Capturing canines with Stephanie Sibbitt

Stephanie Sibbitt moved to Nova Scotia last year to pursue a career as a full-time artist. Since then, she has found her artistic niche and paints custom pet portraits.

With classical music playing lightly in the background, Stephanie Sibbitt reaches forward to pick out the colours for the first layer on her new painting. On the shelf in front of her workspace, dozens of paint tubes are lined up in the order of the rainbow, and a bulletin board features a sketch of her newest project; a custom pet portrait of Bradley, a wheaten-terrier mix.

Choosing to begin with multiple shades of blues and greens, Sibbitt squeezes small drops of paint onto the top of an old Becel container and begins lightly swirling the colours around until she is ready to make the first brush stroke.

As she begins working on the first layer, her cat Davis pokes its head around the corner and jumps onto the table beside her. Without pausing to take a quick break from her painting, Sibbitt absent-mindedly reaches over to her pet and continues painting while Davis leans in, excited for a bit of attention. Upstairs, her dogs Akima and Opie whine in protest at being let out of the fun.

Most days start out this way for Sibbitt, who moved to Halifax last year to pursue a career as a full-time artist. She and her boyfriend, Bernard Antinucci, made the move from the fast-paced lifestyle of Toronto to pursue their dreams of being entrepreneurs in Nova Scotia. Surrounded by animals, it is no surprise that Sibbitt has found her artistic niche in painting custom pet portraits.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Sibbitt has been painting all her life. With no formal training other than visual art classes in high school, she relies on books and YouTube tutorial videos to learn different skills.

“I learn from other people. If I see something that inspires me from another artist, I want to go out and learn that skill, figure out how they did it and apply it to what I do,” she says. “For me it is trial and error. My drawers are filled with stuff that no one will ever see just because I’ll try something new and realize I hate it and instead of throwing it out, I’ll just keep it because you learn from it.”

The walls of Sibbitt’s house are covered in paintings of all shapes and sizes, ranging from large acrylic landscapes to postcard-sized ink and watercolour paintings, and of course, her pet portraits.

“I’m one of those crazy cat people too, so for me, the whole pet portrait concept started because I had to put my cat down. He was 19 years old and I was devastated.”

Even though her cat Calypso was gone, Sibbitt still knew she needed some way to connect with him, and being an artist gave her the perfect outlet. After friends and family saw what she could do with just a picture as reference, many people approached her to ask if she could do a portrait for them as well. “It started to turn into this whole group of just remembering your pet.”

For Sibbitt, it is all in the details. Before even bringing her brush to canvas, Sibbitt takes time to have a consultation with clients to gather photographs to work from and learn about their pet’s personalities and quirks. At the end of the day, her goal isn’t to simply paint a picture, but to capture the personality of the animal.

“For me, I’ll spend the time. I’ll take a really crappy picture and do everything I can to make sure it looks lifelike, and make sure it looks like your dog. I really try to take what they tell me about their dog, and what is important to them and then capture that.”

Stephanie Sibbitt absentmindedly pets her dog, Opie while concentrating on her newest painting. (Photo by: Rowan Morrissy)
Stephanie Sibbitt absentmindedly pets her dog, Opie while concentrating on her newest painting. (Photo by: Rowan Morrissy)

In order to achieve a distinctive portrait, Sibbitt uses unique backgrounds and props and tries to incorporate the pet’s name into the portrait to make it special for the owner.

As her business grows, Sibbitt is hoping to expand her services as well. Right now, Sibbitt does all her painting straight from photographs that owners have brought in. In the next few months, she is hoping to provide house visits.

“I’ll come out to you, spend an hour with your dog, and take a ton of pictures of your dog. That way, I get the best pictures I like to work with, and you can keep the rest.”

While her commissions keep her busy with around four to six custom paintings a month, Sibbitt is also working on custom greeting cards and drawing tattoo designs. But even with all her artistic ideas, Sibbitt Studios would be nothing without her strong communication and business skills.

“I am on Kijiji every day posting ads. I’m emailing clients and sending progress pictures to show how far I’ve come on their portrait. If I’m not out there talking to people, then I’m not getting the work, and I’m not getting the referrals,” she says. “It’s kind of a grind, but I don’t want to be a starving artist.”

Other than updating her website, Facebook and Instagram daily, Sibbitt tries to attend vendor shows on the weekend. “I hope to leave every show knowing that everyone got a business card, and at least three people are interested in getting a painting,” she says. “I love painting, clearly this is what I want to do with my life. If I could get paid every day to do art, that would be my goal. And that’s what I’m working towards.”

Moving out to Nova Scotia and making the decision to work for herself has opened up Sibbitt’s eyes to the possibilities that are available to those who are brave enough to seek them.

“It made me realize that it doesn’t matter who you are, or what you do, people are always going to judge you based on your style, or your skill. As long as you can stand up and do what you really want to do, that’s all that matters.”

Music on the street with Glen Creed

A familiar face in downtown Halifax, Glen Creed loves to play his accordion on the corner of Spring Garden Road and Dresden Row.

Over the sounds of heavy traffic, Glen Creed plays an old George Jones tune on his accordion for all to hear.

While he used to play the bar scene back in his hometown in Pictou County, Creed now spends his days playing his music on the corner of Spring Garden Road and Dresden Row.

“It’s not something I have to do. I don’t do it for a living. If I make a few dollars fine, if I don’t that don’t bother me a bit. If I play and people enjoy it then that’s what counts.”

Click on the link to hear Creed’s cover of Glen Campbell’s Gentle on my Mind.

As he plays he looks straight ahead, focusing on his music and barely taking notice of the few glances he receives from people walking by. His open accordion case holds a handful of loonies and toonies.

Creed says he began playing the accordion at the age of 12, and hasn’t put it down in 53 years. Growing up, both his father and brother played the instrument, but being left handed, Creed had to teach himself to play. The first song he ever learned was You Are my Sunshine.

Creed has been playing music on the streets for decades. This year marks his 20th year playing on the waterfront on Canada Day. Most days he starts playing around 9 a.m. and goes all the way until lunch.

His old accordion has duct tape covering the many holes in the bellows, and although he has three more waiting at home, he needs to get the reeds fixed in them before they are ready to play again.

“It’s nice to get out. So many people today play all the young people’s music, but the older people like the type of music I play,” he says. “I do Newfoundland stuff, waltzes, polkas, fiddle music and Celtic stuff. It takes them back in time and they really enjoy it.”

While Creed enjoys playing all kinds of music, his love for country music is quite clear. His wide repertoire features many of his personal favourites by George Jones, Merle Haggard, Johnny Cash and Glen Campbell.

Glen Creed plays his accordion despite the cold weather. (Photo: Rowan Morrissy)
Glen Creed plays his accordion despite the cold weather. (Photo: Rowan Morrissy)

Even with the long winter that Halifax has been experiencing, Creed is still determined to play despite the cold. His dry, weather-beaten hands prove it.

“The cold air is really hard on them (the accordions). You have days that are really cold, but you just do the best you can, play when you can. Some days are a little too rough, but I just keep on going.”

The truth behind Bill C-51

On Jan. 30 the Conservative government proposed Bill C-51, new anti-terrorism legislation intended to ensure the safety of Canadians and reduce terrorist threats.

Bill C-51 is anti-terrorism legislation that was proposed on Jan. 30. After the attacks in Ottawa and Montreal in October, the Harper government promised that measures would be taken to strengthen security to prevent future attacks. The bill has sparked conversation regarding personal privacy and free speech.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper's twitter on the Jan. 30th announcing Bill C-51.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s tweet on Jan. 30 announcing Bill C-51. (Source: Twitter)

What is Bill C-51?

Bill C-51, also known as the Anti-terrorism Act, 2015, was created to enable information sharing between the Canadian government and other government institutions in order to protect Canadians against anything that threatens the security of the nation. This will mean giving law enforcement agencies the power to arrest or detain anyone suspected of terrorist involvement, allowing federal institutions to share private information between themselves, and allow security agencies such as the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) to look into potential terrorist activities. The bill also allows law enforcement to monitor online activity and order the removal of terrorist propaganda. Bill C-51 will also change certain divisions of the Immigrant and Refugee Protection Act, allowing evidence used in the immigration process to be re-evaluated without the individual being made aware.

Why the Harper government wants it

According to the government, Bill C-51 would ensure safer transportation for Canadians, including clarifying the laws regarding Canada’s no-fly list, and will allow law enforcement to arrest anyone they suspect is going to carry out a terrorist attack. The bill will also provide protection for any witnesses who step forward with information regarding terrorist activities. The government believes that these measures are being taken to ensure a safer environment for Canadians.

Liberal MP Justin Trudeau's comments on Twitter regarding Bill C-51. (Source: Twitter)
Liberal MP Justin Trudeau’s comments on Twitter regarding Bill C-51. (Source: Twitter)

Why opponents don’t want it

Many Canadians are hesitant to accept the proposed bill, because they believe it infringes on personal privacy and restricts freedom of expression. The bill could allow for federal institutions such as the Canada Revenue Agency, the Public Health Agency of Canada, and the Immigration and Refugee Board to share private information with the RCMP without their knowledge. Under C-51, the definition of a security issue has not yet been properly defined, and as it stands could potentially include peaceful protests and other forms of free speech.

Another concern is that the Conservative government is trying to move the bill to ensure its enactment before the next election. This could mean that many key terms might be left undefined, such as the definition of a security issue or terrorist propaganda. Without a clear definition of what sort of content is prohibited, civil rights experts are worried that Canadians could be persecuted for what is now seen as free speech.

Canadian's speak out against Bill C-51 on social media. (Source: Twitter)
Canadian’s speak out against Bill C-51 on social media. (Source: Twitter)

What is going on now?

On Feb. 23, the bill was read and passed along to the Commons standing committee. Since then, Canadians have been protesting all over Canada, and many organizations such as the Canadian Council for Refugees (CCR) have released commentary documents to discuss problems they are finding with the bill. Canadians have been expressing their thoughts, concerns and support for the bill on social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook and Reddit.

Mel Boutilier’s Metro Care and Share seeks charity status

Boutilier’s mission is to raise funds to help talented students in pursuit of secondary education.

The warehouse is filled with furniture and household items, and every day there are people dropping off more. For Mel Boutilier, accepting donations is the easy part. The real challenge has been to re-register Metro Care and Share as an official charity.

Boutilier, head of the resurrected charity, says they’ve been working with the Canada Revenue Agency since August to try to get all of the paperwork sorted out.

“We have a great committee that is anxious to do big things and they have plans that depend a lot on when we get our charity number,” said Boutilier.

Metro Care and Share includes a thrift store on Agricola Street in Halifax’s north end. The store was opened to the public on Jan. 29, Boutilier’s 87th birthday. The goal is to raise money for the Halifax Scholars Program and send talented students to post-secondary institutions who cannot afford it themselves.

The program will help cover tuition expenses and assign a mentor to help guide the students through all aspects of their educational experience. These mentors will be paired with students based on their interests or experience to make sure that they are a good fit for the student.

“The financial aid will cover tuition, books, everything. Not just funds for paying for school but also all the other necessities that go along with it. If you’re going to throw them into it, you have to be able to support them,” said Solitha Shortte, the program’s marketing co-ordinator.

Boutilier and his team are anxious to get started on selecting students, but they still don’t know how many students they will be able to help without first registering officially with the Canada Revenue Agency.

The charity status will allow Metro Care and Share to provide tax receipts for donations they receive, to reduce their property tax, and will make them eligible for government grants.

“Depending on how successful we are with fundraisers is how many (students) we’ll be able to support. We’ll make that determination once we get our tax number, but there is a lot of red tape when it comes to working with the government,” said Shortte.

Until then, the planning continues and the thrift store is still accepting donations.

“It’s exciting to see the interest that the community has and the way they’ve been donating items that we can re-sell to generate funds,” said Boutilier.

Boutilier is optimistic. He says they’ll announce a big fundraising plan once they get their tax number and will celebrate with a grand opening event for the public.

“Great things are happening,” he said with a smile.