SHIRLEY HARD, BFA, 1986/1999, PAINTING
ALUMNI DISCOVERY INITIATIVE INTERVIEW BY AINSLEY DACK
AINSLEY DACK: When did you graduate ACAD?
SHIRLEY HARD: I graduated with my diploma in 1986, then in 1999 with my degree.
AD: What was your major?
SH: At first, I was accepted into Commercial Art, which was the design stream back then, but I decided that it wasn’t for me, so I switched to Painting.
AD: What did you graduate with?
SH: I first graduated in 1986 with a diploma in Visual Arts. Later, I came back part-time, and took courses at MRU, when ACAD started offering their Bachelor Degrees, to complete my degree in Fine Art in 1999.
AD: What made you choose to major in painting?
SH: I always used to paint and draw; I would always draw illustrations when I was studying in school, like plants, animals, or cells in biology. My teachers saw that I enjoyed it and would allow me to add pictures to my assignments. I didn’t have any formal art training at all from Kindergarten to grade 12. I have a sister who is also artistically inclined, who also graduated from ACAD. She always encouraged me, and taught me. Being a professional artist was not something my parents wanted me to do; they just encouraged it as a hobby.
AD: Would you say that the style that you developed during your time at ACAD has remained more or less the same?
SH: Well, at ACAD I was more abstract for a time, but then after graduating I eventually went back to the way in which I always wanted to paint. In school, you explore different styles; they encourage you to do that. I am maybe a little more expressive or realistic now, but it is similar. I have to rethink what I do for practicality. I have to consider whether I can sell something, the cost of the materials and size, like if I want to sell prints. The way I do my art is still the same, but I have to adapt to my environment.
AD: What’s your current employment?
SH: I work at Mount Royal University as an Administrative Assistant in the nursing department. I try to use my creative side as much as possible. For instance, faculty will occasionally ask me for colourful charts, images, or posters. We have opportunities to show work there, like in the MRU library. I participated in the MRU Centennial Mural Mosaic project with other faculty or staff who are artists. I’ve always had a regular job, and done my art on the side, and as I have been a single parent, it worked much better for me. There is also an art sale that is set up in the lounge for staff and faculty, so I displayed small paintings and art cards. It is really interesting to see how many artists there are working at Mount Royal. I find it encouraging to meet other artists where I work.
AD: A lot of graduates use the ACAD degree as a creative stepping stone. So, what do you do? How has what you do evolved since graduation? How did your education at ACAD direct your career?
SH: Besides the fact that I am still doing my artwork, making every attempt to show, sell, and promote myself, and keep in touch with other artists. I feel that my Bachelor’s Degree helped, even in my job. Being a creative person, I am able to look at things abstractly, and plan things out differently. I like looking at the big picture. I work in a university office, and by necessity they think in a more structured way. I have always made sure that my work environment has a creative look to it. Wherever I go, that’s what I do, and I don’t think about it too much because it comes naturally to me, but the people around me notice it.
AD: What insights did your years at ACAD give you when looking at things? Why does what you learned at ACAD matter?
SH: At ACAD, you learn to be very versatile, and not make quick judgements. I try to look at both sides no matter what. Nothing much shocks me about people, you learn to be very accepting of people at ACAD. It’s good to look at where someone is coming from instead of what they look like or what they are doing. Going to ACAD gives you an edge emotionally. I’m only realizing this in later years because I can look back. People notice that there is something different about my sister and I, and I think it is our perspective. The practice I got in writing has been very important to my work. Presentation was a very important skill that I learned. Although, there was a lot that I had to learn on my own, like presenting work for customers. At ACAD they talked about how to make slides for submissions and those kinds of things.
AD: What would you like to be recognized for?
SH: I would like to be recognized for the work that I do. I feel that my artwork is as valid as the Group of Seven’s, whom I admire. For example, I had the opportunity to show two large paintings at the Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies in Banff, with modern artists of Alberta along with paintings from some of the Group of Seven. That was where I wanted to be, so it was a huge accomplishment. I most appreciate that the art that I created is now on display in many public and private collections. I feel that I give back, through donating my paintings to individuals and non-profit groups and continuing to encourage other artists.
AD: After graduation, what obstacles did you encounter and how did you overcome them?
SH: I had some friends and family that were very supportive of me. At the beginning, the largest obstacle was doing the work. They, professors, told us at ACAD that very few students would continue to work after graduating for whatever reason. I had to commit to doing it. I decided that I was going to be one of the few graduates to ‘do it’. I had two children after graduation, and some of my colleagues commented that I would fade out, and stop working, but I said that it wasn’t going to change anything, and it didn’t. However, I always took care of my children first, even though it was tiring being a parent and artist. I was fortunate enough to be signed on with a commercial gallery shortly after I graduated. Ironically, some other artists that I knew felt that it was selling out. It wasn’t encouraged in my art environment. For me that was an internal obstacle, because I was trying to figure out how I fit in. Other obstacles were figuring out how to be economical with my work in terms of scale, materials, etc. Another obstacle was promoting my work, because the gallery, except within their own venue, doesn’t do that… it was all me.
AD: What was your time at ACAD like?
SH: It was wonderful; it was one of the most memorable times in my life. I learned so much from some of the people there. I learned a lot about myself, like how I fit in and where I can go from there. That will stay with me. Being self-taught was an option, but I’m so glad I went to ACAD because most of my professors there helped me get to where I am now. A few mentored me after graduating. Fellow students encouraged me as well. I didn’t know how much I needed to learn until I got there. Going there helps you figure out what you want to do as an artist and make that decision. I can always go back to ACAD in my mind, and come across something that I learned there and apply it to what I’m doing now.
AD: In hindsight, would you do it again?
SH: In a heartbeat I would, because who’s to know if I would be where I am now without it. I don’t regret anything I did, maybe only what I didn’t do. If I had to do it all over again, I would explore doing art strictly as a business.
AD: Where does art fit into your future?
SH: Hopefully I continue to have opportunities to show my work. I will carry on with my work so long as I am in good health and able to do so.
AD: What is your process?
SH: I take photographs of the landscape. I go to places where I might find some inspiration, or subject matter that I might want to talk about in my work. I try to do some sketching outdoors if I can. Most of my work is done in my studio; I usually draw on paper, then on the canvas. That is when I think about what the painting will be about. I don’t think too much about who’s going to like it. I had one show where the security guard said, “Every night I come by and see your work, and it really makes my day”. That’s really why I do it. If someone looks at my painting and it makes them feel good, or inspires them, that means a lot. If anyone enjoys it for whatever reason, I have fulfilled my purpose. I never did it for the money, of course it helps pay for what I’m doing, but my biggest purpose is to get the feedback. Not to get recognition for being great, but that there is a reason for my art being there, and that reason transcends into my life.
AD: Do you have any advice for an emerging artist?
SH: Stick to the plans that you have, and find ways to make what you do work. It’s very easy to put up an obstacle in your mind and say you can’t do something. Or sometimes other people will tell you that you can’t do something, and they mean well, but they don’t understand what it really is you want to do. Don’t pay too much attention to that. Follow your passion, and your heart. If you focus on your work, opportunities come your way. Things happen to everyone in life, and you can’t let things affect you or stop you from what you are doing. My art is something that I can always go back to, among all the other things that happen in my life. Believe in yourself. There is always going to be an audience for your work, and you can find them in the oddest places. It starts with getting the chance to talk to someone, or someone will buy your work. It’s not a popularity contest, or a competition. You have to be supportive of other artists. I was given advice from an ACAD instructor when I was unsure of whether to be represented by a gallery; she said if you switch your style around to please other people, you’ll be disappointed. So no matter what the gallery wants, be true to yourself. ACAD is made of individualists. No one goes there to learn how to do the same thing, so always be true to the integrity of yourself, and you’ll do well. I always believed in myself, and opportunities came my way.