Artist Catherine Whitla ?on her layer of happinessPublished on August 17, 2009

  • A Valerie Butters painting takes prominence above a living room sofa in the Whitla home.

The personal art studio of local artist Catherine Whitla is a windowed room filled with abundant natural light - but chances are you won't find her there. "I usually end up painting in the kitchen," admits the vivacious mother of three, "because that's where all the action is." The studio was created when she and husband Steve Whitla recently renovated their Prairie-style home, ?off Island Park Drive, with high ceilings and grand wall space to exhibit their art collection.

With her hectic life—twin boys Logan and Brodie, 12, Grayden, 5, and a new golden doodle puppy—and her preference for working in the daytime, finding time to paint regularly can be a challenge. But it's one the former model is glad to take up: "When I'm not being a mom or doing community relations for my family's business, Brown's Cleaners, painting allows me to feel grounded and provides a layer of happiness to my life that is so personal and separate from everything else. It fulfills me in a way that makes me feel well-rounded."

Before she began painting almost a decade ago, Catherine originally expressed her creative side through fashion design. After she graduated from design school she found herself pulled in other directions, and then her passion for painting was sparked when she decorated a bedroom for the arrival of her twin sons. "It didn't start out as a love for painting," says the artist who works with many different mediums, "but as a love of working with my hands." She experimented with everything, from paper maché balloons to mini murals that wrapped around the room, and soon found it was a natural progression to start working on canvas. It would be hard to put a label to Catherine's style of painting because she is always experimenting with new approaches, although she does say colour and texture are very important to her.

Despite the fact that Catherine's paintings garnered a great deal of admiration from friends and family, it took the urging of a close friend before she finally submitted pieces to a local art show. She sold four paintings, had several requests for commissions, and was invited to hang some paintings in a gallery. Her children were still quite young, however, and she didn't feel ready for that last level of commitment because of the time it would take to build up and sustain a body of work.

Even though you would be hard pressed to spot one of her own paintings hanging in her home, the busy artist nurtures her creative side with a collection of canvases by local and emerging artists. "I look around at other artists in my home and I'm in awe of everything they do," she says. And she often finds that she is inspired in her own work by the paintings around her.

Supporting up-and-coming artists is very important to Catherine, who says that collecting their work is her way of giving them the credibility they deserve, even if they never become big-time artists. She notes that although she is shy about her own work, she can relate to the feeling of legitimacy that comes from selling a painting.

Ever since her brother gave her a painting from an emerging artist in the Ukraine to start her collection, Catherine hasn't looked back. When shopping for new art, she relies on instinct and is frequently drawn to bright, vivid paintings. "Colour is my candy," she says of her collection, which is as rich and varied as her own work.

The very first painting Catherine bought herself was hanging in Wallack's Art Supplies on Bank Street. She was stocking up on supplies and when she asked the cashier about a study of a bright, tropical flower, she discovered that the cashier was the artist herself. She bought that painting, along with another one from the same artist. "I always try to have two paintings from an artist, if possible," she explains. "That way, it tells you a bit of a story and it makes more of an impact statement."

Over the years, the artist has expanded her collection by visiting small local galleries, art shows, and art-in-the-park events, sometimes waiting years to find the perfect piece. Still, the hunt is half the fun for Catherine whose approach to art is straightforward and unpretentious with the advice: "If you love it, buy it."

Recently, on a rare quiet morning, she felt inspired by a bouquet of lilacs picked by her son and immediately set up her easel. A little while later her "personal art critics" arrived back home and admired her progress, and this was her signal that it was time to put the painting on hold until a quieter time, which was fine with her. "I'm a mother first and happy to be that," she says. "But exercising my creative side will always bring me contentment and personal balance." — Written by Araina Bond

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