Travel Journal: Carolynn Anctil Design
In the latest edition of the Travel Journal, I spoke with Canadian artist Carolynn Anctil, about her artwork and new life in the country.
Carolynn creates beautiful watercolour illustrations and photographs, which you can see on her website at carolynnanctildesign.com. She also recently upped sticks and moved from the big city, to the rural Canadian Prairies, setting up the most idyllic sounding country life, which I'm just a tad jealous about!
Keep reading below to find out how her past experiences have influenced her work, adjusting to a new pace of life, and the joys of raising chickens!
How did you get started with Carolynn Anctil Design?
I took the long circuitous route to get to where I am today. My parents actively discouraged me from following a career as an artist, so I worked and saved my money in order to be able to pay my own tuition to Emily Carr University of Art & Design. In the end, their methodology didn’t provide me with the concrete instruction that I was looking for, so I elected to leave after my first year.
From there, I entered the corporate world in my early 20’s working in secretarial positions for several years. At the same time, I struggled to find my “purpose” and studied various subjects that held a fascination for me, in hopes that I would find my calling.
Eventually, I found my way back to the world of art, working first with the prestigious Susan Clark Gallery of Gem Art and then with the Inuit Gallery of Vancouver, as an Art Dealer. I had become, what Julia Cameron (author of The Artist’s Way) calls a Shadow Artist, positioning myself next to and supporting the work of other artists, in the pursuit of their dreams. I don’t regret a moment of it though, because I gained valuable experience and met some amazing clients, whom I remain friends with, to this day.
MEET THE MAKER - CAROLYNN ANCTIL
How would you describe your artistic style?
My artwork has arisen out of my experiences as a child growing up in a volatile household, escaping into my imagination when the reality of my world became too distressful. I create joyful, lighthearted artwork that sparks the imagination and speaks to the carefree child in all of us who dreams of faraway places where magic exists. My watercolour illustrations are an antidote to the noise and chaos of this world.
My photography, on the other hand, is inspired by country life and the peace and serenity inherent in nature.
You used to live in Vancouver, BC. What inspired you to move out to the Canadian prairies instead?
After embracing life in the big city for over 30 years, my husband and I felt a strong pull to leave that lifestyle and pursue a shared dream of living in the country. I ached to create a life lived in a little country cottage, where I could raise chickens and make art. Newly married, we found that we were no longer taking advantage of all that Vancouver had to offer us. Instead, we found ourselves drawn to small communities, like the fishing village of Steveston, located near where we lived. Vancouver had, for us, become too big, too crowded, too noisy, and too expensive. So, we put our condo up for sale and started packing boxes.
How are you finding life in a rural community compared to big city living?
I have always enjoyed my own company, so I immediately embraced the silence and solitude of our new home on 5.5 acres, surrounded by farmer’s fields. The nights are dark enough to see a sky full of stars and the air is clean and fresh. The city of Swift Current, Saskatchewan, is small, compared to what I was used to, so it was an adjustment. In spite of the fact that it’s the largest city within a 2 hour radius, it amazes me that certain things are simply not available to be had here. The solution for us has been to source products on-line that we can’t find locally and, if I can support a small business, in the process, so much the better.
We were welcomed into our community by an amazing group of people. In fact, the first friend I made after moving here was someone I met through the blogging community. We immediately hit it off and continue to get together for regular coffee dates.
My husband and I were also warmly welcomed into the farming community. Even though we don’t farm, we were invited to participate in monthly potluck gatherings and deep relationships have developed out of those.
As far as cultural differences are concerned, the slower pace and the “friendly wave” exchanged between strangers on country roads, are among my favourites. Being able to enjoy food we’ve grown in our own garden is a wonderful treat, too. We’ve watched fox kits gambol in our fields, witnessed deer forage for food with their fawns, and fallen asleep to the sound of our resident owl hooting and coyotes calling, in the dark. Of course, we wouldn’t truly live in the country, if our dog hadn’t been sprayed by a skunk, at least once.
Do you have any advice for anyone thinking of moving to the Countryside?
Expect to go through a period of adjustment that can manifest itself physically. We never realized how much of a toll city life had taken on us, with its crowds and fast paced living. Both my husband and I both experienced extreme exhaustion after relocating to the country and, for the first several months, we slept an average of 12 hours a day. We also caught every cold and flu that went through our community, that first year.
How does your new home and surroundings inspire your work?
I arrived on the southern Canadian prairies in October and the first thing that I was struck by – besides the relentless prairie winds – was the quality of light. It seems strange to think that it would be any different, but it has a characteristically rich golden colour, particularly during the hours of dawn and dusk. When I arrived, initially, I spent a lot of time in our fields, doing my best to capture this effect with my camera.
My husband and I would spend our weekends “getting lost” on grid roads, exploring the countryside and stopping to take photographs whenever something caught our eye. Abandoned farmhouses are a common sight on the landscape and those were a favourite subject for us both. There is very little traffic in rural Saskatchewan, so we could stop in the middle of the road, get out, investigate and get back in our vehicle without ever having seen another soul.
My husband laboured to build a chicken coop for me, the first year in our new home, and I was able to realize a long-held dream of hand raising chickens and a most fabulous rooster. As I began to explore watercolour illustration as my chosen medium, images of country life were naturally among my favourite subjects, including chicken and rooster portraits.
What’s your favourite Carolynn Anctil Design product and/or best seller?
All of my artwork holds special meaning for me. If I were to choose just one favourite, it would have to be my watercolour illustration, Country Kid. Growing up, my family lived in Edmonton AB, and my brother and I would spend 2 weeks every summer on my Aunt & Uncles’ farm. They had a big family of children and we would tag around behind our cousins, reveling in a life lived in the country. I always envied children who grew up in that environment, with wide open spaces to run around in, and farm animals to raise. Children who grow up this way, seem to possess a degree of quiet self-confidence that I’ve always admired. I suppose Country Kid is an embodiment of that ideal and, if I’m completely honest, she’s who I’ve always longed to be.
My best seller, on the other hand, would have to be Joy Ride. That lighthearted watercolour is a bit of fancy that I created to meet my own need for something uplifting in a world that seemed a dark and dreary place, full of bad news and ugliness. In other words, if the reality I was living in wasn’t what I needed, then I would create a new one. It seems to have struck a chord with others, as well, and it brings me a great deal of pleasure to know that my artwork can lift someone else’s spirits.
Can you tell us a bit more about the design and making process for your products?
90% of my creative process occurs in my mind, long before I ever set pencil to paper. An image, or a partial image of an illustration will pop into my mind, usually in that liminal state between wakefulness and sleep, and I can spend weeks just ruminating on the concept. Elizabeth Gilbert, in her book Big Magic and her TedTalk on genius, describes this brush with inspiration, very well.
Once I’ve fleshed the concept out in my mind, I’ll begin sketching, generally beginning with the main character. I’m merely the conduit, bringing them to life and this is the stage when they begin to make their personalities known. This process can take quite a long time, as well, and involves the liberal use of my eraser.
Next, I determine a colour palette and will do rough mock-ups, just so I can see how colours inform the work. This has become an important step for me because, prior to this, I used to go straight to adding colour and, if I was unhappy with the result, it meant beginning again, from scratch. My watercolour illustration Queen Bee underwent four failed attempts, before I was satisfied with the finished product. That can be an endlessly frustrating and time consuming process, let me tell you. That said, every illustration has an ugly stage, a point at which it just looks like crap. I’ve done enough work now to recognize this when it happens and push on through.
After the illustration has been painted, which can include multiple layers of watercolour, I add the ink details before scanning the design into my computer where I do some post production clean up, establish the finished print size, and prepare it for presentation to the public as a finished giclèe print.
What’s a typical work day like for you?
I’m fortunate enough to have created a lifestyle that enables me to wake up without an alarm clock. In fact, I haven’t worn a wristwatch since leaving Vancouver. That said, my animals are early risers and the priority, upon waking, is to attend to their needs first, after which, my own day really begins.
Routines inform the rhythm of my days and those change with the seasons. My ideal morning involves sitting quietly with a cup of black coffee and my journal, writing Morning Pages and planning out my day. I spend about an hour on social media, posting on my feed and engaging on others’. After that business has been attended to, I’ll take my dog and cats for a walk in our fields, before settling into my studio for the next several hours. I generally break for my first meal about midday and I call an end to my work day when my concentration and energy levels begin to wane around 3:00pm. By then, I need to clear my head and get some fresh air, so I take my animals for another stroll outside, weather permitting. When we return to the house, I like to unwind with a cup of organic green tea before preparing the evening meal, often taking this opportunity to read a book or catch up on social media.
What would your dream home look like and where in the world would it be?
I’ve always felt an affinity for the south of France. The lifestyle, the culture, the language, the architecture, the history all speak to me on a deep, visceral level. And, let’s not forget French pastries! There are parts of Italy, where I would happily live, as well.
My dream home would be a stone cottage with windows that opened up to reveal views of rolling hills and vineyards. The interior decor would be bright and airy and would feature lots of Mediterranean inspired colours, artwork, and fresh cut flowers. We would entertain friends in our outdoor courtyard, serving meals that were prepared with ingredients sourced from our kitchen garden and local markets. I envision my studio occupying space in a separate building, full of character and awash with light. Of course, in my imagination, warm breezes blow and it’s always spring or summer.
How would you describe your interiors style?
One of my parents is a compulsive consumer, so I naturally fall on the other side of the spectrum. While I’m not a minimalist, in the true definition of the word, my sensibilities lean much more toward clean surfaces and uncluttered spaces. A house is not truly a home, in my opinion, unless two things are present – an animal companion and artwork. Artwork is like jewellery for the home. It’s that certain something that adds character and interest to plain walls and it’s a very effective way of infusing your own personality into a room.
What’s next for Carolynn Anctil Design?
This past year, I’ve been working on an ongoing series of watercolour illustrations that feature strong female characters. My Storybook Collection takes creative storytelling to new heights by combining graphic artwork with the written word. An original short story, written exclusively for each work of art, accompanies each limited edition giclèe print, providing depth and enriching the overall visual experience. I love to surprise and delight my clients, so the first 10 editions of each print release in the collection also include a complimentary Bonus Gift. Work has begun on the next character in this series and I expect her to be completed very soon. Beyond the immediate, I do harbour a dream of publishing a book, one day.
You can also find all of the latest Carolynn Anctil Design products in her shop, I'd love to hear which one is your favourite in the comments below.
And of course, a massive Ta Muchly to Carolynn for agreeing to be featured in this edition of the Travel Journal!
All images copyright and courtesy of Carolynn Anctil Design.Note - This blog post is not sponsored, I'm just doing my bit to support fellow small businesses that I love! Help support them too by sharing this page with others! It does however contain a couple of affiliate links, for which I may receive a very small commission for purchases made through these links, at no extra cost to you.