@JERRLIFE

Artist: Elly Smallwood

Elly Smallwood sits down to discuss her budding career in painting and the challenges of being a young artist.


"There's no certainty. You can if you will. I never thought it would work."
Earlier this month Toronto Life covered The Artist Project, an annual event where hundreds of jury-selected artists showcase their work to the public. Browsing through the photos, a morbid portrait bloodied with an anguished expression stood out amongst the others. It was severely beautiful and ugly. And skillfully done. Almost immediately I scrambled to get a hold of the artist.

I assumed the artist is a well seasoned painter who's probably just as scary as their work - and have a knack for tattoos. I don't know. I couldn't be more wrong. First, the piece entered was for the Untapped section, reserved for up and comers (self taught, in school or recently graduated) and second, the bright faced lady sitting in front of me resembled nothing like her painting.

No visible tattoos either.

"Oh, I have that," Elly comments on the notebook I'm writing on. "I used to work there." And I'm thrown aback again that she's just an average lady who happens to be talented with the brush and who's idols include Lucian Freud. "I just gave my two weeks notice to my job now so I can spend more time painting." She says out of practicality not cockiness.

"I paint 10 hours straight & just get into a zone. I don't think. It's instinctive. 10 hours will fly by and I wouldn't even know it."

After the exposure from The Artist Project, she sold all her pieces, except one (currently at the Gladstone Hotel), and now working on more trying to keep up with the demand. "The response to my painting has been mostly positive." Already her giant portraits, in size and and in impact, have garnered a particular niche. "The guy who bought the painting said, 'It's freaky but I like it." with her thumb on her chin and nodding approvingly.

The conversation then turned to her creative process. "I take lots of photos of my face." I was shocked to learn. Not only has she made one of teens's favourite past times worthwhile, but her eerie paintings are based on her. "I don't intend it to be creepy." she says about the blood-like portrait. "I have an idea of what I want it to look like. For this one I wanted there to be a lot of red. And blue eyes." She then talks about painting. "I paint for about 10 hours straight and just get into a zone. I don't think. It's instinctive. The 10 hours will fly by and I wouldn't even know it."

"I was awful at painting. I went to a high school that was focused on science and there were no art programs."

When I ask about her other obsessions (who knows when she has time for them) she mentions traveling and anatomy. "I really want to see an autopsy." It's grim, but it'll help with her forte, the human body.

Elly's career path to painting hasn't always been clear. "I was awful at painting. I went to a high school that was focused on science and there were no art programs." The Ottawa native recalls who's career choices have included being a veterinarian. Eventually, she would take the big leap, move to Toronto and complete the Drawing and Painting program at OCAD. "There's no certainty. You can if you will. I never thought it would work."

"People say, 'Well you just graduated, we're not sure if you'll stick with this.'"

With all the success she's experiencing, she isn't exactly living "the life" quite yet as she faces the challenges of being a young artist. Her studio is still her room and her age is put into question by skeptics.  "At The Artist Project I was sitting next to my painting and people would ask, 'Where's the artist?' and I'd raise my hand." Her age, a handicap rather than promise.

"It's hard to price my paintings for what pieces its size usually go for," she confesses. "People say, 'Well you just graduated, we're not sure if you'll stick with this.'" But Elly sticks to her guns. Having a new found experience dealing with buyers, Elly is quickly learning the business of art. And if her business skills are half as good as her painting skills, she's golden.

Still, Elly takes it all with stride. "It's funny people are so careful with my work and I'm not." She laughs and reveals unintentional personal touches on her work. "If you look closely there's food, my hair, and cat hair on my painting." She comically adds. "They're 4-5 feet tall and it's a struggle to carry them around. People ask if  I need help so that's nice and it restores my faith in humanity."

Moments later, as if by cue, we see a guy walk by carrying a 6 foot tall plant. "Yeah, that's me."

Find out more about Elly and her work at Elly.ca

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