I had a super-positive conversation with Alberta-based artist Samantha Williams-Chapelsky. Many of you are likely already familiar with her, especially if you follow her prolific Instagram account, but this was the first time she and I had ever chatted.
I enjoyed so much our discussion around the business of art. She’s been incredibly successful at cracking that egg. Of course, there’s always more to be done and I look forward to following her career as she continues to do it.
Enjoy this week’s artist spotlight below and be sure to check out Sam on Instagram.
[Featured Artwork: “Polka Dot Water” by Samantha Williams-Chapelsky. Acrylic on birch panel.]
The following responses are lightly edited for length and clarity.
01. Rock, paper, or scissors?
02. What are three interesting facts about you?
A. A big part of my life is fitness. I love Olympic lifting.
B. I have two dogs, and they are my life. (She confirmed her husband is aware of this fact.)
C. My goal is to be a “van lifer” at some point.
03. You recently wrapped up time in Crowsnest Pass having participated in the Gushul Artist Residency: What is that? How long were you there? And how did it go?
It’s a residency from the University of Lethbridge. It’s actually a house donated by the Gushul family out in the middle of Crowsnest Pass. I was there for just over two weeks. The idea behind the residency, in general, is to go there as an artist; to get out of your home-based studio, and you create. In normal times there are multiple artists together, but I was there by myself. I did have a gentleman from Toronto working in the cottage behind me.
I just spent the time pondering the existence of the world. You just go to these weird spaces and think about way too many things. There’s too many thought processes around in your head and you sort of react to that. It was a good chance to produce some pieces. I created some garbage work, I produced some average pieces, and I produced some really good pieces that have helped me launch forward in, sort of, a new direction.
I would definitely recommend doing a residency to any artist because it takes you out of your home base. I couldn’t do laundry or a lot of those basic distractions that I would have at home. Yes, I had to cook for myself, but other than that, you just create.
04. You’re quite prolific. You paint, you offer workshops, you coach, you had your residency recently, and your social media is chalk full of engaging content. How do you manage everything?
It’s a challenge. Any artist knows this: It’s a full-time gig in every way, shape, and form and it does over-run into every aspect of your life.
For me, I haven’t taught as much over the last two years. So that is dwindling a little bit but, of course, I am still doing the lectures and the artist talks. And, social media is its own little beast. It is my marketing stream. I don’t do a lot of print ads or things like that.
But, as far as time management, my art is my passion and it happens to be my career too. You definitely see that it engulfs your life. But, also, I don’t have kids so, to be fair, that does give me a bit of an advantage with time management as well.
05. What movie title best describes your life?
Oh gosh. I’m going to just pick a movie that I love and should be what I live my life by: “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.” It’s a good reminder to live life to its fullest.
06. Let’s go back to one of your interesting facts: Olympic lifting. How did you get into that and why do you continue?
When I was finishing my degree in Italy 12-13 years ago, I hurt my knee. I actually tore my ACL. This was after many years of just running. I was a “cardio queen.” That was pretty much all I did and I realized there were muscles in there that were lacking. So, in my physio, I had done deadlifts and squats. I just loved it and just, sort of, continued on. It’s made me stronger in so many ways and I’m able to continue running without getting surgery.
I’ve used it on the mental health side as well as physical health. It’s not necessarily a lose-weight thing but just a keep-me-strong thing to be able to do all the things I want to, especially because I stand as an artist and I’m constantly using those muscles. So, it just makes me stronger as a person. And I just really don’t want to have that surgery.
06. What is the main medium you use in your art pieces?
I’m basically even in acrylic and oil. Probably mostly acrylic but equal in oil as well.
08. What’s been the top trait that has made you successful at the business of art?
It’s not an easy industry. It’s hard and it’s very rough on your ego, and all artists need to have an ego to create. We use that to feel good about ourselves in order to produce these works of art that we call spectacular or glamourous or beautiful. But, holding onto that ego is a fragile thing so you need to be resilient.
I know this one artist who says you should aim for 1,000 rejections in your artist career and keep on going forward until you hit that. I kind of love that way of thinking.
08. What inspires your art?
Since my university degree, it’s been the landscapes of western Canada; the prairie or mountain landscapes I’ve seen. When things were normal, I would have been inspired by other landscapes in my travels but typically western Canada right now.
09. What is your go-to band or artist?
For painting, I am a folk-music listener but if you look at my Top 25 Most Played on my Apple music account, it’s solidly AC/DC and ’70s and ’80s rock.
10. What song or artist do you like but rarely admit to liking?
I do love Britney Spears. I don’t admit to it much. And Lady Gaga. But she’s pretty mainstream now.
11. Where did your passion for art start?
I always loved to paint. When I was in Grade 1, I was painting all the time and I had this amazing teacher out in B.C. who noticed it and how much I loved it. I lived in Kelowna at the time and she submitted my work for the Emily Carr Art Award, and I won in Grade 1, which was great.
That kind of set me on my trajectory. She was the one who noticed that I was able to draw things more advanced than some of the other kids, or differently, or that I saw things a little bit differently. Teachers definitely play a huge role in noticing a lot about an artists’ potential in life.
12. Are you more productive at night or in the morning?
Evenings, always. I’m a late-night painter. Always have been. I was one of those weirdos who stayed up to 2, 3, 4 o’clock in the morning getting projects done and wouldn’t get up until noon. I think my brain is just wired that way.
13. The art is one thing, but what have you done to crack the business side of art? Promoting yourself, your work, and generating client interest?
I think you have to be very willing to share your story. I’ve talked about this over and over again with artists. You can produce the most beautiful piece of art but no one really cares unless it has a story behind it. They want to see your face as an artist, they want to know what you’re about, what you’re doing. And I still need to work on that.
As artists, we’re introverts. We like to keep everything in and hold our cards close to our chest. It’s not that I want to put the viewer on the therapists couch and give them the rundown of my emotional life. But I want to share some little tidbit about why I’m creating this work, why it’s important, and what it can represent.
Putting a face to a piece of artwork is important. It’s also about sharing your process. I don’t need to share my worst paintings. I’m going to tailor that and curate that as much as I can. You have to be careful how you curate your viewer. My Instagram and Facebook are not personal pages, they’re business pages. They include a little bit of fitness or a little bit of dog stuff but it’s not a personal diary of my life.
13. What are you hilariously bad at?
I took cello lessons for two years. I was in the beginner cello class. There was a 5-year-old girl as well as several teenagers. In those two years, I never got better. I was horrid. The 5-year-old played better than me instantly. I’m really bad at the musical side of the creative spectrum. I know they always say artists are good at everything creative. But, no, no we’re not.
14. What do you hope people get out of your art?
The last three years have been a little bit of a different mindset. I think the reason my work has shifted a little bit is because I really want to find moments of peace, and quiet, and calm.
The work before this was challenging in terms of talking about relationships with sky and ground and how the landscape can really showcase a conversation between an individual within themselves. Right now, I think my work is more about finding inner peace, inner quiet. Nothing super jarring, nothing super crazy.
I have two very developed bodies of work. And I think I’ve focused more on the ones I’ve needed during this time. That’s why I have done so many mountain paintings that have a calmness, that peace in your life.