|Bearify. It’s a word. And a great one at that. Not convinced? Well, just ask Gloria Ho, an accomplished watercolour illustrator whose new series of work shows off her playful side. Combining her love of portraiture and nature, she’s charming the art scene by transforming her admirers (like our mayor and cover bear) into wistful versions of themselvews. In case you couldn’t guess, we’re wild about her.|
t8n: When people ask what you do, how do you answer?
GH: I’ll say that I’m a watercolour illustrator or watercolour painter. This usually requires some follow-up explanation, as a lot of people don’t know exactly what that entails.
t8n: Are there other mediums you feel pulled towards, or maybe other disciplines altogether?
GH: Most of my work is done in black pen and watercolour. I fell in love with watercolour when I was a preteen, and I’ve spent years experimenting and finding my own style. I also really like painting in acrylic because it’s so different from watercolour, and it helps me loosen up when I’m feeling tense or if I’m bored with my other work.
t8n: You draw people and animals; what gave you the idea to put the two ideas together for your bear and cat series?
GH: The bear series came first, and I still remember how much fun I had painting the first one! It was maybe June of last year, and it was a very cold summer day. I’d painted a black bear before and loved his
expression and posture, so I decided to paint another one. I was feeling a bit grumpy about how cold our Canadian summer was, and I was all bundled up, so I decided the bear should layer up too! I put him in a really iconic Canadian outfit—a red toque and lumberjack coat. I loved how the final piece looked, and it also got a great response online, so I painted more and more and couldn’t stop! Soon, people started naming the bears, making outfit suggestions and commissioning me to “bearify” their family members. The cat series came after when I was asked to be a vendor at the 2nd Annual Edmonton International Cat Festival.
t8n: People, quite literally, see themselves in your work. What art do you most identify with?
GH: I love portraits. I love painting them, and I love looking at them, no matter what style they’re done in.
t8n: What themes are you attracted to? And do you see your work as autobiographical at all?
GH: My animal paintings tend to be themed around Canadiana and nature. I grew up as an indoor child in Edmonton and didn’t spend much time hiking, camping or being around animals. My interests now are still more indoor-oriented, but I really love and appreciate our Canadian landscape and want to feel connected to it. One way I do that is by painting.
A lot of my paintings at home are more autobiographical and come from personal experiences. I’ve had some travel experiences that meant a lot to me, and I like to relive or revisit them by painting. I also did a 20-piece portrait series of different members of my family back in university. The whole project was very personal and explored family ties. It was totally autobiographical.
t8n: Tell me about the market scene. What do you need to do to be successful there, and has it influenced what you’re creating?
GH: I got into Edmonton and Calgary’s market scene about a year-and-a-half ago because my sister and brother-in-law encouraged me to push past my fears and just try it. I did 10 markets in my first year, and I learned so much by listening to feedback, taking constructive criticism and paying close attention to how customers responded to my work, what I said to them, my prices and everything in between.
To be successful, you need to have a clear brand, high-quality products that represent you, an organized inventory system, a display that looks nice and is easy for customers to look through and also a genuine love of art and craft markets. The vibes are so positive and joyful at markets, and I always have fun looking at (and buying!) what other vendors make. The creativity, entrepreneurism and community support that exist at these markets is so inspiring and pushes me to improve my work.
t8n: Who first put a brush in your hands? Was it a natural fit?
GH: I first tried watercolour at an after-school art class when I was about 11 or 12, and I remember thinking it was really hard. But I had a great teacher, Mrs. Wray, who showed me all the different techniques and fun things that were possible. Holding a paintbrush has always felt natural for me!
t8n: What advice has influenced you?
GH: When I was working on that portrait project in university, I put a lot of pressure on myself to get each portrait finished perfectly in one attempt. My professor helped me realize it’s completely unrealistic to do that and that there will always be pieces that don’t turn out and that it’s a completely normal part of the process. This helped me remember not to put so much pressure on the final piece and to enjoy the painting process more.
t8n: What’s the biggest risk you’ve taken in your career?
GH: Just starting an artistic career was the biggest risk. I didn’t know where it would go or if the time and money I invested in it would lead to anything. The uncertainty was scary but also very exciting.
t8n: What’s your dream project?
GH: My sister is an amazing writer, and we’ve been talking about doing a book together. She’ll write, and I’ll illustrate!
t8n: Where do you see yourself and your work five years from now?
GH: In five years, I hope to be a good, happy person who has travelled to at least three new countries. I hope to be a better and more established watercolour artist with more of my work published and shown in galleries in Edmonton and area. I also hope that I’m still doing markets and continuing to meet other creative makers at that time.
Can’t wait that long? Check out Gloria’s website at www.gloriaho.ca.