Words by Deena Dolan
“I’ve always painted and drawn,” smiled Lisa Hannaford, as we chatted in her charming Clarksburg home. Growing up in Montreal, she was surrounded by and immersed in the vibrant art scene. Her mother had been keenly involved with the city’s galleries and museums. With this in her DNA, Lisa became the quintessential, prize winning student. Always. Following the artistic path, she studied art history at University of Toronto and one of her favourite courses was at The Royal Ontario Museum, studying their collection of furniture and china. That led to her being the first Canadian to be accepted at the Sotheby’s Work of Art course in London, England where she continued her studies in decorative arts. “It was fascinating. It developed my eye and my appreciation,” explained Lisa, “But I never thought I would pursue a career in art.” Her path was definely leading her towards being a curator and working in Museum archives.
Following her year in London, she returned to Toronto and went in an entirely new direction. She was hired as a reinsurance underwriter—the first woman in Canada ever to be hired by that particular company—working alongside graduates from Yale and Harvard. It was an amazing experience and a high-profile position. “But after four years, once the veneer of it faded, I realized this was not me. Okay, I thought, what else can I do?” Lisa asked and then answered; “I can draw.” That was a turning point. She began creating house portraits which promptly morphed into a position as an architectural renderer for developers, working from floor plans and elevations. This was, of course, before computer programs. “It was really good training—I developed my perspective inside and out, but it was way too detailed. It was brick by brick. There was no creativity. No colour.” That realization was a lightning bolt moment. She’d loved the post-impressionist artists all her life and realized she needed to expand her personal artistic efforts and learn to paint like them.
A friend suggested she enroll in a course at OCAD with Chinkok Tan who, over the past 40 years, has become one of Canada’s most prolific painters. It was a watercolour course with students often painting at remote locations with limited palettes. “The discipline of learning about values, trusting my eye—that man changed my life.” Realizing she could do this, Lisa’s confidence began to grow.
A move to Nova Scotia was the next development. Strolling in Lunnenburg, she discovered, and accidentally developed a friendship, with Rachel Kennedy, an artist who would become her mentor. They went painting all over the province and even across the ocean to France. “Finally, I was beginning to think all my artistic dreams were coming true. I took a lot of workshops and I started to wonder, ‘am I really an artist?’” Her work was selling and she began to organize her own shows. “It was when I came through this ‘back door’ to becoming an artist and actually started painting that I no longer questioned my ability.”
With her new-found confidence, Lisa kept taking courses and workshops. She finally shed her ‘imposter syndrome’ and admitted to herself and to the world; “I am an artist.” She began shipping her pieces to Toronto for a once a year show at Mooredale House in Rosedale and at Royal St. George’s College. And boom—her pieces sold!
When she and her young family moved to a small town in Cleveland, Ohio, her love of ornamental pieces re-emerged and she began producing statement still lifes—vases, flowers, plates, textures. She continued to exhibit and became quite well known in that part of the state. “It was so reaffirming.”
Just seven years ago, Lisa made the decision to move out of the city. But where to go? After reaching out to various acquaintances and following a circuitous route, she decided on Collingwood. It checked all the boxes. And, she hasn’t looked back. “I love this landscape, bits of it remind me of Nova Scotia and of Vermont. I love Georgian Bay and being accepted into the artistic community has been truly wonderful.”
With a studio in the historic Tremont Building in Collingwood, Lisa is surrounded by several local artists. Her subject matter is diverse and varied. Lisa’s love of items and decorative arts – plates, glasses, fabrics – has resulted in fancifully playful and colourful still life works. “My favourite artists have been Matisse and Bonnard. I love how they painted some of their beloved things and interiors. Some arrangements are set up with treasured objects and others are ‘real’ still lifes… inspired by an actual dinner party or a ‘moment’ in a kitchen when cooking with friends.”
Lisa’s interpretive, garden paintings are explosive. “Gardens are a dance of colour and shapes. I see them as an ever changing, three-dimensional canvases that I then express in a two-dimensional way.” Her use of loosely applied pigment, value, shapes and mixed media result in delightfully fun pieces that simply make one smile. They’re happy.
Lisa’s appreciation of wild vistas and remote settings has resulted in serene landscapes. She is equally enthralled by trees and water. But, she’s not afraid to translate what she sees into versions filled with what she feels; unusual colour; shapes; and impressions.
“The challenge is capturing wild beauty with my own unique style and colour. Often an underpainting of pinks and oranges allows these colours to shine through the layers. This provides visual excitement to the rocks or serves as a punch of complementary colour to the blues of the sky and water.” Lovely and interesting, regardless of her theme, there’s an exuberant, happiness in her work that is instantly felt by the viewer.
“My abstracts have stemmed from exploring mixed media on paper in a small 3×5” format that increased in size as my confidence grew. To me, they are a metaphor of life; learning to let go; trust one’s self; take chances. I love the ‘pentimento’ aspect of working in layers—much of my abstract work is built upon shapes/symbols such as hearts, ovals and text from quotes that I have loved over the years. Some layers have collages from needlework books, sheet music or words from magazines that might add an extra depth of meaning to my work.”
Most recently, while in France, exploring the streets of Nice and its environs, Lisa returned to her roots of drawing. She has produced a series of small, detailed, pen and ink sketches. “I loved all the vignettes and vistas, the unique storefronts, cafés, markets, the colours and details of the buildings. So much life and their way of life, pride and heritage permeates these streets and the neighbouring towns and villages. I felt that the best way to capture these delightful scenes and details was with pen and ink and watercolour sketches.”
As a successful, internationally collected oil, acrylic and watercolour painter, Lisa Hannaford is always learning. Progressing. Experimenting. Growing.