MEET Steph Whalen! Steph is a prolific and inspirational Orillia artist who operates an amazing downtown Orillia studio that offers weekly workshops and events that facilitate creativity. I am always amazed at her enthusiasm and talent as an artist!
READ ON to discover MORE about her art business and artistic practice ....
Tell me about The LOFT. What workshops & events do you offer, and what are the challenges and joys of running an art based business?
Just under 2 years ago I was given the opportunity to share studio space with a local photographer and we agreed that it would be less complicated for people to refer to the space if it had a name. It is a lofty, open room, so we called it The LOFT. I assumed the lease in 2017 and began building various programs to encourage creativity and art based learning for kids and adults. It started with social painting parties (paint night) and I now offer private parties, team building events, specialty community programs, birthday parties for kids and weekly classes for kids ages 6 and up. This fall I added weekly adult classes to the calendar and I am currently working on a revised format so that I can teach the Art Night social painting classes with less of an environmental impact.
There are many challenges. Orillia is a small community. My first job is to continually create fresh, interesting content so that my regular participants have something to look forward to. If I recycle my projects too often, people get bored and maybe move on to something else. There are always new faces up at The LOFT, but it is the regulars who keep me on my toes. The content itself is an entirely different beast. I have established an understanding that all levels of beginner or "non creatives" can complete each project in a really short period of time. I mean, we are painting full sized landscapes in 2-3 hours with little to no knowledge of any of the basic elements. Each project needs to be broken down into 3-4 basic stages, all teachable within the timeframe provided, while trying to maintain a sense of integrity within the art. That is probably my biggest challenge, but also one of the most fulfilling aspects. When I am not creating the projects or instructing the classes, I am building the website, creating marketing materials for social media, responding to emails and phone calls, organizing private events, managing individual event details and scheduling the months to come. I am not typically a very organized person, so this has been a great element in my personal growth and professional development. I have my calendar made up to the end of March now. That actually kinda freaks me out, to be honest.
The joys all arise from meeting these challenges and continually growing. The biggest is the ever growing number of people who report to me that they had no idea that they were capable of making something that they could be proud of. When someone walks into the studio claiming that they can't draw a stick figure and two hours later the same person leaves with a 16" x 20" painting of some beautiful birch trees and a sense of accomplishment, it reassures me that this is a good thing.
Where may people discover upcoming events and workshop information?
You may find all of my classes, workshops and events at www.theloftorillia.com and many updates on facebook business page The Loft Orillia.
You are a prolific artist and work in several mediums. Tell me about YOUR art. What are you currently working on?
I was that kid who wanted nothing but to be an artist when she grew up, but I quit making art just after I finished high school 20 years ago. I only gave myself permission to start again about 5 years ago. Since then, I've been busy teaching myself to paint & trying to figure out where the art fits back into my life. The experience of being an art instructor has been instrumental in my own practice and self discovery as I've forced myself to break down each and every stage of my personal art making. As a person who works primarily from instinct as opposed to learned method, this has taught me to question my work, scrutinize my methods and work far outside of my usual areas of comfort. I have dabbled in abstracts, landscapes, florals and illustrations working with images from nature and stories from my imagination. All of these pieces bring me a feeling of contentment when they have been completed, but the illustrations and quirky pieces of storytelling are what really light me up. I am working on some really fun stuff for my Spring show at the Orillia Museum of Art & History, and I am super excited to share it when it starts to come together.
What inspires you?
Go back to when you were 5, when everything was possible; when tilting your head to the side created a shift in reality that changed the entire landscape; when an imaginary friend was not a sign of illness. Sit in that space in time when you knew that all of nature was unified and only love and imagination held true power. This, and the memory of this is what always inspires me.
Meet Judy Fontyn-Sugg, local artist and operator of the Coach House Gallery in downtown Orillia. Judy works in different mediums and creates an exciting variety of art. Her gallery is host to several local artists presenting work from landscape paintings to abstract mixed media work to art jewelry.
Read on to learn MORE about Judy and the Coach House Gallery!
You operate the Coach House Gallery in downtown Orillia. Tell me a bit about the gallery - how did the idea evolve? What is your favourite part about running a gallery?
We moved to Bayshore Village in 2014 just outside of Orillia and as nature lovers, we really enjoy the area given the two beautiful lakes, Simcoe and Couchiching. In February of 2016, we bought the building at 133 Mississauga Street East . The property is comprised of two buildings and included a coach house down the alleyway behind the Tre Sorelle restaurant, which we both thought would make a perfect art gallery as I paint so much and already displayed in different galleries around the area. In the beginning, half of the building was rented , so at first it was just my own work in one half of the coach house. In early 2017, Harold and Ferne relocated to the main street and we used that space in order to allow other artists to show their work.
My favorite part of running an art gallery is getting to know the other artists and getting to know the people of Orillia. I love talking to customers and seeing what inspires them and getting to know them.
The challenges are not being on the main street, you have to find a way to invite customers down the alleyway to visit our gallery. Over time as people get to know our location and me as an artist, it is and definitely helps. I want them to feel comfortable and inspired and have worked hard on making the gallery a welcoming space.
You are a prolific artist and always seem to be creating something new and exciting, from gorgeous paintings to functional art in different mediums like jewelry and decorative wine glasses – what are you currently working on?
As the years have gone by, I find myself looking into different things to create, things that someone could use like my glassware and mugs as well as coasters and jewelry. I love all expressions of art and creativity so last winter I explored mosaics. I always have been attracted to glass and its reflective qualities. I also love texture and want to explore more with that and creating some more 3-D type art. I ordered more glow powder from Amazon so more of the luminescent art as well.
As a local Artist and art business owner, how do you see the Orillia Art Community growing and changing in the future? What would you like to see?
Orillia is known for its art scene and that is what I love about this town. There are so many different artists with different styles and mediums. Streets Alive is a wonderful event showing the artistic talent and diversity with art displayed on the street. As the town grows I see many more unique shops, studios and galleries popping up in downtown Orillia. I would love to see more events like Starry Night that really bring the traffic down the alley and to our town to view our many artists. The waterfront is a big draw for the town and I would love to see it more open visually with events to attract more tourists as well.
Molly Farquharson of Hibernation Arts has recently opened a new gallery and shop at 7 Peter St. S. in the downtown Orillia Arts District. Although the shop space is new, Molly had been involved with the local art community for the past few years. A prolific artist, Molly creates engaging and thought provoking 'stitchery' as wall art and functional pieces such as bags, pillows and jewelry.
Visit Hibernation Arts on Saturday, September 8th for the GRAND Opening Celebration! Or drop by during the week, Tuesday to Saturday, 11:00am to 5:00pm.
Read on to learn MORE about Molly and Hibernation Arts!
What journey led you to Orillia?
I lived outside of Canada for 40 years: 20 years in Oregon, a few years in Japan, and finally 15 years in Istanbul. So I was literally journeying. My sister has lived in and outside of Orillia for 30 years, so over those many years I visited her, and now here I am in this lovely small town for good.
LOVE the name of your business - how/why/where did you come up with the name ‘Hibernation Arts’?
My first winter back was rough as I was 'waaay’ not used to the cold and snow. I was given three bags of crewel yarn and embroidery thread, as well as some aida cloth, so I decided to make my own designs. I had cross-stitched and embroidered for years, but usually from kits, so this was a departure. That winter I was inside a lot, stitching away, hence Hibernation Arts.
You describe your work as ‘stitchery’ and you create so many amazing art pieces and functional art (pendants, bags, pillows ++), but what would you describe as the underlying story/theme/vibe to your art?
I love to mix yarns and threads and found objects and buttons to see what I will come up with. I started with kind of fantasy landscapes and went from there. I come from a punny family and I worked with language as an ESL teacher for 30 years, so often I make visual puns or I stitch what I think something looks like. For example, when I was doing the hearts series, people would suggest more heart metaphors and I would make a piece that reflected what I thought that metaphor would look like. It was fun to have a sort of participation from others. So you see, I get on various themes with a vibe that is rather quirky and definitely unique.
You and your business are an amazing addition to the downtown Arts District and the Orillia Arts community, what are your plans and goals for the shop?
Well the shop is definitely a work in progress. I moved in a couch and armchair that I had had in my cafe in Istanbul, which immediately made it a comfortable place. Of course I have my own stitcheries up and around, but I also take in other artists' work on consignment. I have a great guest wall and am starting to line up artists for that. In the future I would like to have small events there, from workshops to small shows, poetry readings, whatever would suit the space. I am very pleased to be in the Orillia Arts District and so glad to be on street level. I look forward to seeing people I have met and to meeting new people as my place develops.
MEET Lucy McGarvey, owner of
Art Business Love
SO much admiration & LOVE to these ART Businesses!
Steph Whalen - The Loft Art Studio
Coach House Gallery - Judy Fontyn-Sugg
Hibernation Arts - Molly Farquharson
The Shadow Box Art & Framing - Lucy McGarvey