I learned a lot while chatting with Calgary-based artist Billie Rae Busby recently. She took the dive into a full-time art career a few years ago and hasn’t looked back.
It was my pleasure to spend 30 minutes learning from her. I hope you can take some things away from our chat as well!
[Featured Artwork by Billie Rae Busby.]
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 have a kinesiology degree and studio art degree. I went to school for economics my first year but I didn’t like it and then went into kinesiology. I decided to keep taking art classes as my electives, stayed an extra year, and earned an art degree too.
B. I am mother to two daughters and I am divorced; so I’m a co-parent single mama.
C. My claim to fame is that the Queen had walked on an art carpet that I designed for Canada House (the Canadian High Commission) in London, England.
03. What is the main medium you work with?
I work with acrylic paint and I also use masking tape. I create hard-edged landscapes. So both of those are really important to me. I use a combination of brushes and palette knives to create the effect.
04. What inspires your art?
I grew up on the Prairies in Saskatchewan. I live in Calgary now, but I grew up with those open skies, big fields, those sunsets and sunrises, and having a cabin at a lake with my mom and dad. I grew up really appreciating the landscape and outdoors but I never really thought of myself as a landscape artist — that really wasn’t of any interest to me — until the last 15 years. It has felt like nostalgia to home. I lost my mom 14 years ago and I think it was an ode to her and those memories of growing up.
05. Are you more productive at night or in the morning?
At night. Maybe afternoon. I’m not morning person.
06. Is your art your career or a hobby? Something else?
It is my career now. I had a day-job career in marketing and communications for almost 20 years and I was also painting abstract landscapes for about 15 years as my side passion. Two years ago I left my day-job career. I then decided to give painting a real shot. So it is the sole income that I have now.
07. What is the most unique thing about the city you live in? (Calgary, AB)
It feels very small town-ish. There’s a lot of people who have come from other places, other provinces, or other places around the world. And, people are pretty friendly. It does feel like a smaller community even though we are a million-and-a-half people.
I also find the art world is very small in that way, too, and very non-competitive. It’s extremely supportive and I think that’s really why I’ve been able to step into this full-time art career.
08. What kind of training do you have?
I have a Studio Art degree; it’s a Bachelor’s of Art from the University of Saskatchewan in 1998. Before that, in high school, I was the art nerd and won the art award. It was something I always dabbled in. I will say, though, that after I graduated, I didn’t create anything for a really long time. There was a 6-8 year stretch where I didn’t do much art.
I ended up taking classes at the Alberta College of Art and Design, which is now Alberta University of the Arts. I took evening classes there for about five years and that’s where I learned how to paint.
09. Where did your passion for art start?
I have to say it probably came from my mom. She was always very crafty. She never considered herself an artist but she would always be doing something: cross-stitch, or crochet, or quilting. She would always have some sort of activity she would be doing.
My mom and dad were very supportive. I had an art desk at home. I remember being a little kid and there was a desk in the living room that had markers, and glitter, and anything a little girl could really want to play with. I had a lot of support to play and, from there, I felt confident through all my schooling.
10. What is your favorite drink?
Old Fashioned for grown-up beverage, which I don’t drink every day. *laughs* But, for a daily beverage, it’s an Earl Grey every morning. It’s got that little bit of caffeine and also has a beautiful taste. *takes a sip of her Earl Grey from a Banff Centre mug*
11. What household chore do you actually enjoy?
*laughs* That’s probably the toughest question you’ve asked. I actually do enjoy doing the dishes though. It’s a relaxing thing. I do have a dishwasher but I don’t always use it. I do like that little bit of time where there’s no distractions and I can do the dishes.
12. The art is one thing, but what’s your secret to generating interest and ultimately selling your art?
Relationships is probably the biggest. From my business background in my previous career, I know how really important relationships and understanding people are. I have clients who have three or four paintings of mine. If they don’t have the wall space anymore, they’re always the ones telling their friends or posting on social media because they want me to have success and to continue painting. It’s because they appreciate what I’m doing and they maybe have connected to something that I’ve created.
When I make an artwork I want it to be abstract or vague enough to bring out that memory or some sort of mood in someone else; and my collectors really seem to connect with that. From there, I can build relationships. I’ve developed friendships with many of my collectors and I think that’s really important but that also makes making your art rewarding when you know that person loves having that piece up on their wall.
13. What’s something you’ve been meaning to try but just haven’t got around to?
Ceramics. I really enjoy ceramics or any sort of clay or sculpture. I think it’s because I haven’t had exposure to it and I have some friends who do that. I have a neighbour down the street who, every Christmas, I buy some of her ceramics that I’ll give away. I think that would be a really fun thing because it’s something I wouldn’t switch into an entrepreneur to try to sell. It would be something for fun, for pleasure.
14. What would be the most annoying thing about having yourself as a roommate?
The messiness. I’m always messy and cluttered no matter how hard I try. And I like stuff; I like my art supplies; I like collectibles and going to thrift stores.
15. What is your go-to band or singer?
That is really hard for me to answer. I have a strange, eclectic taste in music. My playlist right now has the new Beyonce album as well as a composer I met at the Banff Centre, and I’ve started listening to some Motown Soul music again.
But my go-to song when I’m having a doubtful day is “Lovely Day” by Bill Withers. Whenever I put that on, it always shifts my mood.
16. What app do you use most often?
Instagram. My second one lately is Twitter, but that’s such a mixed bag right now.
17. What is one common misconception about being an artist?
I think the biggest one is that everyone is a starving artist; especially when I was looking to leave my career and testing to be an artist. I didn’t know if I could make this happen as a full-time career.
I had a lot of people give me the “You can’t make money in art” speech. I’m proving them wrong and I’m not the only one. I have a lot of friends who have been mentors and role models to me who have made a living in art. Not everybody can, but it’s just like any entrepreneurship, whether you have a tech business or a cupcake shop: Some succeed and some don’t. It’s the same thing as an artist. I think the starving artist stigma is a full-on myth.
I think the people that can’t make it as a full-time artist don’t have that little savviness or the resource of help to figure out the business side. From the research I’ve done over the past couple of years, the people that do make it happen either have help from the business side or they just have a natural sense for understanding that the business side is as important as the art.
18. What do you hope people get out of your art?
I hope they get that the landscape can be looked at in a different way and that we can feel some mood or memory by looking at my artworks. I hope that wherever they’re from that they can see something in my landscapes that give them a sense of place and maybe put them somewhere that they feel fond of.
I really appreciate this interview. Months ago, I found Billie Rae Busby’s art via Twitter. I’ve been curious about the woman behind her stunning and vibrant paintings. You asked a good mixture of questions that helped me get a sense of her as an artist and her as a person. Thank you so, so much.