Linda Finstad is an Edmonton-based artist and author. Throughout the pandemic, she painted using coffee. Yes, coffee. Now, she’s painting with cat hair, dust bunnies, cigarette butts, and other truly useless items. Yes, truly.
The England-born artist started out as a horse-show photographer and sort of, kind of fell into an art career because of a combination of cellphones, Facebook, and an art collector from Texas. It all comes together in the interview below.
Linda has a fabulous sense of humour — as you might expect — given her ability to paint with some of the above items. The laughs came a mile a minute during our chat. Enjoy!
[Featured Artwork: “Whole Bottle” by Linda Finstad.]
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 really, really inquisitive. I need to know why things work and if they don’t work I need to figure out how to make them work.
B. I’m from England originally.
C. I’ve had a lot of different careers. I decided to be an artist on a whim. I didn’t even know I could draw or paint. I just decided one morning, “I know; I’ll be an artist.”
D. I’ve painted 1,000 coffee paintings. A thousand of anything is a lot. Most of my paintings are of angels, which are really just the human form with wings stuck on them. So, I had to think of 1,000 different ways to paint a woman. I don’t know whose daft idea that was, but I’ve done it. *laughs*
03. What is the main medium you use in your art?
At the moment, coffee. I started painting with coffee at the beginning of the pandemic; mainly due to a lack of materials. I was out of some of my supplies and I thought, “Rather than do nothing, I’ll dig around and use what I’ve got.” I started experimenting and I hit on coffee. I really fell in love with it.
I know it sounds trite, but it changed the course of my art career. When everyone else was struggling, I was absolutely thriving; not just because of the coffee, but because of the subject matter I chose as well.
I paint these little fat angels. My angels have frizzy hair, big bums, and even bigger attitudes. I was posting them every day on Facebook and people were loving them. I was giving them a voice. And the voice I gave them was really out of frustration. We all went through that rollercoaster of emotions. Sometimes my angels were sassy, sometimes they were reflective, but they always had an attitude. People could identify with them.
Over the last two years, I’ve created an enormous line of greeting cards, prints, magnets. I’ve published five books and I have another one on the way. All of them illustrated with these sassy coffee angels. Like I said, they completely changed the course of my art business. I found a way to turn coffee into cash, which is pretty amazing.
04. What inspires your art?
For the coffee thing, I was kind of in a groove with these angels. What would happen was that one thing would find the next. I did a hundred coffee paintings. They were all mixed up to begin with — all types of different subjects — before I hit on the angels.
Then, I published a book called “Just Not That Kind Of Angel.” That led to the next thing: It was brought to my attention that not all of my humour was suitable for children. *laughs* I thought, “Fair enough.” So, I did another 100 angels that were suitable for children. They were nice; they were inspirational and charming.
Then, I thought, “You know what? There’s a goofy holiday for absolutely every day of the year. I should illustrate those.” So that’s what I did next. That’s 365 of these suckers, right? One thing just led to the next.
The last book that I wrote — which I think is the best book I’ve written — is called “The Art of Being Amazing.” It’s an instruction book on how to be amazing. I’m a bit like Dr. Phil, but with more hair. *laughs*
Then, I thought, I should do life hacks on how to be amazing for every day of the year, which brought me down another path of 365 paintings. That brought me up to my 1,000.
05. Are you more productive at night or in the morning?
In the morning. I’m definitely a morning person. And I’m very, very prolific. These little angels are not huge paintings. I paint them on watercolour paper and they’re 8×10, but I can paint six or seven a day. So I’m very productive.
06. Is your art your career or a hobby? Something else?
It’s how I earn a living. Before I was full-time artist, I was a photographer. I was the horse-show photographer. That’s how I earned a living. I’d go to horse shows, photograph all the competitors, post them on the website, hopefully people would buy them, and then off to the next show. Every weekend was horse shows.
I would edit these horse-show photos and turn them into what I would call art. I would get rid of the background and make them fabulous. I’d have some printed and at my display at the horse show. People would say, “That’s beautiful. Is it a painting?” And I would say, “No, it started out life as a photograph and then with digital tools I turned it into what I would call digital art.” They would just look at me and say, “Oh, you just photoshopped it” and would walk away. So, I said to myself, “If you want a painting, I’ll paint you a picture.” That’s how I got started.
07. What is the most unique thing about the city you live in? (Edmonton, AB)
When I moved here, because of what I wanted to do was to be a horse-show photographer, Alberta really was my backyard. The best thing about Alberta is you can do just about anything.
Life is easy here. I come from England, and there is so much competition for everything. I could never do what I do in Alberta in England. It just wouldn’t fly. But, here, it really is the land of opportunity.
08. What kind of training do you have?
Way back when, I was a British Horse Society riding instructor. But when I came to Canada, I didn’t really know where I fit in the horse industry. In England, I’d always earned my living in the horse industry in some shape or form. So, I went back to school to learn photography. I went back to school for a year to learn the mechanics. I knew what a horse was supposed to look like but I needed to know the technical side of photography. It was when the instructor at school asked what I really like to take photos of, I answered horses. What else is there? So, that’s when the penny dropped and I realized I could be the horse-show photographer.
When the penny dropped and I realized what I could, I phoned up show secretaries. I asked them if they had a show photographer. If they said yes, I would say, “That’s great. I’ll see you on the weekend.” If they said, no, I would say, “Do you want one?” That’s how easily I slipped into that career.
I did that for 15 years and I earned a good living at it while it was good. Cellphones killed my business, really. And I think they’ve killed the business for a lot of event photographers as well.
09. So, how did you get your start in painting?
I went to Michaels and bought five canvases in a pack — the cheap ones — and some paints. I painted a couple of these colourful horses and I posted them on Facebook. They weren’t horrible. This lady messaged me from Texas. She said she loved the painting and asked how much for it.
I had no idea what to charge. So, I talked to my husband — he was watching football, so he wasn’t really listening to me. But, he said, “Tell her $500.” And I said, “Well, I can’t say that.” He said, “Do you know this woman?” And I said, “No, I don’t know her from Adam.” And he said, “Well, you have nothing to lose then, do you?”
So, I messaged her back: $500. She didn’t skip a beat. She e-transfered $500 into my bank account. Now, I had 500 reasons to carry on painting. And that was it.
10. What is your favorite drink?
I like Canadian Club (whisky), but I’m not allowed to drink it anymore. I had a heart attack about a year ago and now I have to drink red wine. Doctor’s orders. *laughs*
11. What household chore do you actually enjoy?
Enjoy? I don’t. I’m a terrible housekeeper.
12. The art is one thing, but what’s your secret to generating interest and ultimately selling your art?
I make people laugh. And that’s what I want my art to do. I want people to be amused and have a giggle. If I’m at an art fair or an art show and I have a crowd around my booth and they’re all having a good time and giggling, that’s marvelous. That’s the reward for me.
They always say art should create a reaction in the viewer, and I want them to laugh. I don’t take myself very serious so I’m very happy if they are laughing at my art; at the words.
13. What’s something you’ve been meaning to try but just haven’t got around to?
Now that I’ve finished my thousand paintings, I’m getting around to things that I’ve wanted to try for a long time. I want to make paintings out of truly, truly useless items. Things like cat hair — which is entirely useless unless it’s attached to the cat — or dust bunnies and cigarette butts; really, totally useless items. The hardest one was the cigarette butts, but I cracked it. There was lots of trial and error. I stunk up the house. *laughs*
14. What would be the most annoying thing about having yourself as a roommate?
I take up too much room. There’s canvases and paint everywhere. And that was a reason why I had to start painting on watercolour paper at the start of the pandemic. I’m so prolific that if I continued painting on canvases, I would have needed a sea can in the backyard to store everything. There would have been no room for anybody.
15. What app do you use most often?
Square. It’s the only reason I have a phone. My husband wouldn’t lend me his anymore to use at art fairs and art shows.
16. What is one common misconception about being an artist?
The biggest misconception is that we have to wait to be in the mood. That we have to be moved by inspiration. All the serious artists that I’ve got to know over the last five years get up in the morning and start work. They don’t float around on a cloud of fluff waiting for inspiration. They treat it like a business. They treat it like a job.
17. What do you hope people get out of your art?
A sense of fun and whimsy. And maybe a different way of looking at things.