Pamela Swainson – February Artist Profile

PCS head shotI was born in Manitoba to parents who were children of Icelandic immigrants. After my early years under the expansive prairie skies, I came east in a series of moves that found me in the Fine Arts Program at Mount Allison in the early 70’s. As with many women, my art practice was on hold with family commitments and outside work. Since 2007 I have returned, happily, to my art practice mostly full time. I now live on a farm in the Cobequid Mountains with my partner and an assortment of furred and feathered creatures.

My earliest memories are of being in both the quiet and the intensity of the natural world. Even when necessity dictated an urban address, I craved the quiet of the country. I celebrate the environment around me on a daily basis and am passionate about local living and sustainability. Caring for the earth is a kind of subtext in my work whether literally or as inspiration.

I have participated in a number of local exhibits in Nova Scotia including Tatamagouche and Truro. I have had both solo & two person shows.


Light and dark, thick and thin, movement and weight all hold me in my art practice. Mine is a visual practice, mostly painting or drawing. I use it to more deeply inform myself about the world and to communicate that journey to others.

When I engage in figure drawing, I am excited by the energy and form; the press to make decisions without over-thinking. For me the result has a fresh immediacy and directness. While more planning and forethought precedes most of my paintings, when I start, the act of moving the paint takes over. The result is I find the journey takes me to new places in the work.

The process of painting widens my experience of the world. Technical skill is important to me and I work to improve my handling of paint or rendering the human figure. I am curious about how my images can evoke emotion and communicate without words. The path I follow is a balance of skill and the creative process, without letting too many word-thoughts choke me.

the complexities and changes in managing an art practice

I joined Visual Arts Nova Scotia when I returned to my art practice some years ago. I have experienced in my other work the value of professional associations for advocacy, education and support. It is also a good way to meet other artists. The newsletter is a great information resource.

I have taken advantage of quite a few of the workshops over the years. I have also attended a number of the panels and openings. Since I have to travel some distance to attend the events, it speaks to the quality that I continue to do so.

I live and practice is a rural and somewhat remote area. I have to make efforts to connect with other artists, and I know it is a consequence of living in this lovely remote area of the province. Also when I returned to painting, it had been many years since I had had to deal with the complexities and changes in managing an art practice. Writing is not easy for me and I had to both learn and re-learn how to art-speak. I don’t think I really have “it” yet. I am quite sure I am not the only one to find oneself in this place! I know this as I have met them at the workshops.

my influences come from contact with other artists and their work

I find it hard to describe my work as I resist being limited. I like to experiment, though, over time, my work has developed a distinct thread. I have painted, and continue to paint landscapes, but also produce still life paintings, streetscapes and figurative work. I also move between painting and drawing, even fabric and sculpture. It is about the image or ideas I am interested in for a time. My influences come from contact with other artists and their work, especially artists with whom I have personal contact.

Some of my work is based on dreams and on the physical environment in which I live. At times it is an image that just gets stuck in my head from something I saw. My painting at times reflects a belief in living sustainably and the need for healing in our world. Sounds hokey, but well, it is true. My two years in the Fine Arts Department at Mount Allison remain an influence on my skills and style. If I have regrets, it is that I did not complete the whole program at the time.

carving out dedicated time

I would have to say I have two main challenges. The first is carving out dedicated time to paint, especially as we also farm and our income depends, in part, on my participation in the farm work. I am quite distractible, and can easily be waylaid on my way to the studio or called out of it. What has worked best for me is an unheated borrowed space I have the use of in warmer weather. So I leave to go paint where it is just the materials and I.

My other challenge is the promotion work. Like many I struggle with promoting my work and doing the ongoing work of maintaining a website, using social media and even considering approaching galleries leaves me quaking in a corner of my studio… However, the workshops at Visual Arts NS have helped me understand the ‘hows & whys’ of using social media. I have yet to meet the challenge of consistency in using these tools, or even surfing the web as I find it takes time. The VANS newsletter helps me with the latter as it is a good starting point for research.

infusion of support and inspiration

Last Fall I had the pleasure of completing a commission for the NS Dept of Agriculture Farm Environmental Award. It was a portrait of the winning farm. This was a project close to my heart and I really enjoyed the challenge of reflecting back to the award-winning farmers a painting that spoke to how they value and see their farm – and is also a good painting by general criteria.

Currently, I am working in my at-home space and continuing work from last year. I am working on a series with large figures in landscapes exploring healing and connection. I have been playing with what I call ‘dual medium paintings’. I complete the same painting in watercolour and again in oil. I explore how watercolour and oil each influence my final work using the same idea or composition.

I would like to apply for an Artist Residency. I did participate in the Red Rabbit Residency last summer and it was a huge infusion of support and inspiration. I would like to find a place I could have some dedicated time both to paint and to interact with a community/place. It is the tricky balance of finding a place at the same time as having funds to cover the expenses!

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One Response to Pamela Swainson – February Artist Profile

  1. Bonnie Baltessen says:

    Happy birthday!

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