Sharon Wadsworth-Smith lives on her three acre property just north of Toronto, Ontario, where she creates captivating paintings, rich with color and loose brushwork. I’m excited to share what I learned about Sharon and her unique style with you.
Jason: Can you tell me a bit about your style and subject matter?
Sharon Wadsworth-Smith: I have been described as high energy and a colourist, though my work is definitely representational. Movement plays an important role in my process and gives me the opportunity to play with blurred images and fuzzy lines. I paint landscapes with the occasional figurative work. Using large brushes and palette knives helps me stay loose and work in an intuitive manner.
J: How did you develop your style?
SWS: When I first started working in watercolour, I would strive for realistic representations. Eventually I listened to one of my teachers who said that watercolour is the only medium that tells you what it is going to paint. I now employ this in my acrylic work, using loose brush strokes and unexpected colours. I enjoy happy accidents and am always looking for the colours that lie beneath.
J: What drew you to your subject matter?
SWS: I am so fortunate to be able to walk out my door and feel enveloped by the wonderful sights and sounds of nature. I spend a lot of time riding my bike through local trails and walking my dogs or watching the neighbour’s horses. Some of the subjects I feel drawn to are trees and abstracted figures within landscapes, so you will occasionally find people or other life forms wandering through my work.
J: What is your medium?
SWS: I currently work in acrylic on canvas, though I try other mediums on a regular basis. A great deal of my early work was watercolour. I loved it, but it was not always easy to frame and seemed to be losing popularity. It also became tougher to buy materials in my area. I found that the larger gallery style canvases intrigued me, so in about 2000, I switched to acrylic. It was actually quite a challenge to relearn in an unfamiliar medium.
J: What do you feel is unique about your work?
SWS: I work with high contrast, glowing colours that are not necessarily correct, and I think you can feel the action in my work. I take chances with loose brush strokes and palette knife work. I employ kind of a “go bold or stay home” approach. I have been able to explore representational work without being too predictable. Although it’s good to be able to paint what you see, it’s much more exciting to paint what you feel.
J: How did you get your start in art?
SWS: I always drew as a child, and I think my only goal was to become and artist or a veterinarian. My first real shown piece of art was an ink drawing in the Saskatchewan Power Art Gallery when I was about twelve. I tried to focus on art classes in high school but left Saskatchewan in my teens and relocated to Vancouver. It was there that I attended Art College.
J: Are there other artists in your family?
SWS: Everyone in my family was creative, though their paths went into other areas of art. My sister became an interior designer, and my brother went into computer and print technology. Both my parents could draw quite well, but that was not considered a career path so my father was a roofer and my mother a homemaker.
J: Did your family encourage your art?
SWS: Absolutely. Although I was raised in a home with a modest income, my parents and siblings were always supportive of my goals. I remember when I was in my early teens, my father came home with a full size set of Grumbacher Chalk pastels. He said he found them on the roof of a building he was working on and that perhaps an artist left them there. That was my first introduction to drawing in colour, and I still have those pastels today.
J: How much art related education do you have?
SWS: In my college years, I spent a year and a half in General Arts and two years in Graphic design. Although much of my passion was visual and illustrative art, a great many people suggested that a better avenue to ensure an income would be to study graphic design. While in Vancouver, I received my Associate in Arts Diploma as a graphic artist at Kwantlen College.
I have attended many other classes and workshops over the years, ranging from book Illustration to instructing art for teaching of adults and children. I believe that to keep growing, you should stay open to new ideas and techniques and keep learning.
In 2013, a well-known landscape and figurative artist named Ivanno Stocco was teaching an intensive week-long course in adding figures to landscape. I had admired his work, and I was ready for new techniques. It was exciting for me to move further away from representational work and play with collage and I really enjoyed the use of the large, square palette knives.
In 2014, I pursued my postgraduate certificate at Haliburton School of the Arts in an intensive 16 week program, Studio Process Advancement. I lived in Haliburton during this time and returned home gratefully on occasional long weekends. It was an awesome course that completely changed how I approach my art.
In the summer of 2017, I was able to take a one week immersive class with figurative artist Brian Smith. I had spent a lot of my early art years working on commission portraits, but Brian’s unique style included figurative abstract. I enjoy the freedom to paint people and figures without having to work on a specific subject for a commission.
J: When did you sell your first artwork?
SWS: In the late 1980’s, I started to do the occasional commission portrait. I think my prices were ridiculously low back then, but I really enjoyed working with a goal in mind. I seemed to be working on a lot of dog portraits and the occasional human. I also joined a local art group and started to put my work in shows. I can’t actually remember what my first sale was but I think it may have been a matted watercolour for about 20.00.
J: Are you a full-time artist?
SWS: Absolutely—as they say, I’m living the life!
J: How do you promote and expose your work to potential buyers?
SWS: I do some print advertising for shows but find a lot more of my work is getting exposure through Facebook and LinkedIn. I have several videos posted on YouTube and Vimeo. I am represented by several great galleries and retail spaces, and some online galleries plus group and solo art shows, tours, and local businesses where I keep work. I engage in cross promotion; when I am involved in events I will have information about upcoming shows available. I manage my own website and produce a blog and regular newsletter. I have a personal gallery in my home which I list on Google maps and use for studio tours and yearly shows. I still teach and do get students who purchase my work and come to shows.
J: What do you feel you’ve been most successful at in your art and in your art business?
SWS: I have been fortunate to be able to grow as an artist and still be recognised for my style. The work I created 20 years ago, though different than what I do now, is still valid with my current work, despite being in a different medium. I also have learned so much over the past years and increased the amount of paintings that I produce each year. As an artist I believe that you have to “make art, not excuses”. I am so fortunate to paint what I want and have the opportunity to share it with an ever-growing audience.
J: What do you feel has been your greatest challenge in selling your work?
SWS: Trying to stay focused on creating and selling my own work. I have been involved in the past with so many different art groups and events that I tend to think I can do it all and sometimes have had a hard time saying no. There are also so many choices of subject and mediums that an artist can get overwhelmed. I think of art as an elaborate buffet where we have to be careful what we put on our plate.
J: What other jobs have you held?
SWS: Dishwasher, Payroll Clerk, Art Instructor, Receptionist, Farm laborer (I picked berries), retail sales clerk, waitress/cook at a pizza parlour. My favorite other job was the Graphic Artist position I held at a Psychiatric hospital where the work was never the same twice and I learned a lot about photography, art, and people.
J: How much time do you spend in the studio on an average week?
SWS: 30 hours in studio and another 20 hours on computer marketing and technology. I occasionally go out to a life drawing class if available and will look for week-long courses as I believe to grow you should always keep learning. Weekends are spent in galleries or at shows when they happen.
J: Do you have a daily routine?
SWS: You bet. I wake up at 4am to send my husband off to work in the city. Then at 5:30 I check my email and social media messages. Some mornings (I try for 3 per week), I will go to the gym for an hour to work out. By 7am I am in research mode, deciding what reference to work on or shows/grants to apply for. By 8:30 I am off the computer till 4pm. I walk and feed the dogs and myself. I am in the studio from 10am to 4pm I make sure to break for lunch or finish early if I have errands. I work Mon – Friday in studio and spend the weekends with my husband and at any shows or galleries in am involved in. My studio is a technology free zone with no computer and no phone, though lately I have brought the SONOS speaker in for music.
J: How much work do you produce per month on average?
SWS: 7-10 paintings and a few more assorted drawings. I have been trying to include drawing every day again after listening to one of your mentorship broadcasts where a gentleman named Barry said he had been drawing every day. Seems like a great idea to me, and I’ve been having fun with it.
J: Who is your favorite artist from art history (and why), and which of their works is your favorite (and why)?
SWS: One of my favorites is Renoir, and I enjoy Dance at the Moulin de la Galette. The colours are so bright and romantic, and I could look at it for hours and still find something new. My favorite part of that painting is the couple dancing on the left. I have large reproduction of that hanging in my home. I have to say I am also hooked on Monet’s work, but there are similarities in their style and use of colour.
J: What are your interests outside of your art?
SWS: I enjoy American Tribal Style Belly Dance and have been taking classes for several years. It is a lot of fun and a great workout. I also enjoy making the costuming. Though I do not perform, we occasionally get together as a group at events.
I spent a lot of years camping and did some canoeing, biking, and hiking with my husband, Dean, and our dogs, Luna and Bootsy. My husband retires at the end of this month so we are looking forward to a lot more adventures and discovering new trails.
I really enjoy gardening and landscaping. I think my larger dog, Luna, has helped a lot with the digging. My husband and I have planted a wide variety of trees on the rest of our property. We can’t seem to get enough of them.
J: Thank you, Sharon. To see more of Sharon’s work, visit www.wadsworthsmithart.com. I also invite you to enjoy this timelapse video of the creation of one of Sharon’s paintings.
In his Amazon.com best-selling book, Xanadu Gallery owner Jason Horejs shares insights gained over a life-time in the art business.