Nancy Vail

Artist Story

I make acrylic paintings on canvas. They are usually simple in style, but I always try to capture the spirit of the North. I particularly like to focus on animals, because I think they are the North’s most valuable asset. I try to capture their character and vulnerability, which portrays a crucial part of what this part of the world represents to me. My favourite animals to paint are ptarmigans, foxes, and polar bears.

I learned to paint at Diane Boudreau’s shop in Yellowknife. I wandered in there for a visit in 2014. She’s the one who got me started with painting, and she actually wouldn’t let me quit even when I wanted to! I painted casually for the first couple of years, and now all I do is paint.

Diane really motivates people to keep going in the arts and she has taught me so much. I’ve been lucky to cross paths with a few helpful people like that in my life. That’s the beauty of artists; they don’t compete, they just want to help you. They’re not critical or judgmental, they just want to bring out the best in other people who want to make art too.

At the beginning of my creative process, the picture starts to form in my head. I’ll often use a photograph to begin with, and will draw a rough sketch on the canvas. I play with the colours, the form, the light, the dark. I tend to experiment a lot by using different types of acrylics to highlight particular areas. For example, I use paints with shiny texture or glitter to highlight snow or northern lights.

Once I start to work with the acrylics, the piece usually just takes a life of its own. The process of how it all comes together is so beautiful. There comes a point in the process where the image I am working on just comes alive. I can tell when it happens: all of a sudden it’s not just paint on canvas anymore. Somehow, spirit has gotten in there too. It’s really what it feels like, and it becomes very real to me at that point. Ultimately, my biggest role is stepping out of the way and letting things happen.

The North is my biggest inspiration. If I wasn’t painting about the North, I’m not sure I would be painting at all! I have always been writing and talking about the subject, but it’s true that every picture tells a story of a thousand words. That’s what inspired me about painting.

My art represents the vulnerability and fragility of this place. We are going through climate change and the North is heavily impacted. We also have so much to face up here with what has happened to Indigenous Peoples, on the path to reconciliation. I hope that my paintings give people the opportunity to sense those vulnerable parts in an innocent way. My wish is that it will inspire people to appreciate what we have, and to take better care of it.

Artist Bio: 

Nancy lives on Jolliffe Island, off of Yellowknife. She uses acrylic paints to create original paintings on canvas, which she also turns into art cards. Nancy considers herself lucky to have found a craft that she really loves to do that allows her to express herself freely. She also loves to write and has been steadily doing so for years. The North remains her main source of inspiration since the 1970’s, when she first moved to the Northwest Territories.  Nancy loves to know where her original artwork ends up and prefers to sell to friends or people who will offer a good home to her pieces. She sells her art at various markets in the Yellowknife area.

Last Updated: September 26, 2022
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