Wednesday, October 12, 2011

In Conversation With...Trish Elliot

(First published in The Oxford Journal September 28, 2011)

As a high school student, Trish Elliot likely did not picture a future creating paintings in a lovely lakeside home nestled in the woods along Route 6 between Pugwash and Wallace, Nova Scotia. Even though her parents came from Nova Scotia, she grew up outside Ottawa, Ontario, where her father was a minister. Yet that gave her opportunities she may not have received here.
“I lived in a little town but only 20 minutes from Ottawa so I had the best of both worlds,” the 40-something Trish explains. “The high school I went to had seven or eight art courses to choose from - ceramics, photography, graphic design. It was great. I got to do a little of everything.”
Her ties to Nova Scotia were encouraged, however; her family spent summers at Heather Beach then in Northport where, at 17, Trish met Eben Elliot while hanging out at the wharf where he worked. They married three years later, and moved into the house they had built on Elliot family land during their engagement. Trish admits she found the first few years very isolating although a job at Seagull Pewter as a clay artist helped - and honed a skill that would re-surface when she picked up a paintbrush. 
“We  took the drawings and made them into something three-dimensional,” she explains. “The models had to be four or six or five millimetres. It was really fine, fine work, and it was a lot of fun.” 
That job lasted a couple of years, until the first of her three children was born.
“As much as I loved the job and missed the people I worked with, I couldn’t leave him,” she says of her decision to not return to work.  
Yet at some point, there had to be a return to art since the walls of her spacious, light-filled house are covered with her paintings. From a distance, they look like photographs but up close, the smooth canvas she prefers, the acrylic paint she uses, and the fine details become obvious.
“When the kids were little, I took an art course with Louise Cloutier. I had to get out of the house and she did this course one evening a week for six weeks. It was ‘Painting on Unusual Surfaces’.” As Trish talks, she gets up and walks around the brick fireplace in the middle of the living room to the far wall. She still has that first painting. “Of course of still have it,” she laughs as she holds up the wooden top with a pheasant painted on it.
It certainly doesn’t look like something that a young mother, desperate to get out of the house, would produce her first time with paints in ten years. This is an artist with natural talent, and no formal training after high school. 
Yet Trish still didn’t commit to painting. 
“I still had three young kids at home,” she says. She couldn’t get her paints out, let alone leave them out nor did she have five spare minutes to paint. 
“It was after they were all in school that I started to paint at home. Then somebody told there was an art group in Pugwash. What I heard was there were art classes so I showed up with all my stuff but it wasn’t lessons, it was just people painting. Everyone was just doing their own thing and I didn’t know what to do so I got some paper out and started to paint and they seemed to accept me.”
That was ten years ago; Trish maintains her membership with the Mixed Palette in Pugwash and also attends an artists’ group in Wallace on Mondays. She says the encouragement of an art group is important .
“It gives you that push to do something. If you’re at home, there’s laundry, there’s cleaning, especially when you have kids. When you’re going out of the house, you’re taking your art stuff with you and staying for the day. You talk and support each other. It was the reason I kept painting.”
Trish’s paintings start as a photograph which suits an artist who says realism is important to her.
“For me, it has to be the right colour. Colour mixing can take quite awhile. I have my photo and I’m comparing. Every colour I mix has a little of everything in it. Even white isn’t white; it has blue in it, or yellow.”
Suddenly, there is a new energy as she talks. Besides her family, this is what she loves.   
 “Snow. You start with white but there’s probably blue in it, a little black, maybe a little red because there’s some purple in it. If there’s sun involved...” and you can see how her paintings come to be so realistic.  
As lovely as her paintings of swallows and foxes and pheasants are, her passion now is channelled into boats and water. 
“Years ago, I would never do water. Water is so hard,” she admits. “I could never paint water. Then one day I tried it. What’s the point in saying ‘I can’t paint that’? If I said I couldn’t do it [paint water], I never would have.”
And now it is her favourite subject. 
“Water is just so picturesque and romantic. It’s not just a survival thing; everyone wants to be near the water and we have a lot of it around here. And boats have such beautiful lines, especially the white lobster boats with those curves. Boats and wharves now are my specialty.”
It takes Trish 40 to 50 hours to create her paintings. She used to sell them all but realized she needed to keep a couple after spending so much time on them, and getting attached to them.
“The most I’ve done in a year is eight,” she says. “Right now, I’m averaging three a year.” 
With her two sons in college and her daughter  graduating from high school in two years, Trish is dreading her empty nest. 
“I’m assuming that art is going to be my way of coping with that,” she says.          

by Sara Mattinson

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