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.

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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.”

Youth mental health program fundraises to stay afloat

The Spot held an auction on March 29 to raise funds after not receiving a government grant to help with its operating costs this year.

Ash MacDougall sits in a plastic chair, reading sheet music from her lap and practicing the Beatles’ Hey Jude on her flute. Beside her, her friend Avery Muir compliments her progress.

At another table, someone is playing with art supplies. Sounds from an electric guitar and drum set sneak through a separate, closed off room.

Two participants practice their guitar skills at The Spot. (Photo: Bronwen McKie)
Two participants practice their guitar skills at The Spot. (Photo: Bronwen McKie)

This is a common scene at The Spot, a drop-in mental health program for youth held at the Pavilion on the Halifax Common. The Spot, partnered with Connections Halifax, is described as a safe space for youth to create and express themselves through music and art.

“Honestly, I love the people here. The people here are so open. Everybody is going to accept you, no matter what,” said Muir. “You’ll never feel left out or outcast here.”

The Spot recently held an auction where it raised approximately $5,500. The fundraiser was held because The Spot did not receive government grant funding, like it has in the past, to help with its operating costs this year.

Michael Nahirnak, a co-ordinator of The Spot, says the money will probably keep The Spot running until summer. He says he doesn’t know why The Spot did not receive a grant this year, but is not pessimistic about it.

The Spot is a free program so participation is accessible to everyone. Nahirnak says this is uncompromising.

“[Youth] can be a time that issues do pop up in terms of mental health,” he said. “I think we have a responsibility to support youth through that.”

The Spot uses the Pavilion for free, but costs to run the program include compensation for program facilitators, art supplies, instruments, instrument repair, equipment upgrades and refreshments.

Art supplies at The Spot. (Photo: Bronwen McKie)
A small bit of art supplies at The Spot. (Photo: Bronwen McKie)
Artwork made by participants of The Spot. (Photo: Bronwen McKie)
Artwork made by participants of The Spot. (Photo: Bronwen McKie)

MacDougall and Muir, both high school students, have been coming to The Spot for several months. Muir says she feels like an outcast at school, but is able to express herself at The Spot.

MacDougall says The Spot is here for “people who don’t necessarily think the same way as the rest of society.”

Nahirnak says The Spot is always looking to grow. For the future, he hopes The Spot can hire a full-time co-ordinator, do more work with outreach and find its own space.

“I think in the far future it would be great for The Spot to have its own home,” he said. “A one-stop shop that youth can come and be creative and have support.”

The fundraising auction showed there is community support for arts and mental health programming, but Nahirnak says it may not be enough.

“People want this kind of stuff,” he said. “However, the city probably needs to step up a little bit to help us with that.”

Nahirnak says The Spot has plans to collaborate with its partner Youth Art Connection and other charities and ask the Halifax Regional Municipality for more support.

In the meantime, Nahirnak and fellow co-ordinator Heather MacDonald, hope to find a more sustainable form of funding. The Spot will not be hosting another auction in the near future.

The Spot runs on Tuesday and Thursday evenings, from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.

“Art and music are universal. We promote mental health, but it doesn’t mean you need to have a mental health issue to come,” said Nahirnak. “Everyone is welcome, as long as you’re interested in creating.”

Halifax surfboard shaper sees big breaks in 2015

Andreas Hart, founder of Hart Surf Co., launches his company and starts to sell surf boards in Nova Scotia.

Andreas Hart concentrates as he slowly pulls the tape off of a surfboard, one of his own creations. He has been waiting for the resin to set for two hours, and is now back to coat the other side. Hart is the founder and sole proprietor of Hart Surf Co., a Halifax-based company that designs and makes surfboards.

This has been a huge year for Hart Surf Co., starting with a sold-out launch party in January. He won second place in a business competition at the University of New Brunswick, and the first board orders are starting to roll in.

Officially a company since Feb. 1, Hart Surf Co. is now selling surfboards, which can cost anywhere from $500 to $1,000. Hart has a few different designs that he uses, and then makes the board to fit the customer.

His small one-room shop, located at the Dalhousie University Sexton campus, is full of surfboards and equipment. Each corner has four or five surfboards stacked together, each at different stages in the design process.

The boards are anywhere from basic foam cut outs to being finished and ready to paint. The process starts with Hart coming up with the dimensions and entering them into his computer. The dimensions then get sent to his machine, which cuts the foam into a board shape. He says the general shape ideas are based off of boards he’s used in the past, but he comes up with all of the dimensions.

The process really started when Hart and some fellow students built the machine, called a CNC surfboard router, during the final year of his mechanical engineering degree at Dalhousie in 2014.

“I wanted to do it after I finished my degree, but then one of my friends, while we were out enjoying ourselves, was like, ‘Why don’t you just do it now?’ And then the next day I sent an email to my professor and asked if I could … and then eight months later we had a machine that worked, and just started designing boards from there.”

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Originally from Dartmouth, N.S., Hart has been a passionate surfer since the age of 13. He taught himself how to make surfboards. He says he used his knowledge of surfing, mechanical engineering, trial and error, and the Internet, to figure out how to make the boards. He says he is continuously learning. Next week, he is going to make his first standup paddle board, and eventually wants to start making skateboards as well.

After finishing his engineering degree, Hart started auditing business classes at Dalhousie to learn how to formally start his own business.

While there are others in Nova Scotia who make surfboards, Hart says he is the only one doing it full time and trying to make an established company out of it. “Nova Scotia has been getting a lot of publicity over the past two winters for its surf … It’s going to take some time obviously, but I’m trying to gain some trust,” says Hart.

Hart says right now he is working on a video that will showcase local surfers using his boards, and what he is most excited about, putting together a surf team with the ultimate goal of the team travelling together and representing his boards.

Surfboards and art

Hart is also connecting with local artists who paint the boards when they are finished, providing one-off designs that can’t be found anywhere else. On April 18, his boards will be featured in The Collective Art Show, hosted by the Blackbook Collective, which will showcase more than 20 local artists.

Local artist Heidi Wambolt has done the art for several of Hart’s boards. She says her style of work focuses on aquatic life and themes, so working with Hart was a perfect fit.

“Andreas is great to work with. He makes suggestions but gives me a lot of space and freedom to do my own work,” says Wambolt.

“With Andreas’ laid back suggestions, the freedom of artistic expression, and my eagerness to keep painting and producing, more boards will definitely be on the way!”

Hart says his next step is to get a bigger workshop outside of the city — preferably in the Lawrencetown, Seaforth, and Martinique area. He says he wants to stay in Nova Scotia and keep trying to get his name out there.

“It’s exciting to see where it takes me,” says Hart.

Halifax printmaker finds inspiration in music and art

Alex MacAskill has done artwork for the Halifax Pop Explosion and local bands. Now he’s headed to Nashville.

Atop the maze of studios at NSCAD’s Granville campus sits multi-talented Alex MacAskill. He’s actively sketching, scanning, printing and pressing art work for school, as well as for his business Fish Bone Prints.

His workplace is rugged; large wood panels and easels are scattered throughout the area. His desk is accompanied by all the tools he needs: black ink, illustration paper, and a printer. He is an artist printmaker and designs everything from album art to beer holders. The collection of his favourite works are pinned to his work space. He works alone, with folk-rock and indie music filling the air.

MacAskill is pursuing a degree in fine art and managing Fish Bone Prints simultaneously. He has grown an array of clients for his business, including Matt Mays and JEFF the Brotherhood. He’s also worked with local artists such as Wintersleep and The Novaks, as well as many government organizations. His biggest client last year was the Halifax Pop Explosion, which posted his work throughout the city.

“I have been lucky enough that I don’t need to advertise,” he says. “After a few years doing this I’ve developed a kind of signature style, one that is expected when an artist reaches out to me.”

There are a number of steps to screen printing.

“It all starts with pencil sketches to develop the idea of it. From there I take those sketches and make a full size drawing on illustration paper – done with black ink – I scan that onto the computer and work it in Photoshop and add some digital colouring. You have to print the colours differently and separate the layers. From there you use a squeegee to push the ink through the stencils.”

His school work is an outlet of personal expression. MacAskill even dabbles in the unique practice of woodcutting.

“I take a block of plywood and use chisels to carve into it. Then I roll over the ink to hit the high spots, then press paper onto it and begin to trace,” he says.

From a young age MacAskill was very artistically inclined, just like his older sister.

“She was a big inspiration for me,” he says, smiling. “I looked up to her a lot, she went to NSCAD too. She inspired my love of art, and I guess I’m following the same path as her, just carving my own footsteps.”

In high school, MacAskill wanted to find a way to design his own T-shirts for his band and began experimenting in homemade remedies. Through this desire, MacAskill acquired a foundation of skills in print work and ultimately let that flourish into his own brand.

His boyhood passion for both art and music is a combination of interests that now work in harmony to pay the bills, and takes him to places he’s always dreamed of.

“I’ve actually just landed a job with a graphic design firm in Nashville. I graduate in April and start work down there in May. It’s a dream come true. Nashville has a great culture of art and music, I really love it there,” he says.

MacAskill departs shortly after he performs a farewell gig with Drags, his garage rock band. They will be performing their last set at the Seahorse Tavern at the end of the month.

Panel at Dalhousie aims to start conversation on racism and misogyny

A panel at Dalhousie University discussed racism and sexism on Thursday in response to International Women’s Day and the Dalhousie dentistry scandal.

Ahead of International Women’s Day, a panel called Forum on Racism and Sexism was presented Thursday by the Dalhousie University Gender and Women’s Studies Program, South House and the Dalhousie Student Union.

A classroom at Dalhousie was packed with students from around Halifax; some people had to stand to hear the panel.

The panel focused on the problems faced by marginalized racial and gender communities, and how they relate to each other. The speakers discussed their personal experiences of racism, sexism and the problems faced in society by being a person of colour, a woman or non-binary. Non-binary means someone is nether male or female, or is a combination of both.

Panel speakers included Dorota Glowacka, a contemporary studies professor at University of King’s College; Halifax Regional Municipality Poet Laureate, El Jones; Greyson Jones, PhD student at Dalhousie University researching transgender issues; and Tino Chiome, QBIPOC community organizer.

Leandré Govindsamy faces racism in class at Dalhousie and thinks the panel was a good way to start the discussion about misogyny and racism.

“I am brown, I’m Indian, so I’m not a typical white student,” said Govindsamy. “Coming to class and being the only brown person does affect you. It makes you be not as confident which is kind of sad, because you should be confident no matter what.”

Govindsamy says that she also encounters sexism in class.

“In class profs will speak to the male students more than they will speak to the female students.”

Tino Chiome, one of the speakers, says he too faces racial problems in his daily life.

“People may not be overtly racist, but they subconsciously have these feeling and notions about people that they put into practice,” said Chiome.

“You walk into a store and you see security guards following you around, or you walk in a convenience store and the guy at the counter suddenly has to fix something in the back just to watch you,” said Chiome. “So it’s little things like that, where you realize this doesn’t happen to anyone else, only when you go in.”

This panel was created in response to a forum on misogyny in January that discussed the Dalhousie dentistry scandal.

In December 2014, 14 male Dalhousie dentistry students were found to have been involved in misogynist activities towards female classmates in the Class of DSS 2015 Gentlemen Facebook page.

While discussing the dentistry scandal, the January panel found racism to be a recurring topic in misogyny.

The panel was also organized as an International Women’s Day event. International Women’s Day was on Sunday.

Margaret Denike, associate professor at Dalhousie University co-organized and moderated the panel. She hopes people learn compassion and understanding from this panel.

“I want them to take whatever best helps them become more compassionate and more understanding and more accepting of others, and I think we have a really tall order in doing that,” said Denike.

The fur flies at Argyle Fine Art opening

An age-old dispute about what pets are best goes on display at Halifax art gallery.

Cat and dog lovers were invited to an exclusive BYOP (bring your own pets) event Saturday to celebrate the launch of Argyle Fine Art’s latest exhibit, Cat Person Dog Person, a multimedia tribute to furry foes.

“We know people love their pets, so we wanted to host a family-friendly opening event where people could come bring their dogs and cats by appointment,” said Adriana Afford, the gallery’s owner.

But when the felines failed to show, the party went to the dogs.

The canines and their owners wandered freely through the gallery, which showcased the creative works of local artists bringing beloved felines and pups to life through painting, sculpture, print and more.

Following a call for general submissions, 20 artists were chosen to feature their creations of the age-old rivals. Among them was six year old Hunter Keefe — a committed cat person, prolific painter and animal advocate.

“I have two at my house. Shamrock and Murdoch,” said Keefe.

His favourite piece from his collection is a painting of a rainbow-coloured feline with the phrase “I love cats!” scrawled in the top left corner of the canvas.

“The cat in a boat is probably my second best,” said Keefe, pointing to a frame featuring a pink kitten floating on a body of blue water.

The artist sold two works within an hour of the exhibit’s opening. They went for $35 a piece, but instead of pocketing the profits, Keefe is donating the proceeds directly to the Halifax Cat Rescue Society.

Keefe started supporting the charity last summer. Keefe raised $300 selling baked goods and his first paintings around his community

Since then, Keefe has had three paintings specifically commissioned and he is still accepting custom orders upon request.

“I really just want to help out lost cats,” Keefe said. “I love them so so much.”

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The six-year old makes a convincing case for cat people caring more deeply for their preferred pets than their counterparts, but the debate isn’t so easy to settle.

The exhibit only featured felines when it began three years ago. The gallery put together that first show in response to a growing internet obsession with cats.

Pooches were included the following year at the insistence of dog lovers and given the animals’ equal representation in this year’s show, it seems like puppy love is here to stay.

“People are really passionate about it,” said Afford. “That’s what makes it so fun.”

The reception included 10-minute custom pet portraits by Halifax-based artist Lindsay Hicks and complimentary “pupcakes” from Three Dog Bakery for guests.

Afford said people are especially in need of events like the one she planned around this time of year.

“In February, people have had enough of ice, snow and winter,” said Afford. “This is a great excuse to get your dog out for a walk, come in and see some great artwork.”

The exhibit runs until March 11. Photographs of the works in the collection can also be viewed online.

Imperfect glass perfect for terrarium business

Mynott and Kovalik make handmade glass terrariums at their home studio in north-end Halifax. They’re expanding their online business, Minimalistos, to include a new line featuring recycled and imperfect glass.

Jelsi Mynott and Vlad Kovalik are on the hunt for old storm windows. If they’re warped with air bubbles, all the better.

Mynott and Kovalik make handmade glass terrariums at their home studio in north-end Halifax. They’re expanding their online business, Minimalistos, to include a new Heritage Line featuring recycled and imperfect glass.

“These oddities are pretty common in older glass out of wooden framed windows,” said Mynott. Although, for their current orders they avoid scratches and bubbles as much as possible, this line will incorporate them.

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Kovalik and Mynott travel around Nova Scotia collecting window glass wherever it’s available. They like storm windows and old windows with wood frames.

“We have over 100 windows sitting in our basement right now,” said Kovalik. “There’s always window glass everywhere in our house,” said Mynott.

By using recycled glass only from Nova Scotia, Kovalik and Mynott hope to reduce their impact on the environment while keeping with a minimal design aesthetic.

“I think it’s neat that we’re sending parts of Nova Scotia around the world. These windows have seen so much weather and history,” Mynott said holding up individual pieces of triangle shaped glass.

Mynott and Kovalik, both 26, started Minimalistos in 2013. They turned a large second bedroom into a home studio and put a table in the middle of the room where they measure and cut glass.

“It’s all done in our home studio. Everything is done by hand from finding glass, to grinding the edges of the glass down, to soldering the pieces together to form a shape,” said Kovalik.

More than 20 terrariums of different shapes and sizes are on display in the couple’s house. Kovalik picks up one of the square-shaped designs with freshly soldered edges and a missing panel of glass.

“It takes hours of work getting it out of the frame, especially the ones with wooden frames. The learning curve can be pretty sharp especially when you risk breaking a vital pieces of glass,” said Mynott.

Their work day begins with a cup of coffee together. When they’re ready, they remove the glass from its frame and cut it into long strips. Then they cut the glass into shapes and use solder and a soldering iron to attach the pieces together.

They say they spend up to 50 hours a week creating their geometric glass sculptures. They have even begun working on weekends to keep up with product orders.

“A partnership makes all the work a little easier because sometimes I just don’t feel like working and he’s there telling me to get going,” said Mynott.

Currently, Minimalisto terrariums are sold worldwide through an online website where prices range from $55 for smaller shapes to $160 for larger, more complex shapes.

Several shops in Halifax, including Makenew, The Flower Shop and Common Values Emporium also carry the couple’s handmade sculptures. Mynott and Kovalik say they’ve sold more than 500 individual terrariums so far.

They will do custom designs for customers, and Mynott said they’re currently designing an exclusive line for Crown Flora Studio in Ontario.

They’re also experimenting with copper-coloured terrariums as part of their new designs.

“We never thought we would ever actually have a business, that was a bit unexpected but I think having the time to make things creatively as a career is amazing,” said Mynott.

Neither Mynott nor Kovalik have formal training in creative design. Mynott studied philosophy and Kovalik’s background is in medical research.

“We’ve always been DIYers. If there’s something we really want that’s way out of reach because we couldn’t possibly afford it then we’ll try and build it. That’s always been a big part of our relationship,” said Mynott.

Boxes of bubble-wrapped terrariums sit in the corner of the studio ready to be shipped.

Mynott said having a good relationship with their customers is what makes them work harder to make their deadlines.

“Halifax is a very supportive environment and very connected community which pushes you to do even better work,” she said.

Plans for TEDxDalhousie ‘generating buzz’ in community

Dalhousie University will be hosting TED talks event later this month. Kathleen Reid talks about planning, ticket sales and the itinerary for the event, which will soon be announcing speakers.

Dalhousie University will be hosting its own independently organized TED talks event later this month. Beginning at 3 p.m. on March 29, the speaker series event will take place in Nova Scotia for the fourth year.

Kathleen Reid is a co-coordinator of the event, and has high expectations for this year.

“I hope that it will bring a broader sense of community within our student body, and all the people that are involved in our community at Dal,”she said. “Just starting conversation about things that are important here.”

Demand for tickets already exceeding seating limit

Although speakers haven’t yet been announced, the event is already generating interest.

“We’ve gotten a great response on Facebook, I think there’s over 1000 people that say they’re attending the event,” Reid said.

This is slightly problematic, as the McInnes room of the Student Union Building has a maximum capacity of 400 people. “It’s good though, because it’s generating a lot of buzz,” said Reid.

Each TEDx independent event has a theme, and this year’s TEDxDalhousie is focused around the theme ‘People. Passions. Possibilities.’ Reid expects talks on a variety of topics people are enthusiastic about.

“At a university there’s so many different areas people are passionate about and it’s really cool to see the response we’ve gotten. We’ve gotten a lot of student applications, which is awesome because it’s a Dal event now, so it’ll be a really different roster of speakers.”

This theme sets a guideline for the itinerary of the day, which consists of three separate speaker sessions, with breaks between each. The event will also include dinner. Each session will have two or three speakers as well as an entertainer, which could be anything from music to spoken word poetry.

The tickets haven’t gone on sale yet, but will be available for $25 beginning at least two weeks before the event, according to Reid. They can be bought on the TedxDalhousie website or at the Student Union Building’s info desk on campus. The student union also plays a part in organizing the event, providing funding, resources and technological equipment for the event.

Bigger and better than previous years

This years TEDxDalhousie is set to be larger than last year’s TEDxNovaScotia event, which had the theme ‘Chances Worth Taking’. It is also more focused around Dalhousie’s community, although it is open to the public.

As for what attendees of TEDxDalhousie can expect from the event, Reid speaks to TED’s motto, ‘Ideas Worth Sharing.’

“I like the idea that everyone is passionate about something that they can talk about. The whole overarching idea that everyone has a Ted talk within them,” Reid said.

Stratton performs Deserter at Bus Stop Theatre

Willie Stratton rocks to his latest album ‘Deserter’ at the Bus Stop Theatre and talks about the journey it took to get there.

Willie Stratton steps up.


His heavy cowboy boot hits the small elevated stage in the cramped Halifax theatre. He grabs the blue electric guitar that has been waiting for him in its stand since the previous band’s departure from the stage. ‘Willie’s’ is painted on the guitar head in curly black cursive writing which closely resembles loose rope thrown on the ground.

Stratton dresses similar to a cowboy: Salmon coloured long sleeve button up top with metal clasps on the collar, decorated with fine thread detailing on the chest, tucked into a pair of dark wash jeans being held up by a thick leather belt with an oversized silver buckle, and finally, no cowboy is complete without a pair of cowboy boots. Tonight, he’s dressed up for a special occasion. Stratton is playing a show at the Bus Stop Theatre.


Stratton, 22, is an up-and-coming musician and songwriter. He frequents the Halifax bar and live performance scene solo as well as with his band Willie Stratton and the Boarding Party. Having recorded his second complete album in 2014, Stratton has been enjoying all the new experiences he’s had since its release.

“I played coffee houses in high school. I didn’t play any originals, just played like covers like Jimi Hendrix and stuff,” Stratton says, “Then with my own stuff, after I graduated I found out about the Open Mic House on Agricola Street and that was kinda the first place I played [original songs] in front of anybody. Then shows right after at the Company House. It kept going from there.”

Three other men wearing button-ups step up and join him, as well as a woman. All are wearing cowboy boots. Grace Stratton, Willie’s sister and bass player, picks up a cherry red bass guitar and stands by Stratton’s side.

A red light on the stage illuminates his face while a blue light shines behind him, lighting up the drum kit and a large disco ball hanging from the ceiling above his head.

“I want everyone to dance. Do you know the twist?” Stratton says into the microphone using his speaking voice, a much different voice when compared to his guitar strumming, performance alter ego.

“I sing from my butt,” Stratton says in a manner that suggests he’s only half joking, “that’s what I tell everyone.”

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They begin to play. Music spills from the amps and into the air, filling the small theatre venue. Grace’s bass bounces off the walls and into the ears of the audience, who soon stand up to fulfil Stratton’s wishes. Stratton and the other two men playing guitars turn and stomp their feet so loudly to the pound of the bass drum that the drum beat sound is almost non-existent.

*Stomp. Stomp. Stomp. Stomp*

Stratton stops his stomping. He turns to face the gyrating audience and puts his mouth to microphone. Out pours an eerie, deep, blues inspired song. Stratton closes his eyes. The sounds of a man experiencing deep pain in his soul, followed by him half screaming the next lines.




Stratton crinkles his forehead to get the lyrics out. Anyone else would have damaged their vocal cords, but not Stratton.

The small sea of audience members shake, twist and jump to Stratton’s music, which is best defined by the band as Cowboy Surf.

“I think it’s catching on,” Stratton adds, “or maybe folk, rock, blues, country, punk, surf?” he says with an upward inflection followed by a moment of hesitation and then a small laugh, “Yeah.”

Drops piano for guitar

Stratton started developing an interest in music at a young age when his parents enrolled him in piano lessons, an interest he picked up from his grandfather.

“I was always screwing around with keyboards and whatever we had on hand. Whenever I went to my grandparents’ house I always played on the big piano. Piano was always around me.”

Not long after, Stratton quit piano because he found he was much more “obsessed” with guitars. After saving all his birthday money, he bought his first guitar when he was 12. He says he was inspired by guitar players from many different genres when he first started learning.

“I was super obsessed with Jimi Hendrix, and from that I got into blues players like Muddy Waters, and I was also really into The Beatles. Some more psychedelic stuff like The Doors and also just songs of the time like cheesy Green Day stuff,” Stratton says with a chuckle, followed by a sigh.

In 2014 Willie Stratton and the Boarding Party released Deserter, they’re sophomore album. Recorded in Stratton’s Bedford home, the band used fewer instruments when compared to its self-titled predecessor.

“The first album is all acoustic, so there isn’t a single electric instrument or keyboard on it . . . [Deserter] was more of a typical kind of like, country rock band set up. We had drums and electric bass and electric guitar, and acoustic guitar as well. Like, on the first album we packed as much instruments on as we could on the album just because I was curious and kind of experimenting, but on Deserter it was kind of more stripped down and more sounding like the band.”

Stratton says the success of Deserter hit him when it was released for sale on vinyl. Being a vinyl collector himself, Stratton feels like vinyl is “more physical” than a digital copy, or even CDs.

The band ends their song. The audience stops dancing. The room once filled with music is now filling up with applause and whistles.

“Are we out of time?” Stratton looks off into the darkness of the theatre at an unseen figure. “We’re out of time,” he answers himself. The audience begins hollering for more music. Stratton looks over his shoulder at his band mates, shrugs, and continues to play his cowboy surf.


‘Swipe’ exhibit makes art out of Tinder photos

Carley Mullally’s art is inspired by men she’s seen on Tinder, a popular dating app.

Carley Mullally hovers over the long wooden table of the empty textile dyes and print studio of NSCAD’s Seeds Building in Halifax, patiently stitching up long cloth portraits under the buzzing florescent lights, putting the final touches on the pieces for her upcoming exhibition. As she leans over to adjust the music on her cellphone she checks her messages on Tinder, the source of much more than meeting possible companions for Mullally.

Mullally, 22, is a NSCAD student from New Glasgow, N.S., in her last year studying textiles and fashion. “Swipe,” her senior exhibition, will feature portraits of men in their early to mid-20s from the popular dating application Tinder. Mullally’s exhibition runs Feb. 2-7 at the Anna Leonowens Gallery.

Mullally got the idea for her exhibition last summer while visiting her cottage in New Brunswick with her grandparents. Bored and without Internet connection, Mullally took out her sketchbook to pass the time.

“I didn’t know what to draw, and that’s when it clicked that I could draw Tinder people. So I started painting [them],” she says.

Mullally, who has always enjoyed drawing portraits, realized that Tinder was the ultimate repertoire of “free faces.”

“I started screenshotting anyone who I thought had a cool or interesting-looking face…. I have a stockpile on my phone, so I hope I never lose [it] because someone will think I’m a stalker or something,” she says with a laugh.

The exhibition is meant to be positive and playful, according to Mullally, as she attempts to portray the fleeting nature of online dating through the featured portraits.

She found that Tinder users, especially men, often take face-on pictures for their dating profiles, making them perfect for portrait-drawing.

Mullally prefers to paint portraits of people she doesn’t know. “When I know somebody, I try to paint them the way they want to be seen…. If it’s a complete stranger, I’m just painting what I see.”

Mullally says she told her advisor, Frances Dorsey, associate professor of textiles at NSCAD, about the quirky hobby and Dorsey urged her to continue to hone the portraits and develop the concept into a series.

Since Mullally is not using the names or Tinder bios of the men, Dorsey says she does not see the exhibition as malicious or ill-intentioned.

“I don’t think their privacy was taken advantage of,” Dorsey says. “They chose to put themselves in that arena.”

She echoes that Mullally’s intention is not to expose or identify these people but to engage with the concept of strangers through her work.

Throughout the project Mullally has brought the portraits to life; taking images through numerous layers of translations and processes, yet rendering them identifiable to the original image “because of her skill,” Dorsey says.

“It’s a portrait series of strangers,” Mullally says. “They’re strangers to me, so I want them to be strangers to other people, too.”

To ensure this, Mullally uses two levels of distortion, paint and polychromatic screen printing with dyes to create the portraits. All of the portraits featured in “Swipe” are what she considers to be the most successful in terms of colour and representation, translating the paintings onto fabric.

Mullally’s artistic process from chosen profile photo to completed portrait is rigorous. Once a picture has been chosen, she begins a portrait by recreating the image using a watercolour and pencil in her sketchbook, followed by scanning in order to print it onto a transparency film page for screenprinting.

Using a silk screen printing frame, Mullally then paints directly onto the screen using dyes. Once the portrait painting is completed she leaves it to dry completely.

“It takes about five hours on average to paint one of the portraits. You have to wait for each colour to dry completely, so they don’t bleed into each other,” she says.

She then lays out the fabric and does the measurements to print from right to left, giving the effect of swiping away the image. She lays the screen down onto the fabric, printing the image three times, the first being clear and the following two fading. The process is called polychromatic screenprinting.

Immediately after printing Mullally wraps the fresh screenprint in plastic and places it in direct sunlight to allow the dye to set into the fabric. She often lets it sit for 24 to 48 hours depending on the climate. Upon unwrapping the screenprint Mullally washes and dries the portrait, in preparation for final details and stitching.

These eight portraits, along with learning and perfecting of the processes, has taken Mullally an entire semester to produce and refine.

Mullally on Tinder while working on a portrait for “Swipe.” (photo: Allie Graham)

Mullally has only matched with and made contact with one of the men originally featured in the show. He has since requested to have his portrait removed from “Swipe,” which Mullally has respected.

She has only taken screenshots while on the app to recreate the portraits, having had no interaction with the subjects. Mullally has not reached out to any of the other men to inform them of their participation; however she says that, “If I met them, I’d like for them to see.”

“I don’t think I’m doing anything negative. I’m not representing them as ugly or unattractive…. They’re just faces with really cool colours and shapes,” says Mullally.

Mullally has met up with a few people through Tinder and describes it as a nice way to “put yourself out there” and make friends.

“I don’t think it’s anything to be ashamed of to be on a dating website. I hope people aren’t ashamed,” she says.

Mullally says this project has helped her overcome the stigma of being on dating sites like Tinder, and she hopes that her exhibit will inspire others to be more open and honest.

She has begun to paint a series of women on Tinder as a side project.