The rim of yellow stone captures a strip of white sunlight. A wall reflects that same light to the viewer’s eye. In another frame, an old cast-iron stove, cluttered with cast iron pots and utensils, is bathed in sunlight.
Meanwhile, in a different painting, a pint of Guinness sits on the bar of a darkened pub. Daylight streaming in through an out-of-scene window is captured in the ripples of the beer glass.
It’s safe to say that Heather Hughson can see light.
And when she sees the way that light strikes a particular scene, she captures it on canvas.
“The hardest thing, I think, is conquering light,” Hughson says. “There’s a light and there’s a shade and you can see that light and shade but you need to have the confidence to paint the light like you see it.”
And the light Hughson likes to capture shines down on scenes around Vancouver Island near her Campbell River home. For the most part. A pint of legendary beer in its native habitat – a pub in Ireland – proved too irresistible for the artist to not paint and, presumably, drink.
But Hughson is usually traveling around northern Vancouver Island with a camera around her neck looking for scenes to capture and take back to her studio. Once there, the photos become the building blocks of her paintings, occasionally works of art themselves.
She’s been doing it since she moved to Campbell River in 1986. But it wasn’t until she moved to the Island that she became inspired to paint. She began exploring her Island home and taking photographs. After taking the photos, she became taken by the idea of recreating in paint scenes of where she had been.
A course at North Island College provided the techniques to express herself through paint. “And it just kind of opened my mind,” Hughson says. She began creating original pieces of art and was further encouraged when one of her pieces sold “right off the bat.”
As an artist, she admires the impressionist style of painting because, among other things, they knew about light.
“The Impressionists always talked about the light,” Hughson says. But her impressionist leanings don’t fully define her art.
“I have always said I am a contemporary artist,” Hughson says. “I like to think I lean towards the Impressionists.”
Impressionism is a style that originated in France in the 1860s that depicts a visual impression of a moment, an attempt to capture the shifting effect of light and colour. It places less emphasis on a literal depiction of a scene.
Hughson’s work is informed by impressionism but she also strives to represent what she sees. Her creative space is a studio off her kitchen. “That means I can see my pieces of art throughout the day.”
When she first started out, art was something she did whenever she found the time. But in recent years, she’s developed the discipline to paint regularly and has discovered how productive that can make you. Now she gets up at 6am to paint.
“Painting every day means that you can be a lot more relaxed about what you are doing because you’re doing a lot more of it. The more you paint the more confidence you get.”
If you make a mistake you just correct it. You don’t fret about putting so much time in and so this piece better be “the one” because you won’t find time to do another or go back over a mistake. You learn that “there’s always tomorrow.”
Another aspect of her life that is boosting her productivity is her part time job at the Campbell River Community Arts Council.
Working in an office in Sybil Andrews Cottage, the former home of the late, great artist, and surrounding herself with the business of promoting and supporting local artists is inspirational in itself. “I found myself encouraged even more to paint.”
Her subject matter is varied, but heavily leaning towards landscapes, and she paints in a variety of media from water colour to acrylic and, even, photography.
Ironically, a photograph of salmon in a stream is more Impressionistic than most of her paintings. But when she first started out, her style was all over the place. “I did a show and someone thought there were five different artists in the show.”
Now she has found the freedom having her own style gives her. “With a style, you can do anything.” Her style is defined not by the subject matter but by “the way you put the paint down.”
For now, Hughson doesn’t have a goal for her art. It is a means in itself. “I don’t know if I am actually going anywhere,” she says. “I just want to paint. I just want to enjoy myself. I don’t know if art is fulfilling, sometimes it’s frustrating. But it is compelling. Artists don’t stop being artists. You don’t retire from it, you keep doing it because you have to do it.” Visit her online: www.heatherhughson.ca
Being an artist herself and working with the Arts Council, Hughson gives a lot of thought to supporting her creative colleagues. And recently, she hit upon a plan that allows her to support her fellow artists. And it’s a plan that anyone can follow. “Six years ago, I hadn’t been selling any paintings for a while and I realized that I hadn’t been buying any either,” she says. She hit on the idea that she would buy one painting a year.
She now has seven pieces of original art that she’s purchased from local artists, even though she doesn’t have a large budget. “I think anyone can buy original art,” she says. “There’s a lot of it out there.” People think nothing of buying a poster from a department store but they don’t realize they can buy an original piece of art for not much more money.
As an artist herself, buying other art allows her to enjoy a piece for its own sake, instead of constantly evaluating her own art. “I don’t really see my own art. When I look at it, I look at it more critically. When I see a piece I purchased, I smile. It gives me far greater joy.”