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Inspiring Artists: Isolation? That’s no problem for Sudbury plein air artist Christy Smith

For the past decade, she’s been spending one month per year painting by herself in the bush

The COVID-19 pandemic has meant hard times for local artists, with summer festivals and performances cancelled.

Even with Greater Sudbury now in Stage 3 of the reopening, and the province giving the green light for performance venues to reopen, it remains to be seen how the local arts scene will adapt — although artists have already been doing plenty of that during the pandemic.

Given the unusual situation, we decided to put the spotlight on local creators of all kinds this summer, whether they’re musicians, actors, filmmakers, authors or fine artists. Many have been putting out new work amid the pandemic.

With public health officials advising physical distancing, many people have experienced isolation for the first time in their lives during the pandemic, but this is nothing new to Sudbury artist Christy Smith.

Smith is a plein air artist, meaning she prefers to paint outdoors.

For the past 10 years, she’s been spending one month every year on a painting retreat by herself in a rustic cabin on the edge of her wooded property in between Wanup and Wahnapitae which abuts Crown land.

She sees her husband once per week when he brings her fresh food, but other than that, she’s not in touch with civilization — no cell phone, no television, no radio. Smith said she does bring art books along to study when she’s not painting.

If there were to be an emergency, she’d have to walk two kilometres through the bush to get home.

“I’m no stranger to isolation,” said Smith, who just spent the month of August on her annual painting retreat. 

“Isolation has been part of my creative life choices. I choose to be that way as an artist. I find human stimulation just a little too stimulating sometimes …

“The isolation is necessary, is what I’m getting at, to feel the well of creativity. It really is. I go out of my way to not take the radio, not taking social media, not having any other interferences, so that my quiet mind can regenerate itself.

“It’s very healthy. Isolation is really not a bad word, as much as we might want to think of it as a negative word. In fact, it’s a very positive word, and it can be a really gratifying experience if one wants to fill their mind, body and soul. That’s what I do. I really work on all three aspects of myself when I go out there.”

Smith’s yearly art retreats are part of her 12-year-long project to paint the natural world 365 days of the year — she’s now a decade in. Each year, she chooses a different month to spend painting in the great outdoors. 

This year it was August, but in 2021 it will be February (can we say brr!), and she’ll complete the project in 2022 by spending the month of September in the bush — a lovely way to end her mission.

“I prefer to paint outside, and I prefer to have nature as my studio,” Smith said. 

“Ten years ago I decided that probably one of the best and interesting ways for me as a northern Ontario outside landscape artist to paint would be to pick a project that would take me outside frequently, and would help me document what is actually happening on the land around us.”

So, how did this year go? Smith said she dealt with hot weather and pesky mosquitoes at the beginning of August, but by the end of the month, the weather had cooled, and she ended up using her woodstove several times.

She had a few wildlife run-ins, including bear sightings and a squirrel who nibbled every one of her acrylic paintings.

Smith enjoys painting nocturnal scenes, and there was not one but two full moons during the month of August, so those nights were documented. 

“I was up many mornings at 5 a.m., waiting for the daylight, and painting the sunrise,” she said.

There’s a marsh she paints every year, and this year is no different. The tamarack in the marsh were just starting to change colours in August.

While Smith says she isn’t bothered by isolation, the pandemic has had an impact upon her life, as she was forced to cancel her Spring Awakening art show this past May.

She plans to have a makeup art show in November at the Little Wanup Church. Each weekend in November, she’ll be exhibiting her work from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Smith said she’ll feature her plein air art from this past August, as well as from her painting retreats in December 2018 and January 2019, when she spent two back-to-back months in her cabin in the winter (again, brr!).

Given it’s now September, this marks the formal end of Sudbury.com’s Inspiring Artists series, although as always, we plan to continue to share the stories of local creators. 

Thanks to all of the local artists who spoke to us about their pandemic projects over the last couple of months. 

If you enjoyed this article, check out our other stories in this series. We caught up with creators including filmmaker Ben Paquette, former Greater Sudbury poet laureate Kim Fahner, local Francophone actor France Huot, writer Tania Fay, young Sudbury songwriter Kaylee Kruk, musician Crystal Shawanda, songwriter Cheryl Cerri, artist Monique Legault, musician Malik Miron, local theatre troupe YES Theatre and Lively band Pop Mach!ine




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