Note: We were supposed to kick off our spring season at the shop with a show featuring Katie Butler (Instagram: @oneofyourfrenchgirls_) but COVID postponed it.
Hey Katie. Last we saw you was back in January when you did a live painting at the shop for our cruisewear party. How are you?
Things are good. I’m keeping busy, filling my schedule with Zoom calls for school and getting away from the computer when I can to decompress and reconnect. I’ve been trying out some new things like at home workouts, digital art and vegan cooking, and then also sticking to my go-to’s – bugging my siblings, getting out on the water and painting.
I recently saw a picture of you sailing an old boat and you were just sort of cruising around, not racing or training, and it seemed like total escapism. It seemed super COVID-inspired, like just being out on the water is really all we need right now.
That’s exactly what it was. Living on the water but being unable to get out there and feel the fresh breeze on my face was beginning to affect my sanity. I bribed my youngest sister into helping me lift my uncle’s Laser sailboat from the 70s, “Pepperpot” off the trailer. I spent that day power-washing the hull, assembling what rigging I could find in my shed and then I finally was able to get her sailing again.
Katie sailing her uncle's 1970s Laser sailboat.
Sailing is one of those flow activities where you can get out of your head and away from all the busyness. As much as I love racing, my love of sailing has always been about that connection to the elements and its calming effect.
You weren’t really supposed to be here in Canada though, right? You were going to Africa?
Yeah, so the plan was to be living in Rwanda from May through August but COVID interrupted that. Through a program at my university, I would be doing a community health and social enterprise internship in partnership with the University of Rwanda. Luckily, the internship wasn’t entirely cancelled and I’ve still been able to work with the partners remotely but it was quite a bummer to no longer be headed back to Rwanda.
A girl Katie met in Rwanda in 2019. She painted this live at the Good People Unity Gala in February.
And that project is something you are super passionate about?
Yes! I love that the work of the partners we’re supporting align with my own values. They support single mothers to become financially stable through the running of small sustainable businesses while also increasing the health of the community through the sales distribution of probiotics. Though I love to travel and especially love the culture and community of Rwanda, I also love the program, and so my experience has still been very rewarding.
But this has allowed you to spend more time on your painting, right?
Yeah, so one of the silver linings of this COVID-19 situation has been that I haven’t been forced to choose between projects. I was feeling hesitant to put this painting business I’ve been doing on hold for a whole three months while I went abroad, especially when I’ve been enjoying myself so much and seeing a demand that commission artists don’t always experience.
Ok, let's back up a bit. Tell us a little bit more about yourself.
I’m from a pretty big family of 5 kids and I’m the second born, first girl. I’ve always been into visual arts, taking after a long line of visual artists on my maternal side of the family. I’m currently a student at Western University studying Health Sciences. This is the third faculty I have been in at Western across my 3 years studying. I’ve come to accept that I am an indecisive, yet particular person. I’m a work in progress, focused on developing myself and my community.
And you grew up here in Windsor?
I grew up just outside of Windsor in St. Clair Beach, in a house along Lake St. Clair on Riverside Drive, so being near the water was always something I took for granted. I didn’t realize how important that was to my life until I moved away a few years ago to London, Ontario for university at Western. Thames River really did not do it for me.
I hear ya! London's a bit landlocked. What was the best part of growing up in St. Clair Beach?
The best part in my mind is the summer lifestyle that revolves around the lake. The sailing and boating community has a cottage feel to it while still being just next to the city of Windsor. My experience growing up in South Port Sailing School is so different than any of the competitors I’ve met from the GTA where it is so racing focused and structured from a very young age. We were given the chance to do stupid, creative stuff, spend more time in the water than in the boat and develop lasting friendships, and that is what kept me in the sport and out of the house every summer.
When did you first know you were interested in art?
Art was always encouraged in my home. Growing up my mom was a commission artist and then an art teacher and therapist and my Nonna (who I also live with) is a very active visual artist. I always preferred crafty activities to sports or games. At around the age of 12, I started to join in on my mom’s still life and figure drawing sessions. I remember one specific day where I drew a still life of a red, green and yellow apple using only black charcoal. I showed my youngest sister who was only maybe 3 or 4 at the time, and she was able to tell me which apple was the red, green and yellow one, despite the portrait (which I proudly named “dem apples”) being grayscale. That was the first time I truly felt a strong sense of pride in my art and that I was developing the technical skill to make something of value.
Katie at age 10 (2010) sitting at the cafe for her mom's art class exhibition. 'Dem Apples' is above, top row, third from left.
What inspires you these days?
People, mostly. I find people to be the most visually interesting subject matter, as evidenced by my slight tendency to stare. I like to capture people’s expression and auras with the use of colours and style.
You focus on painting women. Where did that start from?
I find the female body beautiful. It has a lot of really visually interesting organic shapes and curves that create some pretty cool light and shadows. I got the chance in my first year of university to take a visual arts studio course where there was a live nude drawing session, and it was just the coolest thing to possibly happen in university. Unfortunately, there were only two weeks of that portion of the course and so I had to find an alternative source of subject matter. Luckily, it is a lot easier to find models to work with you when they get to own the product afterwards.
Katie in her first year dorm with some of the nude drawings from her art class.
A 20 minute nude drawing exercise from Katie's first year studio class.
Let's talk more about that because I think that's the really interesting thing with your work. Like, if you painted me in my boardies lounging by the pool, the process from start to finish would be quite uncomfortably self-conscious. Yet at the same time I'm thinking it would be also quite liberating, almost therapeutically. Is this sort of how it goes? What's the feedback from the women you paint?
So that is one of my favourite things about this whole project. The reactions from the women I paint has been overwhelmingly positive. It’s not uncommon for people who approach me for a custom painting to initially feel hesitant or self conscious, some even request I cinch their waist in or highlight certain features over others. Still, I’m very adamant about staying true to the reference photos and embracing body positivity. Once people see the finished painting, you can see something click in their brain and they start seeing their body objectively as art. I would encourage anyone actively trying to improve their self image to consider commissioning a nude drawing or painting. I find it’s often the “flaws” that make for a more enjoyable and interesting composition in the end.
Is there a place where you love to paint? Or any way that gets you into the mood to create?
I don’t really like to paint alone. I like commotion and people around me, which I think comes from being from such a big family. I wish painting was a more collaborative and social activity like music, but I’m working on making it closer to that. That being said, I paint in my kitchen, living room, backyard, wherever… and my family has just adjusted to eating around the art I’m working on. If anything it’s really just normalized the female body in my household, even my younger brother and sisters will come give casual constructive criticism on my pieces. (Disclaimer: I do keep the reference photos on my phone, away from view and keep the models anonymous).
Katie painting at Pressure Drop, January 2020.
Tell us a bit about how people can contact you and get started on a piece.
So right now, I’m exclusively on Instagram @oneofyourfrenchgirls_. People can shoot me a message there if they are interested in getting custom art commissioned or want more information about my pricing, process or product. I also love to support other small businesses and collaborate on projects, especially with other artists of differing mediums, so feel free to reach out with any project ideas. I would love to help increase the publics arts scene here in Windsor and Essex County.
Interview by: Mike