Hours spent learning to build houses in the woods gave artist Drew Mosley the time and environment he needed to finally discover his perfect medium.
Long hikes provided him with fresh inspiration and the opportunity to observe and connect with many species of wildlife in their natural habitats. The constraints of cabin living also necessitated a switch from large canvasses to a sketchbook, and soon a completely unique series of fantastical creatures began to emerge in Drew’s drawings.
Further influence came from First Nations murals and totem poles on Vancouver Island. “I loved the way animals were used to tell stories and narrate myths,” says the artist.
Drew’s cast of forest characters are grittier versions of those deemed the cutest by pop culture. “Owls, rabbits, foxes and wolves are desirable when printed on a t-shirt or mug, but in the wild they are scruffy, considered a nuisance and often hunted. I wanted people to see them more how they really are and see the reality of how we are treating them.”
He adds, “All of my characters, in my mind, are in a fight or flight moment and are being driven out of their natural habitat, physically carrying a little piece of their home. I use a black background to give the impression that they are making their way under the cloak of darkness.”
Most of Drew’s paintings start with a small note or sketch. He frequently completes ninety percent of a piece within a week and then will tinker with it for months, waiting for the narrative to reveal itself.
Unable to choose a favourite colour, he says “I just like colour—colour is fun,” and he credits his consistently black backgrounds with enabling him to easily delete anything he doesn’t like.
When completing a painting, the eyes are the very last thing Drew attends to. “Sometimes they can take a week or two to get right. The eyes are where the whole tone comes out. To me, I am looking for empathy for these creatures or trying to win them empathy by personifying them.” Names are assigned at the very last minute and often not until the painting has been hung on the gallery wall.
Drew’s collection of acrylic paintings are complemented by a series of mesmerizing dioramas he builds into small wooden bowls. A 3D effect is generated using carefully planned layers of resin, poured in thin layers, painted separately, and combined with natural elements.
Drew is driven by a self-described “artistic obsession,” but also the need to create awareness for the environmental issues he sees as important. “I am always wanting to improve, never satisfied and never done. My own style has been developed but that doesn’t mean that I am comfortable in it. Bringing my son into this world this past year has served to make me want to boost the narrative of my work even more.”
From hand to mind
Anne Nicol can trace her artistic path back to the gift of a calligraphy book from her father when she was just eight years old.
Years of personal and career success followed using many artistic mediums, but it was the devastating loss of her sister in 2014 that guided her to the door of LOAM Clay Studio. “When my sister died, I simply could not find an urn that was good enough. I decided to make one for her myself and signed up for a workshop. I was hooked by the first class and pottery quickly became my therapy and a way to work though my grief. Ultimately, it became my passion.”
Almost three years later, Anne has made so many beautiful pieces that her fellow potters are gently encouraging her to have a show.
When setting out to create, she rarely has a plan. “Things grow as they go. Visually I like the look of pieces that are hand thrown and hand built. Every item is unique and I enjoy transforming the ordinary into something unexpected.”
Inspiration for her love of detail comes from Pinterest, calligraphy and cherished items like the trim on her wedding dress. Nature is sourced for the patterns and textures of simple objects like fruit and barn board. Meaningful sweet-faced little birds perch proudly on many finished works.
From a vast wall of available glazes, the colours of spring are often preferred, including soft blues and a new favourite, petal pink.
Recently, a set of little teacups, leftover from devising the perfect whimsical lid for a tea pot, provided the opportunity for her to go crazy with colour. “I had a ton of fun with a little gold lustre added for glitz.”
This spring, Anne celebrates three years as a potter and she still looks forward to coming to the studio every day to make beautiful things for her own collection and for others. “I love private commissions and working in the service of someone else,” says Anne, noting the joy she also gets from making a piece of pottery for each client of her husband’s company, Crossford Construction, to welcome them back into their newly renovated home.
When asked what drives her passion, she says happily, “I love creating, and as an artist this is the first type of art I have found that allows me to be mindful and completely in the moment. Ideas flow from my mind out through my hands. The studio is a very creative space for me to learn and grow as an artist. While at work I am always busy in my head thinking, trying and taking risks. There are lots of failures but also lots of successes.”
The importance of nonsense
The soothing beachy tones and layered patterns in his tiled sculptural hangings reflect Nate Nettleton’s happy childhood spent along the banks of Lake Erie.
“My dad built furniture out of driftwood and I would spend hours in his shop, watching and learning,” says Nate. “One day while stacking up little piles of wood, I discovered a visually pleasing combination which would later become the foundation of my first artistic series.”
Years later, the kitchen counter of a small apartment provided space for a newly-married Nate to cut and arrange overlapping squares of reclaimed and new wood to replicate the movement of waves. Dyed, fabric-covered squares add a textural component to a colour palette of whitecaps, sand, water and sky.
As living spaces increased in size over time, so too did the dimensions of Nate’s creations. His newer Scribble Sculptures are comprised of hand-drawn scribbles, blown up, projected onto wood, cut out with a jigsaw and painted. Nate isn’t sure how he came up with this unique idea, but suspects that his background in psychology may have played a role.
“I currently help run a very open-style art club at the school where I work and was really drawn to the scribbles and doodles of young children. Scribbling is therapeutic, conveys a lot of emotion and I really like the freedom it holds. I thought it would be cool to take this perceived ‘nonsense’ that is often thrown away and make it big and important.”
His most recent works, a series of larger cube-shaped art installations, have turned the outdoors into his latest studio. Each open-sided structure has different materials suspended inside, such as brightly coloured tree branches bound together in a piece titled Possibility.
“The idea is that the material enclosed within the cube is representative of restraint and the hardships of life with portions beyond the frame indicative of empowerment and overcoming.” Although work is usually a solo venture, with power tools whirring and sawdust flying, Nate calls his wife Kayla a godsend for the hours she has spent helping him with installations.
Similarities found in his three styles of work reflect a fascination with movement, water and natural forces. Every creation takes a different length of time to complete, depending on whether chosen materials need to be cleaned, treated or found. Nate’s desire to create keeps pace with his growing collections.
“My mind is always thinking about my work. I wake up in the night to make notes on colour, patterns and materials. Art has become a need and I have an internal desire to keep exploring different ideas through art. All I know is that I need to do this as much as possible.”
Asked what a budding collector should purchase, he suggests, “Something that you like the way it looks or what it represents.” Those attending Nate’s upcoming show at Seven Below Gallery, in Old Ottawa South, from July 6 to 30 should be able to do just that.