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Don't mess with a soprano  

A voice speaking in colour

It took Lee Claremont 40 years; 40 years to solidify her voice on canvas.

She worked for many years growing and experimenting, but when she started to speak artistically, it was with a voice bursting with colour.

Claremont, who grew up in Woodstock, Ont., is a contemporary visual artist, but also a wife, mother with Mohawk-Irish ancestry, and a member of the Grand River Iroquois Six Nations in Oshwedeken, Ont.

Art would come and go as she grew up. She had just one drawing class, which she enjoyed, but art wasn’t always part of her days.

“I had a creative mind, but didn’t physically do it,” she explained.

She lived a full life and in 1971, moved with her winemaker ex-husband and three children, ages two, four, and six, to the Okanagan, so he could work for Calona Wines.

Eight years later, they opened Claremont Estate Winery, one of the first cottage wineries in B.C. And she made history - she designed the first art labels for wine bottles. And she was good at it.

The seed of an idea began to grow like their pinot noir and Riesling grapes — the desire for more education mixed with art.

After they sold the winery in 1985, the seed sprouted and she started a two-year certificate program in graphic design at Okanagan College.

That was just the start of her educational journey. She was encouraged by her husband to study fine arts and soon found herself at UBC working hard on her Bachelor of Fine Arts — painting and printmaking,

This meant many sacrifices. She had to leave her family each school year and live in a small room in Vancouver.

The payoff was access to a large university, a degree and meeting different artists and people. Her creative world was expanding.

But there were struggles. The emphasis at school was non-commercial and was on very dark art full of angst.

Lee’s emerging voice was full of colour and at odds with what was expected. She struggled until she received sage advice from her husband to give the teachers what they wanted. Above all, she wanted that degree.

She shuddered as she described the dark paintings she did during this time. She followed that by laughter at her sheer joy when immediately after graduation in 1991, she burst out in colour.

As she was developing her own personal art style, she taught at the En’owkin Centre.

“The students inspired me and I loved it.”

She explained that art has two languages:

  • Academic – the non-commercial approach
  • Art – the commercial approach

She strove to help students understand these languages.

As I sat in her studio, surrounded by her brilliantly coloured art, three paintings faced me — female figures painted with acrylic.

Why do you use acrylic paint?

“I’m an impatient painter. I just don’t like waiting for the paint to dry.”

She also clarified why she uses the word female instead of women. “Female is more universal.”

The paintings were a commission from the Wabano Centre for Aboriginal Health in Vanier, Ont.

  • New Beginnings. a painting of a mother with the child in a papoose is being given to the birthing ward of an Ottawa hospital
  • Red Pony. This painting of running ponies will be added to their the Wabano Centre collection.
  • Our Home and Native Land, the photo above, will also be added to the Wabano Centre collection.

As I looked at her female figures, I was aware of the timelessness of her art.

In Our Home and Native Land, her figures could be:

  • Contemporary or ancient
  • Mother and grown child
  • Two sisters
  • Lifelong friends

The viewer is invited to journey with her figures wherever the viewer chooses to go. The welcome is personal the acceptance universal.

You will find stars in her paintings, you will always find a star, a reminder of her guardian angel, a daughter who passed away.

Lee likes to ground her paintings with lovely, intricate borders that are reminiscent of beadwork while making her paintings feel contemporary with geometric squares.

As I looked to my left, I noticed two paintings that were not prominently displayed.

One was a whimsical painting by a former student. Right next to it was a painting with stylized feathers, mountains, and a drum with real leather strips and beads.

That painting took her to China.

She had submitted it and was accepted to the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing — a United Nations gathering on gender equality and the empowerment of women — in 1995.

Her paintings are colourful, but soft in their messages at first glance.

In the beginning, she admitted she was puzzled when in gallery shows, some people walked by with hardly a glance.

How rewarding it must now be with her commissioned works and international recognition. She has permanent, corporate and private collections throughout the world.

How satisfying for her soft, but vital voice to finally be heard.

I asked her if she had a message she wanted to convey.

”Work hard and follow your dreams — easier said than done because it takes a lot of courage.”

It was hard to say goodbye to all those females on the canvasses, but I also realized they had invited me back. This was not a chance meeting.

If you want to journey with Lee’s paintings, you can find her at www.leeclaremont.com.





The singer and the song

How long does it take to learn to sing? 40 hours, 10 minutes, and 30 seconds.

If that sounds dubious, you are right.

Some people are born gifted, some not as much. In reality, it takes what it takes and differs from person to person.

Why should adults take music lessons? After all, they’re not going to be famous or make a living from it, so why bother?

  • For the pure pleasure that music, singing, and/or playing brings.
  • What joy it is to sit around the campfire and sing or play.
  • How great to jam with friends and have them complement your singing.
  • How invincible you feel singing in the shower — at least until the hot water runs out.

Music is healing, cathartic and not dependant on age. It is for everyone. Yet, if you are better at it, you derive more pleasure from it.

Lessons help you find that pleasure.

Sometimes comments stop us on our way to music and art.

My art career was squashed in kindergarten. We were making snowmen out of cotton balls. OK, I went crazy with the glue - at least I didn't eat it like some of my fellow students.

I had a cotton ball stuck on each of my 10 fingers and was trying to figure out how to get them onto the paper.

The teacher made me stand up and she proceeded the tell everyone how inept I was. I was convinced from that day on that I was not an artist.

Almost all my adult students have a similar story about their singing ability. It doesn't take much to silence our voice.

I’m always happy to welcome adults who have found their way to do something about their singing ability. It takes guts to face a fear or a perceived lack.

Studying voice is up close and personal and can be very intimidating.

Teaching voice is different from all other instruments by the sheer fact that the instrument is inside you.

If you study piano and have difficulty, the teacher may correct your fingering. She corrects your fingers, not you personally.

As a voice teacher, when I make corrections, it is deeply personal. How you sing on a particular day is mixed in with old fears, embarrassment or even what you ate for lunch. You can’t separate emotions from the voice.

Teachers must always be aware of the mental state of their student so they know how hard they can work them that day.

Adult lessons fill a gap in our lives. We give up so much making sure our kids have opportunities. Sometimes just making a living is enough to forget about our own desires.

Setting aside time to learn and explore makes us feel younger, more vital, and ecstatically proud as our abilities grow.

Here’s why taking singing lessons is beneficial.

  • Singing is a workout, both physically and mentally. Just try singing for an hour and see how you feel. I have run 10 Ks and sung many operas – the exhaustion level felt the same.
  • It strengthens the immune system according to a study by the University of Frankfurt. They noticed the number of proteins in the immune system functioning as antibodies were significantly higher after singing.
  • Singing lowers your stress levels - unless you are doing a solo for the first time.
  • You should be able to sing into your 90s and above – that is great value for your money.
  • The amount of air used is great for your mind as you age.

The most frequent question I am asked as a voice teacher is: can someone who has never sung on pitch, learn to?

Absolutely! How successful you are depends on a couple of things.

  • You might be too smart. I have found that bright students like being in control. They often try to “make” the sound rather than allowing the brain to do what it needs to do to produce an in-pitch tone. If I can get them to let go and let the air flow uninterrupted, the pitch comes out pure and clear.
  • The most important factor is desire. How hard do you want to work at it?

I had a very ugly voice as a teenager. Oooh, it was loud and edgy – think chainsaw edgy. I had something though that a lot of other singers didn’t; I had a burning, scorching desire to sing.

I took longer and worked harder than any of my fellow students. Hundreds of years later, I’m still singing and sound nothing like my former self.

Psychologist Daniel Goleman, author of the book Emotional Intelligence, agrees. He lists five elements needed to make a success. Motivation is number three.

What is success? Reaching the pinnacle of being famous? How about singing in pitch all night with friends? Who’s success is bigger? I say they're tied.

Only you know if you want to spend the time and money to sing better. If you do, pick up the phone and call your local music school or voice teacher.

I challenge you to discover your personal joy of music. Stop listening to the naysayers and just do it.

Never ever discount the desire to be better.



Locked into a dream

Wanda Lock used to paint in secret, up in her bedroom.

Why?

She didn’t want to be labelled because she didn’t fit the artistic stereotype.

“Labels have expectations, a prescribed path of who you are,” she said. “As soon as you are called an artist, it restricts you as a person."

For someone who didn’t want to be limited by labels, she has collected some along the way to becoming who she is today — a full-time professional artist and part-time curator.

Wanda the artist grew up on a farm in Oyama. Topics important to her, such as art and feminism, weren't talked about.

After high school, she began to search for her artist self, and studied at Okanagan University College from
1987-89.

She attended Emily Carr University of Art +Design, Vancouver, 1989-92, and received a four-year diploma in studio practice. People went to Emily Carr to become an artist not a teacher in those days, certainly not a curator.

These were heady times for artists. It was the middle of the Grunge music movement, Nirvana was at its height and Generation X was flexing its muscles.

After graduation from Emily Carr, she shared a studio with eight other female artists on Hastings and Cambie streets in Vancouver.

These years when in her 20s were good times. A time for exploration and growth while surrounded by fellow artists.

Vancouver soon became too expensive, so she returned to the Okanagan.

She renewed her friendship with her childhood friend, Greg, and they eventually married and settled down in Okanagan Centre.

Opus Art Supplies was her go-to art store in Vancouver.

When she heard they were opening one in Kelowna, she applied to work there. Soon she was managing it.

Opus Art Supplies is a place where artists meet, teach, share ideas and grow. She would work there all day — she only left in 2006 — and paint all night.

During her Opus time, after it and continuing today, she has a serious art practice. She is in her studio every day unless she is out of town. Her studio is a working one, not a gallery for people to come and buy.

I felt privileged to sit among her artistic off-springs. She explained that she often has three to four projects going at once.

Her inspirations come from readings that make her contemplate the plight of women and life.

I admired her current three projects:

  • Emerging wallpaper inspired from the book, The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

She used three kinds of stencils – one bought, one cut by hand and one made by her.

"Why?" I asked.

“Because they feel different,” she said.

  • An 8’ by 38’ wall hanging for Kelowna Airport in 2022. A Day In The Life Of Ulysses inspired by Molly Bloom's soliloquy from James Joyce’s Ulysses.

The colours and layering of objects open up one’s imagination and interpretation and I only saw five feet of it.

  • Her new series inspired by COVID experiences with flowers and science.

She is not one to take the low-hanging fruit. Rather she ponders and crystallizes ideas and puts them on canvas to tantalize the viewer to do the same.

Although her works are often themed; they don’t corral thoughts, but rather open the viewer's mind to other interpretations. She creates a dialogue between herself and her viewers.

Her solo exhibitions exemplify this:

  • A Studio Of One’s Own — 2018, Headbones Gallery in Vernon It was inspired by Virginia Woolf’s essays,. A Room Of One’s Own
  • The Year We Disappeared – 2020 – Vernon Public Art Gallery. The theme is from the book Unless by Carole Shields about how women disappear after a certain age. Turning 50 brought these thoughts to her.

Six years ago, Wanda, the curator, came into being when she began to curate at the Lake Country Art Gallery (LCAG), a public art gallery with eight exhibitions a year – four member-community-based and four curated exhibitions with the artists.

A curated show often pays the artist.

Historically, you wouldn’t normally find an artist in a curator position.

A curator is employed by a museum or gallery to manage a collection of artworks or artifacts. Curators care for, restore, and develop collections through exhibitions, publications, events, and presentations.

Curators are interested in an artists’ work and what they are trying to convey.

The word curator, like the world, is constantly changing. Universities now have degree programs for learning the art of curation under their art degree umbrella.

“The rapport between artists and curator can be brilliant. After all, I have been with the LCAG for six years now. I bring the mature artist-curator – artist dynamics to curating.”

What a bonus for us.

She didn’t want to be labelled and kept her art a secret. These labels don’t limit her, but rather give her freedom to explore, execute and excite.

To spend an afternoon with her among her works was like spring — a riotous joyous thing.





Son inspired painter mom

Ben turned Joan into a painter.

“He is the real reason I paint,” Joan McEwan said about her son.

She loved all forms of art, her family and life, but when Ben, her second child, came along with his special needs, she lost herself for a time.

”I felt guilty taking any time for myself.”

However, she soon discovered that art gave her the voice and solace she had lost.

She grew up in Margo, Sask., a small town east of Humboldt, to a musical family. They weren’t professional, but they were a great family band with accordion, guitar and singing.

She loved singing with her older sister and was in awe of her sister’s voice, so much that she never pursued singing outside her home.

Her sister did continue singing and competed with k.d. lang, while Joan doodled, sketched, painted, and played all kinds of sports.

Her parents instilled a get-a-real-job-mentality in her, so after high school, she did two years at the Kelsey Institute and became a medical lab technician.

During those 20 years as a lab tech, she:

  • Met her husband, Gary, a hockey player from Glasgow, on a blind date.
  • Moved to the Okanagan without a job while pregnant with a soon-to-be daughter, Jordan.

They made this move to be closer to her family who had moved to Osoyoos and Salmon Arm. Life was good.

In addition to her medical job, she, with her friend, Claire Barnard, started Miss Sassy Pants-Boudoir Photography business, which produced some very saucy pictures for 10 years.

“I felt I had a charmed life until my mom died of kidney cancer in 2005.”

Jordan was only two when Ben was born in 2007 and their family became so busy that Joan forgot about art.

But art didn’t forget about her. It showed up in those rare quiet moments while playing the guitar or doodling. Art was her happy place, whether music or painting.

After meeting Selena Sced of Grey Sage Studio, she rented a space in her artist studio on the fringe of the cultural district downtown. A place just for her.

She loved to be with other artists; their presence energized her creativity.

”I can’t make up my mind, every day I’m a different person,” she said with laugh.

Luckily, she is a lifelong learner, so she can change how she paints to match her moods using new techniques as she learns them.

She loved being in art shows at the Kelowna Arts Gallery and at the studio prior to COVID and even managed Nuit Blanche during COVID in October.

This was a unique night of art. She was a part of SPRY, a live painting entertainment.

Joan took over the management of Grey Sage Studio in December, 2020 when Selena Sced decided to work at home where she had more space for her pottery and tile making.

Joan changed the name of the studio to Fools and Sages, lyrics from the Aerosmith song, Dream On.

Music is always lurking around Joan, who admitted she would love to be a singer if she could.

Fools and Sages is a busy place shared by three other artists besides her.

You will find brightly coloured drawings by Wayne Wilson, felted art by Judith Mueller, paintings by Michelle, and a warehouse for Perch Travelling Boutique, a vintage clothing store on wheels.

What is her art like today? “If you have to give it a label, realism to abstraction, not abstract,” she explained.

“I love faces, especially women.”

There is a moodiness in what she paints, an empathy with the melancholy.

She loves the pensive poetry of Edna Vincent Millay, a prominent feminist of her time —1892-1950.

Joan read her favourite poem Dirge Without Music, which is about death, while we were surrounded by sunlight streaming through the windows, paintings with life-giving colour, and lovely music in the background.

Melancholy, yes; depressive, no.

She loves muted colours and stark black and white. I find them authentic rather than sad.

COVID induced isolation at home provided her the time to do a series — a collection of several works on the same subject. This was the first time she hadn’t done faces; she picked flowers as her subject.

She loved the cohesiveness of her energies using the same colour palette, floral playfulness, going from simple realism to abstraction.

She was free from the exactness required to paint a face.

“When I come across an idea – the series keeps me focused. I love it.”

Where does she want to be in five years?

She wants to be surrounded by artists and their energy, but would like to have enough room to have an area where people could come, sit, look and buy their art while the artists worked nearby.

She was overwhelmed earlier on with the constant care Ben needed.

“But now I see it – it has shown our family a real way to manage and made us stronger. Ben is so happy and in a way, I’ve been given a precious gift.”

As I left the studio, with a set of vibrantly painted cards she made and generously gave to me. I felt happy for not only the cards, but for having been given the gift of meeting the creative artist Joan.

www.joancarolineart.com; www.foolsandsagesstudio.com; Insta: joancarolineart



More Don't mess with a soprano articles

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About the Author

Sue Skinner is a singer of opera and musical theatre, a choral conductor and a teacher/coach of voice. 

She has travelled the world, learned many languages, seen every little town in Alberta and supported herself with music all her life.

She has sung at weddings, funerals, musicals, operettas, opera, with symphonies, guitars, jazz groups, rock bands and at play schools. 

Skinner has taken two choirs to Carnegie Hall, sung around the world, and teaches for Wentworth Music on Zoom.

[email protected]



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The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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