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Don't mess with a soprano  

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

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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]



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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