If you’ve been around in Squamish over the past few years, there’s a good chance you’ve seen some of Kandice Keith’s art.
It’s been featured at Zephyr Café and at Art Junction in Whistler, but people might also recognise it from their run-ins with wildlife in the forests and mountains outside town.
Kandice Keith’s Style
Keith’s work typically features bold, impressionistic depictions of local animals, often in a head-on manner characteristic of traditional portraiture. The paintings are often themselves based off of portraits from local wildlife photographers.
“I paint in stages,” Keith says, gesturing to a series of bear and owl portraits adorning her mantelpiece. “First I paint the animal, and then halfway through I paint the background, and then I finish off going back to the animal.” It’s a technique that depends on understanding the direction a piece might be heading early on and making adjustments to fit its emerging character.
It’s a technique that depends on understanding the direction a piece might be heading early on and making adjustments to fit its emerging character.
Finding their Character
This technique allows for a number of different animal subjects to emerge from the same reference photo. She points to a pair of bears that she said were drawn from the same reference. One looks tired and weathered, the other youthful and spry.
“Along the way, one might look a bit old, and then it’s, ‘oh, Herb,’ versus someone else could look like a Judy,” she adds. “You can see their characters evolve as I paint, so I’m always trying to think as I go along.”
Shaped From Childhood Experiences
Keith’s imagination is in part born out of her childhood experiences in Manitoba. There was an abundance of wildlife, natural space, and room for creativity, particularly at her grandparents’ cabin, which she visited often with her family.
She recalls profoundly the day she first saw a moose in person, at the lake near the cabin. “I remember my cousin racing back to tell us,” she says, eyes wide with enthusiasm. “That was the only time I’ve ever even heard of a moose being down at the lake … I distinctly remember seeing how massive this creature was going down and having a drink.”
“A lot of what I do comes from that experience in my childhood,” she adds.
Now Keith paints moose—and bears, birds and owls, among other ‘whimsical creatures’—from her home studio in Squamish. While she’s always appreciated her natural surroundings, Keith hadn’t painted seriously until twelve years ago, when a family member brought her a paint set for the holidays. “I took a weekend [painting] class,” she says, “and didn’t really stop from there.”
A Daily Painting Practice
For much of the last several years, Keith has practised what’s called “daily painting”.
In short, it is as it sounds; one painting—or at least one short painting session—a day, a dedicated practice. With the exception of a few vacations, she’s followed this practice every day for the last ten years. “When you’re painting at a really fast pace,” she says, “things tend to be a lot more intuitive. You’re not second-guessing, and you don’t tend to overwork as much.”
Don’t Take it Too Seriously
She emphasises the importance of short, daily painting sessions on not taking one’s art too seriously, as well as continually developing her technique. Her early paintings, she said, were intensely detailed—she describes them as almost pointillist. “It was tedious,” she says wearily, then gestures to some of her newer work, which is anything but. “I like the feeling of the looser approach instead.”
One of the only times that fine detail is required in Keith’s paintings is at the very end when she paints her subject’s eyes.
Sometimes, she says, a pair of well-drawn eyes can make a picture “come to life.”
The other characteristic Keith adds to each subject is a name, which she says is both a hearkening back to her animal-filled childhood and a practical way of differentiating between paintings.
“There’s only so much you can do with ‘black bear #52,’” she says, laughing. In that way, giving all of her subjects names, “seems to make them easier to figure out.”
Painting for Joy, not Perfection
For as much time as she puts into her paintings, however, Keith admits that they don’t always work out. She stresses her love for the enjoyment of painting itself, not necessarily the end result. “I’m a big believer of, if the painting isn’t working, toss it and move on,” she says. Many of these canvases end up going to her children, who, like Keith, are enjoying childhoods surrounded by nature.
See Kandice’s Work
Currently, Keith is both exhibiting work and hosting workshops at Bungalow 968 in the Industrial District. Her work can also be found at Art Junction in Whistler, on her website, kandicekeith.ca, and on Instagram and Facebook.