This article was originally published in the 2020 Fall Issue of Invest In Style Magazine.
Prince Edward County is home to one of the most vibrant arts communities in Canada. The number of artists, in every conceivable medium, has grown exponentially in recent years, so much so that the Prince Edward County Arts Trail (www.artstrail.ca) was established to guide visitors to the galleries and studios of painters, sculptors, glassworkers, photographers, and ceramic artists.
The County’s natural beauty inspires creativity. Just ask Stewart Jones (www.stewartjones.ca), a Wellington-based visual artist and founding member of the Canadian Art Collective and City Field North Shore painting collective. “There’s something about the region, its communities, and its people that fuels me and makes me want to dig deeper with my work,” he explains.
The 48-year-old artist is perhaps best known for his atmospheric, emotional paintings. But painting wasn’t his first love, and he admits it didn’t come easily or naturally.
“I went to Ontario College of Art [now OCAD University], doing four years of drawing, then went to Sheridan College for classical animation in filmmaking,” Jones explains. “Painting was not even on my radar at the time. I was terrified of painting; the act of mixing colours and composing with colours was intimidating.” In fact, he may never have fallen into painting but for the fact that animation was evolving from traditional, cell-animation to computer animation at the very time Jones was contemplating his artistic future. “I didn’t want to learn new software, so I decided against making animation my full-time vocation,” he explains.
Jones, then living in Toronto, began working at Molson Breweries full time while dabbling in background paintings and stop-motion animation for commercials on the side. Slowly, almost imperceivably at first, Jones, as he puts it, “began to figure out painting.”
“Film is a big part of storytelling. Every frame is a painting,” he says reflectively. “Looking at production art behind film started to make me more comfortable with painting, and I found myself really inspired by the city around me – the interplay of light and shadow, the texture of an urban landscape, the lines and shapes. Painting started to call out to me.”
Nevertheless, Jones still tiptoed into the media, starting with charcoal drawings in paint before advancing to brushes. His preferred medium was, and remains, oil on canvas. Jones feels that oil paints have an organic life to them, a vibrancy lacking in acrylic.
“I was doing a lot of cityscapes at the time. I found inspiration in alleyways, skylines, and streetcar tracks,” he explains. “I married my wife, Rebecca, in 2005, and we travelled a lot, so in addition to my Toronto-inspired paintings I was able to do a series of cityscape paintings in Cuba and New York City. It was a pretty inspiring time in my artistic life.”
In 2012, Jones and his wife moved to Wellington County. They wanted a fresh start somewhere closer to their families in Kingston. Despite moving from Canada’s biggest city to a placid, rural setting of rolling farmland and verdant forests, Jones didn’t think his artistic expression would change. He certainly couldn’t conceive of himself ever finding revelation in nature.
“I couldn’t fathom being a landscape painter. I grew up in Kingston, and never had a cottage or camped, so I didn’t have any exposure to or connection to nature,” he explains. “Then I remember, after a snowfall, cutting the road for the first time in my jeep, and suddenly seeing composition in the tracks my tires made in the snow. These became the streetcar lines that I knew so well from my time painting cityscapes and I realized I was capable of making the transition to landscape. Before you knew it, I was painting these big country skies.”
Jones laughs when he thinks back on it now. “I guess I should have known I would eventually fall in love with landscape art. Tom Thomson was my first love in high school, even though I was far removed from the north.”
That’s the power of Prince Edward County: it inspires, informs and influences artists.