Artist Spotlight: Keeping it Real, part II


Next up in the Artist Spotlight series, we chat with Keeping it Real artists Catherine Mills, Diane Huson and Neville Clarke. Read on to learn more about what inspires them and what “keeping it real” means to them!

SG: Hi Catherine, Diane and Neville! Please tell us a little bit about yourselves.

CM: I was born in Schefferville, Quebec and after a short stint in Montreal, we moved to Scarborough when it was still farm country. I attended the University of Guelph where I studied bio-science, but the whole time I hung out with artists, writers and dreamers.

After graduating in a recession and finding sporadic work, I went back to school for Art and Design at Sheridan College. I studied woodworking, but one of my professors noticed that I decorated everything, painting fantastic patterns and embellishments. I went on to have a marvellous career in decorative painting; being privileged to work on some prestigious projects: Casino Niagara, Casino Windsor, ROM, Hockley Valley Resort, Niagara’s Pillar and Post, Prince of Wales Hotel, Graydon Manor, Yorkminster Baptist Church and Inniskillen Wineries to name a few. However, decor tastes shifted, so I decided to transfer my skills into fine art.

DH: I’m originally from B.C., where I completed my Fine Arts Diploma at Malaspina College. My love of art led me to teach art classes in my home studio and local galleries, as well as volunteering my art skills in the public school system. I incorporate art into almost everything I do, from working with people with disabilities to our family owned renovation business. I am fortunate to now be a full-time artist, but that also entails juggling a busy, full life. There never seems to be enough time to paint!

NC: I graduated with honours from the Ontario College of Art and Design and was selected to study in Florence, Italy. As President of the Canadian Society of Painters in Water Colour (2001-2003), I presented a folio of paintings by selected members to HRH the Prince of Wales on behalf of the society in 2001. I’m faculty in the Fine Arts Studio Program at Centennial College and assistant coordinator for the Art & Design Foundation and the Fine Art Studio Program as well. I also taught traditional media painting in the Illustration Program at Seneca at York University.

I have exhibited nationally and internationally with exhibitions in Japan, Mexico, South Korea and the USA. My works can be found in the collections of the Glenbow Museum, the Frederick H. Varley Art Gallery, Art Gallery of Peel and HRH the Prince of Wales in London, England.

Sagra femorata, 2011, acrylic on canvas

Sagra femorata, 2011, acrylic on canvas

SG: What influences your art? What inspires you?

CM: My influences and inspirations are varied as I think most artists’ are. My studies in biology are reflected in my insect works; I delight in their morphology and designs and the unexpected nature of their beauty. I am profoundly interested in beauty as an ideal and its unorthodox aspects. I was born with a cleft palate and the resultant scarring from the repair left a yearning to be beautiful when I was younger certainly, and now I desire to reflect beauty and create it. The experience has taught me that beauty is a far more complex idea found in surprising things, people and places. An additional struggle has been an auto-immune eye condition which has threatened my eyesight, and has left me somewhat impaired after multiple procedures and surgeries. The pure desire to ‘see’ is also what fuels my representational work, since I am wary of how long I will be able to perceive the world in an optically standard way.

Sagra femorata, 2011, acrylic on canvas
DH: My art reflects my love of the natural world and the unique way I see it. The colours, light and textures of nature and gardening, in particular, catches my eye and I find myself compelled to put what I see onto canvas. I find that flowers almost always capture my attention and I want to share with people their colours, shading and vibrancy.When I paint, I am acutely aware of the play of natural light in my subject . I’m also aware that the light is ever-changing quality and elusive to the artist’s brush, but I like the feeling of tension between the instant and changing quality of light with the more permanent quality of a painting. I try to capture the beauty of this moment in time and bring it to the attention of those who may not have noticed it in their busy lives. In this way, perhaps, my paintings give viewers back that moment.

NC: My artistic practice often consists of depicting the female form while inviting the viewer to push aside stereotypical perceptions as they interact with the subject. I am fascinated with the potential found in subjects that are unconventional but arresting, independent but still with echoes of fragility. The intrinsic values and characteristics within us define the evolving human condition; these are the elements significant to my work. Choosing the figure as my communication medium allows me to express feelings of hope, dignity and courage which reflect the burning desires within humanity. I am inspired by artists of the classical tradition but am strongly influenced by works of contemporary and modern figurative artist such as Lucien Freud, Daniel Green, and Nelson Shanks to name a few. My hope is to create meaningful works of art that are relevant, engaging and promote dialogue.

SG: Could you tell us a little bit about your studio practice and techniques?

CM: I work in a basement studio; I have particular requirements for lighting and either photograph or set up my own still life arrangements to work from. I paint from print and recently have started working from a monitor, trying to create an image that looks real, but reflects the additional something that brings a painting to life. The Trompe l’Oeil piece in the show, ‘Letters to a Daughter‘ was an entire mock-up; I made the ‘wall’, wrote the letters, learned to spread the butterfly (postman butterfly by the way) arranged everything and painted it using both the actual set up and the monitor image. Most of my paintings take time, again, ‘Letters to a Daughter‘ took 2-3 weeks to paint, building the layers and colours. Even my small ‘gem’ pieces take 3-4 days to paint. It is exacting, disciplined work.

DH: I am a photographer as well as an Artist and love to travel. All my work is from my own photographs (or that of close family) taken locally around my Whitby neighbourhood or from my travels to other countries. I never lack for inspiration and in fact fear that I will not get all the paintings done that I have mapped out in my head! Because I use traditional oil on canvas, I often have 3 paintings on the go at one time to allow for drying time in between layers. One painting can have up to 15 layers of oil so completing a painting can take up to 6 months. I always tell people I am a slow painter for this reason. I originally started painting in oils at the age of 11 and continued through school and college. Once I started my family, though, I switched to watercolours. About 8 years ago I decided to switch back to traditional oils on large canvas and only use walnut oil as my thinner and medium. It is far less toxic that other traditional methods and much easier on the environment.

NC: I often begin with sketches and studies made directly from the model at different vantage points to find the most interesting angles and composition. This early stage of drawing with charcoal and watercolour allows for more in-depth analysis of the subject using the blocking-in method to establish the larger masses, gesture, proportions and figure parts, including the background. The interplay of light and shadow shapes are carefully examined and are used as design elements to create focus and movement within the composition. The sketches allow for a clearer vision of how to navigate throughout the various stages in developing the final painting.

The final painting is re-drawn on a larger scale and the blocking–in process again is employed to convey the simple shapes using mixtures of monochromatic washes of yellow ochre, ultramarine blue and cadmium red to conveys the light and dark values on subject and background.

As my work progresses, my painting process becomes more direct, in a manner similar to working with oil paint – moving from fluid washes to thicker opaque applications – constantly building layers through additive and subtractive manipulation of the watercolour medium while pushing light intensities, contrast and tonal variations to achieve the rich luminosity and expressive qualities of the subject. This is the point where the creative process begins as my attention is now more focus on the artwork instead of the model in order to assess what the painting needs for it to be successful.

Depending on the size and complexity of the work, a painting may take up to three weeks to be completed.

SG: Anything else you would like to share about this exhibit?

CM: I am honoured and delighted to participate in this exhibit, and amazed that I am considered a peer of these great artists who I know and admire. What I think is terrific is that even within the parameters of ‘realism’ there is such variety and a wide range of approaches and virtuosity. It is inspiring and leaves me feeling there’s still so much to observe, celebrate, learn and I will continue the struggle to capture it in paint.

DH: I am very honoured to be included in such a high calibre of talented Artists at Station Gallery. It is so refreshing to see an exhibit totally devoted to Realism and so professionally arranged. It certainly speaks volumes to the immense talent in Durham Region.

To learn more about Catherine and to check out her work visit

To learn more about Diane and to check out her work visit

To learn more about Neville and to check out his work visit

Keeping it Real is on view now until July 10, 2016.

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