Cecile Albi, a painter trained at the University of Manitoba, has a studio in CSpace where she creates and displays her distinctive artwork. She spoke with Kate, Lucas, Heather and Kristina in June about her paintings.
What got you into art? What made you more interested in it?
Ever since I was a kid, I've always loved to color and draw. So I think it was always in me. And then my whole life, for my work, I've always done art. So right out of high school, I went into fine arts. I always knew I wanted to be creating some kind of art. I think I've always been an artist.
Were there any people in your life that made you realize that you liked art? Or did you discover it by yourself?
There was my grade one teacher, I think she probably ignited it. Because it just made me aware. She was an artist herself and she'd always have storytime. And during the story, we were allowed to colour and she would doodle for us. She was a really great artist, I thought at the time, and she would let us borrow her pastels. So that was pretty cool. She also had little art competitions. Everybody puts up their art on the wall, and then somebody wins the prize or whatever. And the few times I won. I think that really made a difference for me that I had that kind of encouragement right from grade one. Her name was Miss Reimer and her birthday was May 1, I don't know why I remember that.
I was wondering how you take your inspiration from previous art movements like Impressionism and Cubism and portray that in your own art?
After years of studying and being immersed in art, we pick up things and then subliminally we do it, or it becomes second nature. So when I went back into art, because I had studied a Bachelor of Fine Arts with art history and was a graphic designer, I went over all the Impressionists and all kinds of different eras. I was just exploring all kinds of things. And just putting things out there. And one day I saw in my work these lines that started creating these refracted pieces, and what they signify when rendered, look like tree branches, and vines, leaves and foliage and whatnot. And so I kind of went with that, and it just took off and it grew. And so I think it's probably stuff that I pull from in my mind as inspiration but I'm not really consciously aware of it.
With your artwork what do you aim to capture and show to the public?
I'm following my heart. I really believe that there's something for everyone – and not everything is for everyone. So I do what moves me and what I feel I want to portray, rather than trying to appeal to a group or to the public. So there's some people I'm imagining that are drawn to my work and then others that maybe don't like it. So I'm just doing what I want to do – what feels right for me.
Was there anything specific that you did that you would say makes it easier to get into painting?
Just exploring and doing a little bit every day. I spent hours and hours in classes, just even learning the technique of the brushes and colors, and kind of mixing colors and all that kind of stuff. Now when I go to do it, it just becomes second nature. I can just pull from that. And I don't have to think about it. But I think it's probably just something that just comes after a lot of practice. But what I always tell people is try to just do a little bit every day – five minutes, ten minutes here and there. And then eventually, you can put your brush down and you're painting. I think it might seem a little intimidating. But I don't think anything is wrong when you actually create. And you might come up with your own style too. Don’t worry too much about what you've learned before. Just keep on doing something and then looking at what you put down and letting it evolve as you go.
When you're trying to figure out what you want to paint, do you ever get stuck? And if so, is there anything you can do to help yourself figure out what you want to do?
It's kind of funny because I don't get stuck when it's my own work. If I have to do a commission based on something that somebody wants me to paint, that's when I get stuck. It's kind of bizarre, but if I do feel tired or – I don't often feel like I don't want to paint – but when I do, I just do something fresh. I'll often walk in nature. Nature is very inspiring for me because I grew up with lakes and forests and so that is always for me a kind of kickstart. And sometimes too if I don't feel inspired about something I'm working on, if I put it away for even a couple of weeks and don't look at it and bring it back with fresh eyes, all of a sudden I have more motivation. Music is also very good for me. I like to play music when I'm painting. It helps motivate me. It can change my mood if I'm feeling kind of sluggish or tired, I can put some EDM on and paint.
Aside from nature, there are also some paintings you did with animals. Would you say it's easier or more challenging to paint living creatures?
For me, it's much easier to create forests and nature because I'm just very drawn to it. And everything that I paint, except if I have a specific subject, like some kind of an animal or person, has to be from a reference for me. So for me, I have enough visual ideas in my head to just go with the flow with the painting of trees and forests, and all that. And I think that's why I'm a landscape painter. I have a new painting that's going to be shown at the Stampede this year – at the Western Showcase – and it's a mother deer and a baby fawn. It took a little bit more preliminary thinking before starting the canvas and I actually sketched it out, whereas a lot of times when I go to do my forests and landscapes, I don't even sketch it, I just start painting right away.
Are there certain times or settings where you find it easier to create?
Every artist is different. But for me, I allot a certain amount of time every day in the studio. I find I paint the best in my studio space. It's just very quiet and I know that it's dedicated to my art. So for me, I paint from nine until two. And sometimes that changes. If I have a little bit of extra work, I will bring it home just to break up the pace. And I have my dog at home. So I don't want her to be cramped. She'll come to the studio once in a while, but she does like to bark. So that's what's best for me – I have to have a structured set time for painting.
Do you find your art to be more methodical? Or is it more for you like random bursts of energy … as soon as that idea comes to you, you do it?
It's both. So I'll start with kind of an idea of what I want to do. Maybe a vision that I've seen – grouping of trees, some kind of colors I've seen in nature, something like that. And then I will go to the canvas and just apply color. And that's pretty random. And once I start shaping the trees, I have to step back and really think about it. So oftentimes I’ll be thinking about the composition for a while before I go in and make the next step. So it's both. If it becomes too tight, I want to have an overall looseness, kind of a looseness versus the refraction that I have going on in there that could become very stiff. So many times, if my composition is looking stiff, I'll just go in and blow it up with more and more swipes of color and splashes of color and texture. And then I'll go in and refine it some more and then step back and think. So there's many, many layers in my art. Both spontaneous and thought out.
Final question. It's a personal question. What would you recommend other aspiring artists do in order to get inspired?
Be very explorative and not get into your head too much. Try all kinds of things. Because that's what I did when I went back into painting. And then my style evolved from that. I have been doing it my whole life. So not to expect something's going to come out of it right away – just to have fun with it. Creativity is a form of play physiologically, so if you worry too much about it, you're gonna stifle yourself and it's not going to happen.
Was there anything else that you wanted to talk about before we go?
Thank you very much for interviewing me. And I do find I'm fortunate to be able to have the luxury to paint full-time as an artist. A lot of people don't have that opportunity. It's taken me my lifetime to get to this point. But I am finally here now. And it's been about eight years that I've been painting. So I do feel very, very lucky to be able to do it, and have fun with it. And to be able to make a living at it. It's a lot of hard work. It's definitely not for the faint of heart. Because I'd say painting is probably only about one-third of the time that I spend on the job - there’s having to show up with things, to do shows and galleries and all that kind of stuff. So there's a lot of business side to it as well. You have to wear two hats. But you just follow your heart and keep on doing it. I love the saying 'get up, dress up and show up.' And I can also add to that stay up because there's many, many hours of work. But it's fun so it doesn't always seem like work.
Visit her webpage at http://cecilealbi.com