I enjoyed chatting recently with Alexandra Gronfors as she sat in her waterfront-view condo in downtown Barrie, Ontario.
I didn’t put a timer on it, but I’m pretty sure she was smiling for 90 per cent of our 30-minute Skype chat. When she wasn’t smiling, she was laughing.
Alexandra is high energy and, if you know her story, she’s also inspiring. If you don’t know her story, I hope you can catch a glimpse of it through the interview below.
[Featured Artwork: “ARThur” by Alexandra Gronfors. Original acrylic on canvas. 38″x48″]
The following responses are lightly edited for length and clarity.
01. Rock, paper, or scissors?
02. What are three interesting facts about you?
A. I’m a Stage 4 cancer survivor. At 31, I think that’s pretty interesting.
B. I’ve been skydiving.
C. I went to a boarding school in high school.
03. Is there anything you can share with those who have been diagnosed with Stage 4 Hodgkin’s Lymphoma and are currently fighting?
The good thing about Hodgkin’s Lymphoma is that it’s curable. You just have to push through treatment. The bad days suck and you just have to rest a lot on those days. But the great thing about our bodies is that they just jump back. So, just push through. We’re all so much more capable than what we know — physically and mentally.
04. What is the main medium you use in your art?
I use acrylic on canvas.
05. What inspires your art?
Basically, it started with images I was connected to. The first piece I ever really spent a lot of time on was my mom’s childhood home, which was in northern Ireland and was part of a castle. It had meaning to it and I just wanted to create that using vibrant colors and make a beautiful piece of art out of it.
Since then, it’s just been pieces that resonate with people who are local. As Canadians, people love moose and people love Canadian landscapes. For me, doing a lot of those just seemed to sit well with myself as well as others.
And I also do a lot of pet portraits. People love their pets.
I like to make people feel happy about my artwork. So, I guess, what inspires me is creating things that resonate well with others.
06. Are you more productive at night or in the morning?
This is a funny question. I consider myself not a morning person. But I’m also a teacher. So, for teaching, I wake up way earlier than I’m supposed to and do my marking and teaching stuff earlier in the morning. But for my art, I’m likely to stay up late.
I guess my creativity prefers late nights. Whereas, my more logical, educational side prefers early mornings. I can’t figure that one out.
07. What is the most unique thing about the city you live in? (Barrie, Ontario)
Our waterfront. Right now, as I’m sitting here talking to you in my condo, I have a beautiful view of the waterfront. *lifts her laptop to show her view out the window*
For me, I love Barrie’s downtown. Obviously, we have all four seasons. Very dramatically. It’s just so neat for where I am. When I was looking at my buying my first place, I said I had to be downtown because it’s so cute and we have this gorgeous waterfront.
08. Is art your career or a hobby? Something else?
It’s six of both. It started as a hobby. Then, when I went through my cancer treatment, I was off work. I painted throughout treatment, which also financially supported me and helped me save money for a down payment. Now, I’m kind of in a transition between doing part-time teaching and part-time artwork. So, it’s a mix of both.
Even if it wasn’t a career for me, I would still find time to be creative. I love to create. It’s a hobby that I’m very grateful and lucky to get paid to do.
09. What kind of training do you have?
For art, none, zero. I’m self taught. I feel like for my art business a huge portion of it is marketing and connecting with people in the community. I don’t have any professional training to do it but I feel like I work hard enough and I have enough talent that people recognize that and they’re willing to pay for it and pay for lessons.
10. The art is one thing, but what’s your secret to generating interest and ultimately selling your art?
Selling my art, I’ve found, is selling myself. In terms of marketing, if I connect well with people then they want my art that much more. It’s not just a painting. They like the story behind the painting and the artist who created it.
Also: Being passionate and excited about the pieces I create, which is kind of a hard thing I think for artists to do. A lot of artists have a hard time saying, “Look what I created, isn’t it awesome?” But as soon as you get over that weirdness of promoting your own stuff then I feel like it really starts to sell itself.
Recognizing that my art is not going to be for everyone but that doesn’t mean that they don’t like it or that they don’t like me, it’s just that it doesn’t suit their house or doesn’t suit their style. And that’s totally fine.
11. Where did your passion for art start?
For me, it started with a need. My mom in her house had a this blank wall and it needed a piece of artwork. She had different art pieces going there and just didn’t like any of them. So, for me, I was like, “I need to fix that.”
Then, once I created something and was impressed with the finished product, I think I got addicted that feeling of accomplishment, having a blank canvas, and creating something beautiful on it.
And then it even progressed further when I was undergoing treatment and I had nothing else to do. That gave me a huge sense of accomplishment when I felt like every other aspect of my life was not moving forward and I was unsuccessful in so many areas — just with my health and having to move home and losing my hair — but then creating something was this whole other area of accomplishment and success.
12. What would be the most annoying thing about having yourself as a roommate?
I like to listen to loud music occasionally and dance around, especially when I’m cleaning. I’m high energy so I’m not always good to be around someone who is low energy.
Also, as an artist, my art spills into every room. I can imagine having canvases spill into the kitchen could be a little annoying. Oh, and the sink is always full of paintbrushes.
My studio isn’t that big because I live in a condo, so my art just overflows and slowly grows, especially if I’m shipping art and I take out all my shipping materials. There’s boxes and bubble wrap everywhere. And I’m a very neat and organized person but it becomes chaotic extremely quickly and takes a long time to clean up.
13. What is your go-to band or singer?
I don’t know if I have a go-to band or singer, especially when I’m working. I listen to softer acoustic covers of music and whatnot.
14. What’s something you’ve been meaning to try but just haven’t got around to?
Mural work. I haven’t done too many murals. That’s something I’d like to promote more and try more. I haven’t really put a lot of energy into that but I’d like to do more of.
I’d also love to, at some point, get a larger studio space where I have a little store; do sales that way and do lessons from there.
15. What household chore do you actually enjoy?
Cleaning. I enjoy vacuuming and cleaning my floors and dusting. I find it very therapeutic.
But I hate cleaning paintbrushes. I don’t know why but getting the paint out of paintbrushes, I do not find it therapeutic.
16. What app do you use most often?
17. What is one common misconception about being an artist?
That you can’t make any money at it. There’s this misconception that you’re a starving artist, which I’ve never really experienced. I started creating art and I started selling art within three weeks of creating it. And I was able to run my own business for an entire summer instead of working and I was able to make an equal amount of income doing that.
But it is hugely about marketing. You can’t just be a talented artist. I love social media. Even if I wasn’t painting and I was installing windows, I feel like I could market myself installing windows. The art is obviously good and it’s a talent of mine but I feel like marketing is half the job.
18. What is your favorite drink?
Water. For someone so creative, I love water. Put a lemon in my water and I’m set.
19. What do you hope people get out of your art?
I hope they get a sense of joy. I hope that they see my artwork and that it lights up their room and also lights up their mood. Hoping to spread joy through my art. I hope it inspires them too. For a lot of people who have my art, they were connected to my story, so I hope it encourages people.
And then a lot of the commission pieces I do: Because I’m painting something meaningful for them, I hope that warms their heart, inspires them, makes them happy because they’re seeing something important to them showcased in a creative way, usually with bright colors. We’re always happier when we’re around things we like.