In 2011, Claire Desjardins transitioned from graphic designer to painter and has since not looked back. Having just completed a large commission for a client in California, Claire's next job is to prepare for two upcoming art fairs, one in New York and the other in Toronto. In the past few years Claire has completed residencies in both the US and China and created work for the major retailer, Anthropologie.
We caught up with Claire to hear more about her life as an artist in Gore, Quebec and why painting is the medium that she fell in love with.
Hi Claire, how's it going? What are you working on at the moment?
Claire: Hi! I just finished working on a 5- by 5-foot commissioned painting for a collector in California. Now I’m preparing for two exciting art fairs, firstly The Artist Project, in Toronto in February and then ArtExpo where I'm having a solo show in New York, in April.
You're based in Gore, Quebec - what's the creative scene like there?
Claire: Gore is a beautiful but tiny municipality in the Laurentians, located an hour north of vibrant Montreal, in Canada. Visually enticing landscapes have attracted creative types, such as myself, as we are drawn to the natural beauty. I love being surrounded by a number of artist neighbours!
There are not many organized art events in this tiny municipality, though I have participated in the local Art Expo fair which takes place during a weekend in July. Several local artists are involved in the Route des Arts, but I am not as I travel so frequently.
You mention on your about section that you're from a long line of artists. Are any of these well known? How did this influence your decision to become an artist/ creative?
Claire: I don’t know if there are any famous artists in my family, however maybe we’re famous in our heads! My mother is an artist, and she has influenced me the most. She has been painting, drawing and making things for as long as I can remember. She even sewed our clothes when we were little.
While I always showed an aptitude for art, I did not want it as a career for myself. It wasn’t until many years later, when I decided to give it a whirl, and with a bit of hard work and determination, I was able to eke out a living from it.
You worked for many years as a graphic designer, does this influence your paintings or attitude?
Claire: Most definitely. I am drawn to very graphic designs, colours and patterns. This influence is visible in many of my pieces.
What made you take the leap from graphic designer to artist?
Claire: I was laid off of my graphic design job, in August 2011. At the time, I was getting back into making art as a hobby and so I thought that this might be the perfect time for me to try my hand at painting.
I was incredibly fortunate, within the first few weeks I was approached by US retailer, Anthropologie and asked to collaborate with them on a number of projects. I was also picked up by a gallery in Toronto. That pretty much secured my transition into the art world. I have never worked harder, nor have I ever been happier!
What is it that you love about painting?
Claire: I love that there are so many different ways to paint. Paint can be applied with a traditional brush, but it can also be applied with a spatula, it can be sprayed, it can be mixed with polymers and poured… and each different method is so different from the last. It’s a medium that has so many facets, and it never gets boring to me. I also love working with colour and spontaneity. I try not to over think my pieces to ensure that they keep a fresh, intuitive spirit about them.
On a broader scale, I love that I can make a difference with my art. I have done several live painting events for charities, whereby I paint a painting in front of an crowd and then it is auctioned off to the highest bidder at the end of the evening. The money goes to help a good cause. It’s a nice way to give back, and it’s been a fun way to meet people, too.
Do your paintings explore any particular themes?
Claire: Most of my painting are abstract and each piece is truly personal. I use the canvas as my sounding board, upon which I belt out the thoughts that echo in the hallways of my mind. I hope to affect the viewer in such a way that they leave feeling as though they have a sense of me, as a person, even if they aren’t art connoisseurs, per se.
I also paint as a personal aid, I use painting to keep me feeling happy and I think this often shows in my artworks. My paintings are connected to my mood, at the time of creating them.
What artists inspire you and why?
Other artists whose works make my heart beat faster, include: Helen Frankenthaler as I love how her work is messy yet flows, Peter Doig as his beautiful work offers light, dark, vivid colours and softness... they are sometimes flat and other times deep. There’s a sensitivity about his work that speaks to me. A couple of years ago, I saw the Dale Chihuly exhibit, in Montreal. His sense of light and colour floored me, I love the sense of fun and joy that it exudes!
What scale you like to work at and why?
Claire: I love to work big, whenever possible. I find it liberating to make those big, free marks on a substrate. Working large requires full body movement. I find that when I am in front of a large painting, the experience is whole, and if I spend time studying it, I really feel like I become a part of the painting. It’s almost a spiritual thing. I find it very grounding to create large artworks.
What type of paints do you enjoy using?
I mostly use acrylics and often use bright, saturated colours because they makes me feel an emotional connection. I like to switch around my style somewhat, because I find it boring to always paint in the same way. On this note, I love to experiment with new materials, but this almost always centres around acrylic paints. It keeps things exciting for me! Sometimes I play around with charcoal or inks too.
You also teach painting workshops right? Tell us more!
Claire: I teach two and three day art workshops, usually in arts centres. My students consist of both those who have never held a paint brush and art teachers who want to make time for their own painting. Many art teachers tell me that don’t actually find time for their own painting, and how much they miss it! My workshops also seem to attract therapists of all sorts. I think they enjoy the free thinking that I encourage. Being free encourages honesty in one’s work. That, is most liberating.
You're represented by galleries in Canada and the US, how does this side of your career as an artist differ to selling online via Artfinder?
Claire: I think it’s important, as an artist, to try to get as much exposure as possible. We artists are great at making art, but not always so great at selling ourselves. That is what online and brick and mortar galleries can do for us. Of course, the advantage of selling via Artfinder is obvious, a larger cut goes into the artist’s pocket!
The business model for galleries is changing, as it is for many industries. Art is becoming more accessible to everyone, in large part because of the online art scene. That and with the advent of social media, there has never been a better time to be an artist!
You've taken part in residencies, where and what did you do during these times?
Claire: I have been to residencies in both the US and in China. The experiences were both so different.
I took part in a residency in Vermont, in the US and was one of over 50 artist attending. In China I was one of only 4 or 5 artists and people came and went at varying intervals.
In both cases, we were provided with a room and board, as well as 24/7 access to our studios. Being away at a residency is very special, as one can concentrate on one’s art rather than the day-to-day workings of our daily lives. To paint in an uncluttered studio, surrounded by beauty and other artists is an elixir. I recommend that every serious artist attends at least one artist residency, at some point in their career. Artist residencies exist all around the globe, and it’s a lovely way to visit our planet!
Lastly, what do you have planned for the future?
Claire: Last year I had six solo shows, taught six workshops, planned my wedding, got married, went on a honeymoon and I’m sure I’m forgetting some other things too. It was a busy year, and it was great. But this year, I think I want to focus more on painting for the sake of painting.
I will be teaching a few more workshops in 2017, but will be more focused on making my own artwork for now. As mentioned, there are two shows that I will be participating in and I will still have to provide my galleries (6 of them) with artwork, so 2017 won’t all be about me lounging around in my studio, wondering which bonbon to eat next!
I also have several exciting projects underway, that will be announced in the weeks to come... Stay tuned!