Around the World and Back Again

Story and photo by Sarah Ryeland

Most of us dream about travelling around the world. We long to stand at the foot of majestic mountains, feel the spray of a thunderous waterfall and feel our feet sink into the warm sand of a tropical beach. We want to experience the traditions of another culture and greet the unexpected on the road less travelled.

We might not get the chance to visit all the places we long to see, but we can appreciate the world through the eyes of artists who capture the essence and beauty of our environment on canvas, film and beyond.

Pat Fairhead is an artist who brings the world to her audience. She paints, she draws, she teaches and she works with every material under the sun – whatever suits her subject matter best. Whether it’s a delicate English garden, the rugged Scottish Isles, Arctic glaciers, or Muskoka’s own backyard, Fairhead is inspired by the nature that surrounds her.

Fairhead has always been an artist. Born in Hull, Yorkshire, England, she moved to Canada at the age of 10. But even before her first journey across the sea, her talent was blooming.

“I was born this way,” says Fairhead. “I used to fill up every blank page I could find with drawings. I loved it. I would get lost in art.”

Once she arrived in Canada with her newly blended family (her mother married a Canadian), she found inspiration everywhere she looked, including Muskoka. Fairhead’s new stepfather had family in Bracebridge, so although the young artist was based in Toronto, she was able to spend plenty of time in the area she came to know and love.

A mere five years after settling in Toronto, Fairhead was accepted into the Ontario College of Art and Design. She began her studies there at the age of 16.

Finally in 2000, Fairhead made the move to Muskoka. She’s based in Bracebridge and loves every minute of it.

“I consider it my hometown,” she says.

For 35 years, Fairhead has earned a living through art. With two masters degrees in adult education, a keen business sense and a passion for communicating through her paintings, Fairhead travels the world and is constantly creating.

“I’ve been to the Arctic nine times,” she says. “I’ve paddled the east coast, west coast and north shore. I’ve been camping up the Amazon, to New Zealand, Africa and back again.”

Regardless of where in the world she is, Fairhead is always inspired by her natural surroundings. The medium she uses to create her artwork changes depending on the subject matter, and right now it’s all about watercolours.

In November 2011, Fairhead was awarded the prestigious A.J. Cassan medal for excellence in watercolour from the Canadian Society of Painters in Watercolour. The award is a great honour for the artist, who has recently produced a series of paintings entitled Water, being shown at The Collector’s Gallery of Art in Calgary this spring.

The series focuses on waterfalls – a subject near and dear to the artist’s heart.

“Falling water has always excited the hell out of me,” says Fairhead. “Now that I live near Wilson’s and High Falls, I can see it all the time. But how do I paint it? It hits a rock and changes, hits the river and splashes. That’s what I’m after.”

And that’s precisely what she’s captured.

Fairhead is proud of the fact that she lives off her work. Everything she owns was purchased with money she earned herself and she doesn’t rely on anyone else’s financial support. She sees art as not only a passion and a career, but as a vital element to every human being’s personal development.

“I felt ill when aesthetic education was considered a frill subject in schools,” says the artist. “It’s just as important as any academic subject. No person is complete without both.”

As an educator, mother and grandmother, she speaks from experience. When asked if any of her family members have shown signs of artistic talent, she shrugs.

“I don’t think artistic talent is inherited,” she says. “Each one of us is born an individual. Each one of us can be different.”

So you could say Fairhead chalks it up to talent, inspiration and plenty of hard work.

“I’ve worked my buns off all these years,” she says.

And obviously, it’s paying off. 2012 will be a busy year for the artist, with two shows coming up this spring and a spot on the Canadian Society of Painters in Watercolour’s jury this fall.


The Process

For Pat Fairhead, every work of art is created through a specific process. In order to understand the end result, one must understand the artist’s process. Here is how she breaks it down.

Step one: Inspiration

Fairhead is inspired by the natural world. Whatever her subject matter, she feels compelled to capture the beauty of our world and bring it to life.

She often hikes near her home in Bracebridge and always has her camera at the ready. When she sees an interesting pattern or texture or sparkling light, Fairhead zooms in on it and starts to think of ways she can incorporate that element into her work.

In the picture above, she is focusing on the patterns made by falling water.

Step two: Sketching

Once Fairhead has a photo of her inspiration, she zeroes in on the elements that interest her most. By making sketches, she captures the essence of the action taking place and recreates the energy coming from the photograph.

In this case, she’s sketching the energy of the water’s direction and how it changes course by splashing and hitting rocks.

Step three: Painting

Once the sketches are complete, Fairhead starts to paint. She takes the energy and action from her drawings and adds colour and depth.

“I take the colour that’s there and intensify it,” she says. “Then I add my own imagination and hope for the best.”

In the painting above, Fairhead has added bright colours to show the action of the water as it falls and the depth of the river below.

Step four: Abstraction

If the painting is more of a literal interpretation of her inspiration, the final abstraction pieces strip away certain elements to reveal the core of the subject matter.

“The basis of my abstraction comes from nature,” says Fairhead. “Abstraction is the ultimate simplicity of the original form.”

For Fairhead, the process is always the same. Through inspiration, sketching, painting and the final abstraction, she creates interpretive artwork that captures the energy and essence of nature.

To learn more about Fairhead’s work, visit or contact her at 705-645-9231.


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