interview by Mary Bennett - 2017
Ann Hilton wants to stay working in watercolour, even though she feels acrylic is more the “in thing.” “I like to think I’m working in a medium that is coming back into style.”
Ann has been very active in both painting as well as showing and promoting her work in recent years. She has a show at the Van Dusen Library Gallery of 19 paintings until March 28. She also recently showed as part of Quintessential 5, a show by five artists who are part of the South Delta Art Guild. “And I have another 50 framed paintings at home,” she says.
In 2016, she sold over 25 paintings, her best year yet, and has cards in nine different shops.
Although she lives on Vancouver’s West Side, Ann belongs to Beach Grove Golf Club. Because of being out in Tsawwassen for golf, she heard of the South Delta Artists Guild, where residency requirement is Greater Vancouver, so she joined that Guild some five years ago.
What do you feel works well for a group show?
In the Quintessential 5 show at the SDAG gallery, we all work in different media: pastel, watercolour, acrylic and have different styles. We’ve known each other for some time and two of the artists have been very active in the Art Group’s organization.
We each donated a painting as a door prize and there were 300 people in the room when we did the draw. We can then use the contact information for our email list, so it shares our networks of people interested in art.
Tell me about the painting of the two dogs.
Did I mention that I’ve “gone to the dogs?”
A friend asked me, “Would you do a painting of my dogs?” And then another hearing about it, said, “You’ve got to paint Jazzy.” So now I’ve done spaniels, maltipoos, schnauzers, and black labs. It can be just as challenging as doing a portrait of a person. It’s got to look like that particular dog, not just the breed.
I work from photos but change some things, either at the request of the dog-owner or on my own. For instance, the two dogs were in a cardboard box on the sink. The owner said, “Don’t paint the sink.” Of course, I had not planned to include the sink and I changed the box to a basket.
I love dogs. If they’re friendly. But I got into doing this just by happenstance.
People have such affinity towards their pets so even if they feel they have no room for paintings, they always have room for a painting of their pet.
There was a lot of publicity about CP rail ripping up gardens along the Arbutus corridor a couple of years ago. I decided to capture some of it by photo and then brush. I walked along the Boulevard and took several pictures. Gardeners were still unsure of what would happen but they dreaded what might. A year and a half later, I decided to paint this gardener who I had a brief chat with when I was taking pictures. Once the painting was finished, I thought the person who might be most interested in the painting might be this lady, but I had no clue as to who she was. I looked carefully at the photos and thought I might have a reasonable idea of which plot she had because of the curb and fencing, so I went there with the painting. I went to the house directly opposite the plot and rang the doorbell. A dog barked and a gentleman came to the door. I told him who I was and showed him the painting, at which point, he yelled to his wife, “Isn’t this your mom?” His wife came to the door and they decided that it indeed was her mother. I left a card with a photo of the painting with them and heard from them a couple of days later, that, yes, her mother would like to buy the painting! And she did!
Besides your art shows and e-newsletter how do you share your work?
For the past six years, I’ve done a calendar each year. I review the paintings I’ve done in the prior year. This year I printed 100 calendars and have none left.
What are some of your artistic challenges at present?
1. To be bold. I am much bolder with colours and with simply getting paint on and being freer than five years ago. I want to continue that. I used to spend so much time in the drawing. Now I try to just get in there and do it.
2. I want to have balance with the other things I enjoy like golf and tennis. Of course in the recent snowy weather, I don’t want to be on the golf course, so that gives me lots of painting time.
What has been your artistic training?
It goes all the way to back when I was a kid. I still remember as a class in Grade One in Ottawa, we visited a cathedral. When we came back, I painted the yellow lines of the pipe organ and people commented on it.
Then my family was posted overseas to France when I was 12. My parents were very encouraging. I already had a set of 50 different coloured pencils – Eagle Brand – very special! My parents had also bought me pastels. In France, I got into oils. My parents arranged lessons with a French woman artist who didn’t speak any English. Every Saturday I went to her place. My mother would have bought some flowers for me to take, and I’d ride up on my bike with my flowers and oil paints.
When I lived in Texas, I had an opportunity to try acrylics. I liked that they didn’t smell and you could just use water, no linseed oil or turpentine. I was also doing stained glass work during that time.
Then when I came back to Vancouver, I took a watercolour class at UBC and enjoyed it. While I took some other acrylic classes, watercolour kept drawing me back.
2007 was a turning point for me. I took a class through the Gibson School of Art with Caroline Buchanan who lives on an American gulf island.
At the end of a full week, Caroline asked us all to put up the work we’d done, and we all voted for the first, second and third best painting. The top three would be exhibited in the Gibson School of Art Show. One of mine was selected and I still have it hanging above my mantel.
I’ve also done a “Wet and Splashy” course in Anacortes and another plein air course with Caroline where we went to a different island each day.
I’ve studied with Homa Ghafar Zadeh for eight years now. I go at least once a week to her advanced watercolour classes in Coal Harbour. She is amazing!
I’ve taken three courses with Barry Coombs from Toronto. One in San Miguel de Allende which was ten days en plein air. I also did a trip to the Cotswolds in England with Barry and he also did a course in Gibsons. I’ve also had courses with Bill Higginson, Alvaro Castagnet and Alfonso Tejada.
So although I’ve never taken courses toward a formal degree in art, I’m always seeking out learning opportunities, both here in Vancouver and as part of a vacation trip.
Tell me about your promotion of your art and shows.
It was through friends that I heard about opportunities to participate in the West End Community Centre Art in the City show in 2009 and 2010 and to have a show at the Unitarian Church in 2012. That show was quite successful and it got me into looking for other opportunities. I’ve had other shows as part of Artists in Our Midst, the WEArts group in the West End, Hycroft – The University Women’s Club of Vancouver, The Art Institute of Vancouver, The Vancouver Club, Art after Dark at the Jericho Tennis Club, the Gulf of Georgia Cannery and so forth.
A friend of mine helped me set up a website. I started sending out a newsletter when I had a show. I then started using Direct2Artist.com for showing my work and sending newsletters. Lately I have done newsletters through mailchimp.com. It is quite easy and flexible to use. Because I sell my cards and prints in several shops, people have also connected with me because of that.
Are there so-called “famous” artists you feel a connection to? What is it that draws you to them?
I like Monet, Gauguin and van Gogh. Their use of colour and the boldness and dynamism are inspiring.
I’m not one for going to art galleries. I know many artists get inspired that way, but I just find that my back is sore after about two minutes.