Ottawa painter Nicole Allen finds inspiration in nature’s beauty
Published on: February 2, 2016 | Ailsa Francis
With a bare branch propped against the wall, a handcrafted woollen bird’s nest on the table and a diffuser on the floor misting the scent of sandalwood into the air, it’s clear this studio belongs to an artist who loves nature.
Nicole Allen of The Loft Artists Studio on Gladstone Avenue paints with colour and gusto: predominantly big flowers and big rocks, as well as small canvases of birds. Slender and fine featured, she in many ways, resembles the delicate birds she paints.
Raised by parents who encouraged her gift, she found her thirst for painting at age five, when her dad, Don Moore, helped her paint a cardinal — a canvas that still hangs in her living room. Allen remembers painting side by side with her father — a chiropractor, talented hobby painter and avid fly fisherman — on their family’s dock at their Muskoka cottage. To this day, the rugged, textured landscapes of the picturesque wilderness north of Toronto speak to her.
“I am constantly inspired and intrigued by colour and the moods that certain combinations evoke,” says the mother of two who runs, practises yoga and enjoys drinking scotch with her husband on their balcony by the light of the moon. “Technically, I am always striving for a balance of the organic line with the linear in my work, which is why my landscapes and florals tend to have a graphic feel.”
She describes herself as more of an intuitive and “quick” painter, vastly different from her dad’s more intellectual approach. “He has had a huge influencebirds stylistically on me as he works quite freely and is very mindful of colour theory. His paintings filled the walls of our home growing up.”
Allen, 44, grew up in Oakville, studied art history in Kingston at Queen’s University and then found her way to Victoria, B.C., where she worked in the art rental business.
She and her husband, Jeff Allen, who is a training consultant and Founder of Crimson Training Solutions Inc., moved to Ottawa in 1997 where she received an applied museum studies diploma at Algonquin College. With two young children, she continued crafting her painting skills by attending classes at the Ottawa School of Art. Today, Charlie is 15, and Sydney is 12, who according to Allen, “is also very artistic” while her husband provides the “muscle behind every art fair and show.
“I don’t remember not drawing or painting,” says Allen, who six years ago put her toe into the art market for the first time by participating in a small mixed show at Irene’s Pub on Bank Street. All of her paintings sold, prompting her to paint full time.
FlowersAllen’s art is luscious and bold; she achieves this effect by using acrylic paints in layers over charcoal, Conté and ink. Her impressionistic landscapes use colour fearlessly and, she says, appeal more to men, as do her giant canvases of crows or cardinals with attitude. Her floral still-life paintings, which are both blocky and delicate, are favourites with women.
When I ask whether a painting of vibrant poppies seen from a bee’s vantage point, called Order in the Chaos, was inspired by her own garden, she laughs and emphatically says, “No.” She confesses her back garden in the Glebe is a “work in progress” since the construction of an infill next door displaced many of her plants. Instead, inspiration came from a photo in an old English gardening magazine.
Surprised and delighted by her art success, Allen also seems unfazed by it. Gearing up for her third active year of painting and exhibiting, she realizes the vocation was always there.
I point to a painting with fluttering petals of white cosmos, and ask its name. “We each have our own path,” she says with a smile.
Where to find Nicole Allen’s work Cardinal
The Artist Project, Contemporary Art Fair
Feb. 18-21 at the Better Living Centre, Exhibition Place, Toronto
Gallery Representation: Canvas Gallery, Toronto (www.canvasgallery.ca)
in2art Gallery, Oakville
Bloomfield Flowers, 783 Bank St., Ottawa