Two local artists began their artistic pursuits by creating pen and ink barns and other buildings in Alberta. They both felt a strong impulse to go further with their artwork, Greg Swainson dedicating himself to mastering watercolours and Roberta Mebs trying her hand in a number of painting mediums.
Their paths crossed in Sherwood Park, Alberta, 20 years ago when Mebs took a watercolour course from Swainson. And today the two are exhibiting their work in a two-person show at Swainson’s Raintree Studio & Gallery in North Qualicum. An opening reception will mark the beginning of the gallery’s second season Friday, April 19.
Mebs works mostly with acrylic paints today, but has taken courses in watercolours, acrylics and soft pastel, and also creates some mixed media pieces.
“I’m a smorgasbord person, I’m like that with food too,” said Mebs.
“And see, I could have a hot dog every day,” Swainson joked.
Swainson started painting in 1984, after dreaming about it for years and finally committing specific hours to hone his skills. After teaching commercial art for five years, it was time to start painting, he said, since he figured it would take 20 years to get good and he wanted to do it well in retirement. So after he put his kids to bed he would set out three hours, three times a week, for painting. In his first four months he created 22 paintings.
Although people often think of watercolour painting as light and dainty, that was never Swainson’s style, he said.
“That vibrancy in acrylic, you can have in watercolour if you choose to have it,” he said. “And there’s been some criticism from acrylic people that sometimes people who paint that way are really just acrylic wannabees,” he laughed. “That’s not true, not for me at least.”
Swainson continued to teach commercial art in Alberta for 20 years while also teaching watercolour courses, along with being a husband and father of four. Swainson moved to North Saanich in 2005 and made the move to Qualicum Beach in 2011.
Mebs is originally from Vancouver and as an “air force kid” moved around Canada and into Europe. She remembers living in France and taking a school trip to visit The Louvre in Paris. After meeting her husband in Duncan, they made the move to Alberta when her husband joined the RCMP, and the couple spent 31 years there.
Throughout that time, Mebs took some classes at Red Deer College, as well as with Swainson, and continued to paint landscapes, flowers and anything that caught her eye.
She and her husband returned to Vancouver Island about five years ago and she took a two-year art course at Malaspina College (now VIU) in Nanaimo.
Mebs kept in touch with Swainson and a couple years ago received an email that he was moving to her neck of the woods and opening up a gallery.
Swainson said he always had the goal of creating an art gallery in the back of his mind.
“I never anticipated it could happen until we saw this place,” he said. “The dream was to have a place out of the way where there’d be some traffic going by and you could have something open and see your garden and wander through. It’s just exactly what I always dreamt it would be.”
Last year, Swainson and his wife Joan opened Raintree Studio & Gallery located at their home on Highway 19A, just North of the turn-off for Arrowsmith Golf Course.
Originally, the space had a dirt floor with no heat or lighting, but it has been transformed into a bright and spacious gallery surrounded by greenery, overlooking the ocean. The gallery opened with an exhibition of work by Swainson and Mebs, followed by a successful season that included seven other artists, and ran to October.
This year, Encore, a show and sale of Swainson and Mebs’ work, will again open the season with a reception April 19 from 5-8 p.m. with wine and cheese. The show will continue Thursday through Sundays, noon to 5 p.m., until May 4. All paintings will be 20 per cent off during this show and 20 per cent will be donated to the local Haven Society, providing services to women children, youth and families who have experienced violence. From May 9 to October the gallery will also feature the work of other painters, as well as woodwork, pottery and floral art.
Swainson also offers classes and painting retreats from the gallery and studio.
For more information visit www.raintreestudio.ca or Mebs’ website www.robertamebs.com.