Host Moe Kafer interviews artist & mentor Michelle Gazely from Smithers BC and discusses all things mentorship in art, art as therapy and more.
See Michelle's work here http://www.michellegazely.com/
📍 In a beautiful mountain town in Northern BC, halfway between prince George and prince Rupert on highway 16. Smithers BC is the home to many, very talented artists. And I've decided to sit down and conversation with some of them and find out. Just what makes them tick. Welcome to. Conversations in art.
Today, I'm speaking with Michelle Gazely. Another one of the many talented 📍 artists in the Bulkley valley. Just wanted to start by saying i am so blown away by the talent here in this area
I'm blown away too. I'm 📍 blown away by the support that people have and the gallery has. And there's so many artists here. There's so many visual artists, so many musicians, it's crazy for small 📍 town in the north. Smithers is a special place.
I totally think that.
Where are you from?
Langley? We were in hope for eight years and we moved up here.
And so were you always an artist? Was art always in your blood?
Oh yeah, since I was little, it's the only thing I could do well and sing, but I can't sing now, but yeah, I've always loved art.
My, my mom's a painter as well. She's hobby painter, but she paints. She loves painting. I started painting. I went to fine arts. I did art all through high school.
I think the first painting I saw was my dad's . And it was like a little oil painting and it was like, oh, just on a canvas board. And I was small and it was in my room and you could touch it. It was like raised paint, I don't know what it was like with a palette knife or something.
I'm like, oh my gosh, how did this happen? And touching it as a little kid. One of my first memories. And then I used to watch Mr. Dress up. And my favorite part was watching him draw and then I just started taking art classes and my parents really supported me.
I did art all through high school and then I took fine. In college. I didn't go to university because I didn't want to take any academics. Like academics were not my jam. I just wanted to do art. So I wanted to be an art teacher, like high school teacher, but that meant I'd have to do academics. I was really specific that the only academics I want to do were English and art history.
That was it. Yeah, that was my post-secondary career. And then you can't make a living. It was early nineties. There was no social media. So, I didn't even know how, like I had like a show on commercial drive in Vancouver, but it was like very difficult to try and piece together how to be an artist back then cause you're not taught that.
I've worked retail. Yeah. And barely survived. And then my dad said Mitch, why don't you take graphic design? I'm like, oh, like commercial, art, and I'm like, okay. And so they let me move back in with them. Cause I was barely surviving in Vancouver, like $6 an hour. I had my own apartment.
So I had like most of my money was going to my rent. And beer and cigarettes like that was my, like it was like, yeah. Okay, dad, that's a good idea. So I moved back in with them and they had law that allowed me the time and space to put together a portfolio and go back to school.
So I applied to three different colleges. I was looking to do a two or three year full-time program for graphic design and illustration. And I was accepted to the three I applied to and I picked Capilano. So I came back to Vancouver and did three years full time. With sort of the same group of 22 students, so it was like Monday to Friday nine to five schooling.
So half of it was graphic design, which was interesting. Cause it was just at the turning point of everything going digital. So it was like first year we weren't allowed to use the. And it was all designing by hand and cut and paste. And then the last two years, our instruction with the computers. Wasn't great.
So it was all self-taught basically like after I left school, but the other half was amazing because what I really wanted to do was not be a graphic designer. It was to be a fine artist. So the other half was all drawing, painting, mixed media, like putting together diaramas. It's like putting together things.
So I was like you. And so after that I got out, I graduated and looked for a graphic design job.
I got a job in an office. It was like Monday to Friday, eight, five. I was in my pencil, skirt, my hair up, like all dressed up, taking the bus with my little briefcase, thinking I'm an adult now I made it right. And then, after the first week I was literally, it was raining. I was in living in Burnaby, walking to the bus, stop thinking, , I hate this job.
I hate working at an office. I hate the schedule. I did it for three years and they were a great company. It was like a plush. Toy wholesaler. I learned so much working there. I was doing graphic design. I was doing photography. They had me do everything like art direction. It was just like everything, all marketing fell on my shoulders.
So it was totally awesome. It was an awesome start. But then the plan was to get out of the city, moved to hope and have my baby. So Brad and I got married. . And then I started freelance graphic design. ] . I don't really like that either, but I did it and I was making money off of it.
And then moved to Smithers just cause we thought it was beautiful. We wanted to get out of the lower mainland hope was even too close. So we moved up here in 2014 and bought a tiny log cabin. We were inspired by the tiny house movement. And growing our own food. So we bought five acres and we couldn't afford it down there.
So we moved up here. We had been here and we like, man, Smithers is beautiful. I think that's where we need to be. Yeah. So we came up here and moving here, I hadn't painted for years, inspired me to paint again. Like it was such an inspiring place. Like the snow, the mountains, just the landscape. So incredible.
And then I met Mark Tworow. And he's like, how's your painting coming? Are you painting? He was like, , he's cause I told him I was a painter and I'd show him images on my phone and he'd be like, oh wow, that's pretty good. And he was , pushing me along
and I hadn't painted in a long time. I'm like, okay. And then I met Caroline and then got involved with the gallery and yeah. Yeah. And then that was it. I was just like I'm painting. .
That's pretty cool. You've touched on a bunch of things, but mentorship, . , How important is that to an artist
so important. So important. Now I have my group of women. Mark still mentors me daily because I see him all the time. It's so important in. Enjoy being a mentor and I teach now. I have a group of teens that I teach
and I love mentoring and I love being mentored. Like mentorship is huge for an artist and getting that little push. And when I meet with my artist group, the fantastic five, we talk about. Art. Like I hadn't talked about art and so long until I moved up here and started talking with mark and started talking with people and started volunteering at the gallery.
And then I met Susan, I met Lynn, I met Sarah. I met Mo I met all of these people and I'm like, Ooh, I want to know more. I want to know more about art. Yeah. So Volunteering at the gallery was huge for me to meet people and to be inspired.
Some artists seem quite solitary and they just go out into nature and paint and that's how they commune. But you kind of sound like you're quite social
I have to actually paint on my own. And if I paint with somebody else, it has to be fun, painting, exploratory painting. But when I do serious painting, like something like that was for a show, right? Like stuff that I do for shows has. I feed off of other people when we're together.
So I was painting with mark and Sarah last week, we hadn't painted together for a long time. So that was more of an exploratory, like playing with India, ink and oil, paint, a painting over painting and playing with some of Mark's stuff. But yeah, I feed off of other people, but when I actually get to serious painting, I usually have to be by myself.
What is your process as a painter?
Generally, I usually do an underpainting. Like it's changed. It's really evolved. When I first started painting they were tiny and I grid everything and I was inspired by this daily painting book. . I picked up that book and started painting small cause we were always taught in art school to paint big and as a new mom you can't conquer a big painting.
With the busy schedule. So I was just doing these tiny paintings of like apples and things. And then I was gridding when I want to be really specific I grid it now, but now I try to be a bit more free with my painting the pandemic on my, got me into portraits and self portraits and people.
📍 So my latest pieces are portraits of the fantastic five. I go through phases. So generally I will paint over a painting because I'm not precious about my paintings, especially if they're ugly, even if other people like it I'm like, sorry, I don't like it. That's trash. So I'll paint over it.
So generally I'll glue things down. I'll find tissue paper. I'm really into maps these days. Like having maps and tissue paper and just things , of interest.
So I want the viewer to actually have more to look at than just a painting. Like , , this series. I was really into stenciling stuff.
What's the series called?
Out of the Blooms. 📍
And they are flower paintings,
multilayered flower painting. So it went from healing from a sexual assault. I had actually, so it was like working with my therapist and then this series came out of that and thinking about my view on date rape sort of pre- #metoo movement. Or probably pre being date raped. Does that make sense? So it was like, my ideas of that then, and then that happening. And then the shame that I felt, and then the me too movement happening and me being like, , how many women has this happened to?
And then me doing this series. So that's the series of events that happened, that led up to my out of the bloom series. It's a very black and white series. And then it goes more into color . And this one of my end pieces called gather, like women gathering together.
I really draw on the strength of women and what. We've accomplished, man. Cause we rule, I'm like, really I think with Trump being elected, I sometimes find it shocking. Like I was shocked about everything and it made me really angry and made me really dig deep into what being a woman is and what being female is and embracing my femininity because I was always like that with it.
But now it's Bring it on baby, like whatever it looks like. So that series was kind of part of a healing journey.
Can you tell me more about how painting helps you process and heal?
Gosh, I can't even tell you. I don't know. It just, and it was like, it closed a door on. I feel like with the me too movement, I was a little bit retraumatized, like a little bit reopened wounds.
I don't know. But when I closed the door and I was finished that series, it was like a big weight was lifted off my shoulders and it was maybe it was like the connecting, all of my thoughts through. From when I was a teenager to when it happened to now and the power of women. Does that make sense? .
I'm not very good at explaining that part of it.
I guess you could describe it as you've gone from the black and darkness of the assault and then moving to the colorful place of healing.
It was very like the way I viewed assault.
As a teenager, everything was very black and white and I didn't have anything, any nuanced feelings about thing. So it was like very black or white, whereas that's not how life is.
So my series went from really black and white floral still. And then it moved to just adding a little bit of color and a little bit of nuance and a little bit of. Life like what life actually is not what maybe the media tells us well and the words actually helped. So yeah, the whole series, .
Had just stenciled letters on it and stencil words. And the piece that you have is actually after that series. Cause I was really in a happy place, easy like Sunday morning, it was just like, I'm done that series and I'm like feeling good.
So in the business of art, you talked about struggling as a young artist. Where you are at now can? you make money
I think you absolutely can. You have to be really disciplined. If you're just doing originals, it's a bit harder.
So I think that. You definitely can, you can go towards the root of oh, I can't even think of it as getting deals with different companies to have your designs manufactured on things. So you could go that route. That's not totally my jam. I just like painting to paint. So I'm more of an original artist kind of painter, or if I did anything, I would maybe do prints or I'd have done cards, but yeah, I'm just like painting.
Yeah, I'll never be rich. I don't think off of my art and I'm okay with that because I think that has a whole other set of pressures along with it of like making sellable art. And I have a really hard time with that because I'm very intuitive, like I see a path and I want to follow it
so it's like first it was landscapes. When we moved here, then it was flowers and now it's portraits and self portraits, The peonies are so great right now that I'll be painting peonies, this weekend. So like I cut a whole bunch and I'm going to be arranging them.
And I usually paint from photograph, but I'll probably paint from life. Like these ones were done from life, but this was done from a photograph. So generally going back to my processes, I generally like to collage first and then quickly sketch out something and reinstate lines. This is over a painting that was super unsuccessful.
Then I paint over it and whether I use color or not color, like I was doing black and whites over the pandemic, so I go with, intuitive. I think if I follow my intuition, my paintings turn out better.
It's not a, like a push it's just like a flow.
That's really interesting. And you seem to change color palettes quite a bit
As far as color palettes go. I've been including more color.
Initially. I used. Like CAD red, CAD yellow, like a very standard pallet that I was taught in school. CAD red, CAD, yellow, ultra Marine blue, patanium white no black weren't allowed to use black in school. . That was a no-no . Because you have to mix black. If you want to make black, you need to mix it.
You cannot use black out of the tube. And guess what? I use black out of the tube now it's whatever. I've listened to a podcast of a guy, like in favor of using blacks. So I've been playing with different pallets. There's something called a Zorn palette. I can't remember what it's about, but it's a book from a guy named Zoran and all he uses is ivory black titanium white.
A yellow and a red and that's it. Oh yeah. And the colors that he can create with just four colors that he can mix. Amazing. . It's pretty cool. . . So I liked to play around with my palates now and mark introduced me to some really nice reds for my florals. So I've been including more Magenta's and more rosy reds.
So yeah, it's been evolving. I think paintings an evolution. I don't like being stuck in one thing I get, and that's how I don't even say I got bored easy. I just like to constantly be changing and moving and doing new things.
Well, variety is the spice of life. It's , kind of like the painters here in the valley. There's so many different approaches to art. And everybody's so different
Oh, I think so. And it's so small yet. So creatively huge. And so many writers here too. And musicians, so many musicians. Yeah. So it's like a, it's a great place for art and creators, I think.
Why do you think that is.
I think is a very special in the fact that there was a lot of detail put to how the town was created and the upgrade of main street and all of those things. And I think the fact that there's a wide range of work here, and there's a wide range of people who live.
Like very wide range of people. And I think in the landscape here and the outdoor recreation, I don't know. I think it's this place and how it's been put together. That's just my thought. Diversity in people, but the landscape as well, and the amount of opportunities here
I've never lived in a place that has so much opportunity. I moved here. I got a job within three weeks being a photographer for love, Telkwa Like it was like, okay. You can be a big fish in a small pond. And I totally believe in, have you seen the movie Big Fish?
Yeah, it's one of my favorites. Like you can actually Excel and you don't feel small, like this place doesn't minimize you. It elevates. So I think the city can be very daunting because there's so many people and there's so much competition and that person's always better than you or that person.
But here, it's just I feel like I can really be me and explore my creativity in a way that no other place has allowed me to. Yeah.
And do you see a lot of promise in the young people?
Oh my gosh. Give me goosebumps, like seriously, the art that's coming from the kids here is absolutely incredible.
I have to show you pictures because they're so good. Lindsey Pierce is phenomenal. And then Evelyn Stevenson, wholly, like our youth show was just exploding, yeah. Digital art painting yeah. Flipping amazing. I feel like really great things will come from the youth in our community. As far as visual art goes, I think musically as well, but because I'm involved in the visual arts.
So I love teaching kids and I love teaching teens and that's what I've been mostly doing and working for the gallery right now. But I get so inspired by my teens. Holy crap. I had paintings out. I had in mark, always looks at them cause he works at the creation station. He paints there. So I had the paintings out and he's yeah, sorry, Michelle, yours.
Isn't the best. And I'm like, I know, it's that one? We were just like that. That's the best one for sure. Like it exceeds me. It exceeds me when I was there, like at that age, but it far exceeds me now. Like I'm just blown away.
I'm just so impressed by the youth here. Yeah. Yeah. And yeah, it's nice to just work with teens because they're hilarious.
Tell me about the fantastic five.
Oh, the fantastic 5.0. It's my art collective. I'm I met everybody. Installing everybody shows.
At the gallery, I was doing art direction there. Then, yeah I met all of them and then Sarah and I started painting together. And then Sarah and Moe were friends. So the three of us would talk and hang out and we're like, Hey, we should go away to Wells just for a week and just do art together.
And I was. Yeah, let's do that. . So we booked Wells for a week
we were like, like that. As far as painting together, we were talking art, figuring out how to market our art, talking about social media, talking about our websites. We were critical about each other's websites, critical about each other's art in a good way, really constructive criticism. And yeah, I've been really poor with social media this year because of.
We might life has been, but just talking about how important social media is and how there's no longer gatekeepers in the art world. There used to be gatekeepers, right? Especially for women, but yeah, there's no longer gatekeepers. We are our own bosses. We can promote ourselves as well as we want, or as not so well as we want.
And there's a lot of like Thrive in Vancouver, which is like a. Women supporting women artists, they have a podcast and they offer a lot of great resources for women specifically on how to promote your art. And you know how to write like news press releases and such and put together press release packages.
So we would talk about things, the business side of art, essentially. And yeah, and paint together. And plus we are inspired by each other's work. Like the circles came from Suso like all of my work right now has circles in it and Susan is doing a lot of circles. So yeah, I think like I'm inspired by these women.
And who are these women?
So that's Lynn Cociani she's from prince Rupert. Mo Hamilton is from prince George. And Sarah Northcott is from Smithers and Suso Hickey is from prince Rupert. Yeah. Yeah. And so we had a show in March. It traveled to Wells and it was at island mountain arts there.
Okay. So tell our listeners where they can have a look at your work. Do you have a website?
I do. 📍 www.michellegazely.com.
Thanks. Very much, Michelle for such an interesting interview.
Conversations in artists sponsored by Roadhouse in Smithers, BC, a beautiful restaurant where you can see many of the beautiful artworks by these very artists. Come and see email@example.com. Or drop in and have a delicious cocktail and enjoy the beautiful surroundings.