Seated in a mock studio where creativity and hope abounded, I lay out my tools haphazardly on the table before me. Soft and stiff paint brushes, sponges, rags and tubes of half-used paint engulfed the crammed space. I stare blankly at my canvas patiently waiting for some form of communication. I take the initiative to begin this conversation. I reach blindly and black paint finds its way on to the canvas. By simply showing up, swirls of red, blue and green co-mingle in my first abstract piece 45-minutes later.

Workshop Speaker & Artist: Gwen Tooth

When you just show up, miraculous things begin to happen, like blank pages being quickly filled. This catchphrase is one of many tidbits I picked up a few weeks ago when I had the privilege of attending the 5th annual Art For All of Canada (AFAC) conference held at Metro Hall. Class instructors offered informative seminars that explored everything from the role of social media in the art world to the business of art. What was so refreshing about these sessions was the eagerness of participants to share their artistic experiences, triumphs and challenges – as well as the tips and techniques of their success.

I learned that art (excuse the pun) has this undeniable power to “draw” people in for reasons unexplained. I learned that the creative process requires a vision, drive and a willingness to share a message. This conference served as a place where I could meet, mingle and learn more about artists from artists themselves from a wide background – a truly unique situation.

Event organizer Sheila J. Mitchell and husband Alwyn Mitchell, dreamt up the idea of and art conference five years ago. The two day event offered everything under the sun from Social Media and marketing, an abstract art painting demo to the business of art.

I was president of the North York Visual Artists (NYVA) and I was looking for opportunities for showing work. I realized that taking work to a gallery was a real challenge.  So, I figured why not take the art to the people since everything we do is public art?  Mitchell’s unique gallery concept, which included exhibition space housed at Rainbow Cinema, where people have the opportunity to walk through the winding gallery en-route to their favorite movie –  providing a flash gallery experience.

Her melding of art and cinema seems to be spiking somewhat of a trend that is also taking off with film giant Cineplex Entertainment. Their Exhibition series of documentaries will showcase the works of well-known artists  Edouard Manet beginning in mid April, Edvard Munch in June and Johannes Vermeer later in the year – bringing art to the forefront.

“We also do art around the market at St. Lawrence Market,” says Mitchell. “The other thing is to prove to people is when they go out shopping and see an artist, they say I didn’t realize we had so many local artists. It is very hard to get that kind of awareness.”

Mitchell says people start networking, working with the centres, giving workshops and travelling – it creates really great contacts for the participants.

“The event hasn’t changed a lot because it is the same concept,” Mitchell says.  But next year she is thinking about splitting it up into two separate days; a marketing and social media day. “Let’s face it – it’s the future of communication [which is] an important marketing tool. If you go onto LinkedIn, more artists are on there now and Facebook and Twitter.”

Everyone involved in the conference is an artist whether they are a presenter or a delegate. Rea Kelly who adopted the title of professional artist in 2000, led a morning seminar ‘The Work of Art aka The Art of Work’ in which she urged other artists to grant themselves permission to fail, make art a habit and  give themselves daily challenges among other things.

Gwen Tooth, a graduate of OCAD and an art instructor, led a session ‘Concepts of Abstraction Using Acrylics’ where she encouraged artists to feel the energy and express feeling by getting past rules taught in formal methods of education. Mitchell says it is very hard as an artist to be able to do everything and even harder to be creative and handle the business side as well.  On the same note, fellow artist and seminar presenter Robin Polfuss was on hand to lead a discussion on The Value of Art.

“My husband and I work together. We’ve been self-employed for over 30 years. We try to do as many events as we can to help artists – and we are bringing our business experience to help them because we understand.”

As I looked at the works of art on display at the conference later that day, I marvelled at the skill and ease of execution and various styles of art. Attending the AFAC conference was one of the best things I’ve ever done because it brought me closer to the realization that there is an artist within all of us. Art is a habit for me now and I make time for it regularly. I challenge myself and know my artistic personality a little better now and I have learned to forgive myself in advance because I know I won’t hit a home run every time.

As I sit in front of another blank canvas, I am happy to know that I am very close to finding my artistic voice.  All I had to do was show up.

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