Country canvas: Q&A with Ottawa artist Crystal Beshara

Vanish I, by Crystal Beshara

Crystal Beshara is an award-winning artist and illustrator who has been painting and drawing since childhood, when she grew up on a 30-acre hobby farm in Eastern Ontario. She’s self-taught realist artist who’s also created a children’s book!

Please describe your art and how you create it.

Crystal Beshara

I am a contemporary realist which means my art is very figurative or representational. I work  from my own photographs taken on trips abroad as far as Mexico or France to more familiar surroundings like the Central Experimental Farm and the iconic landscapes of the Ottawa Valley. I am interested in recording my surroundings, and creating a body of work based on a personal experience in a specific time or place.

This is done by using several photos to create a strong narrative. Once I’ve settled on an idea then I work on sketches to reinforce the theme and build the story. I love creating realistic, detailed work because of the sheer pleasure I gain from studying, dissecting  and exploring my subject. Looking intimately at a subject enables me to have a renewed love for it and see it for what it is, completely objectively.

Although I am most inspired by rural themes having grown up on a farm, I am now exploring  somewhat more fantasy based stories of transformation and personal growth. I explore simple accessible themes that are deeply rooted in sensorial experiences of time and place. Painting is a way for me to share my experiences and visions with others in the hopes that they recognize themselves in these scenarios.

How do you find ways to take your art in a new direction, beyond the canvas?

Cover of Crystal's 'When I Visit the Farm'

I have illustrated 3 published children’s books, including one that I wrote, “When I visit the Farm,” which is based on my daughter’s experiences exploring the Canada Agriculture Museum right here in Ottawa. My work locally has been purchased corporately for it’s distinctly Ottawa Valley theme. The Ottawa Valley Farm Show bought a piece last year, and I had 21 pieces commissioned for the Crowne Plaza Hotel to showcase all of Ottawa’s favourite tourist spots.

Community involvement is important to me. I have participated in events supporting charities like United Way, WaterCan, and have been a guest juror for the City of Ottawa Youth Poetry Award, Ottawa Watercolour Society and Nepean Fine Art League.

You are also an arts educator, creating opportunities — both locally and internationally — for both adults and children to explore their artistic interests. Could you describe that part of your career?

I have taught art and shared my trade secrets for more than a decade. There is no greater pleasure than to share skills that may encourage other to look at their world around them differently. We are surrounded by so much beauty! I’ve taught through city-run programs, colleges, seminars for art supply stores, trade shows and conferences. I taught regularly as a special television guest on Rogers Daytime Ottawa.

Beyond this, I love to travel! I have very much enjoyed an extension of this which involves organizing art excursions and painting workshops where I teach my Ottawa students in foreign destinations! This is a great way to see artwork at its formative stage, share a common interest and learn new techniques that are unique to a whole new environment.

Illustration from 'When I Visit the Farm'

In 2009, I introduced a children’s art program called Mini Masters into my teaching repertoire. This has proved to be a very popular series among parents wishing to enroll their children into fine art classes. This year I am offering several summer camps to choose from for children aged 7 to 12, held at my studio here in Ottawa. Campers explore true painting techniques and work with quality materials while learning about renowned painters and their techniques. The camp’s end culminates with a Vernissage, where parents and children can enjoy an art exhibition with a great energy, food and wonderful conversation with our Mini Masters artists.

What would you tell someone who is looking to purchase their first piece of art?

I would recommend buying a piece you love that moves you or resonates with you.  It’s a bonus that it may go with the decor in your home but this should not be the only factor. In fact, nothing is more flattering to me than having someone actually build a room around my artwork! Buy something that stirs you. Art is very personal and should be. It should take you somewhere; to a place, a dream — something intangible that you may not be able to explain to anyone else. Love the piece, then figure out how to afford it! While an artist may not necessarily be able to offer a reduced price for a work of art, typically artists are flattered enough by your interest to create a payment plan that helps you to finance this new love.

Black Herefords, by Crystal Beshara

Cornfield, by Crystal Beshara

What tips do you have for people looking to discover more about Ottawa-area artists and their work?

One of the great things about Ottawa is there are no shortage of outdoor art events. WestFest, Art in The Park, and Artists & Authors in the Park (in Stittsville) to name a few. These are great opportunities to not only peruse and buy local work but meet the artist and discuss their work.  You may also want to have a look at the City of Ottawa Cultural events calendar or visit Cube Gallery on Wellington St., which has a  lot to offer in the way on artist talks and great social events.  Join for almost a daily list of upcoming unique events that you may never had known about otherwise. Keep your eyes peeled while walking around popular Ottawa sites. You might even run into a certain someone painting “en plein air” at the arboretum or ornamental gardens . . . if you do, be sure to stop by and say hello.

Wow! Crystal also paints a beautiful picture of Ottawa’s art scene! And a special thanks to Tracey Mosley for putting this Q&A together.