play with ideas without carrying all the supplies with me. With the touch of my finger, I can duplicate elements, make objects bigger or smaller, erase and move things so easily. Overall, it has been complete game changer for making compositions and planning murals for clients. The only draw back I would say is that the iPad allows me to try so many different ideas sometimes it is hard to know when to stop and say this piece is done!

Jamie Smith Artist Studio
Neighbourhood: East Vancouver
1861 Franklin St.

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