It's hard to imagine finding artwork that's more in tune with nature than the soft, moody artwork of Amy Webber.
Let's talk to her a little bit.
How did you get started painting?
In high school I took art, but I didn’t take it seriously. I took it for granted and didn’t start seriously painting until about three years I go. I went to school for psychology, and worked in psych and neuroscience for several years. I didn’t make time for art when I was studying and working and went years without drawing or painting anything.
What brought you back to it?
I had this nagging feeling I was wasting my talent. I thought I might resent it if it became my job, but I realized if I kept working those other jobs, I'd never put in the time to realize my potential as an artist.
It took a while to figure out what medium and subject matter to focus on. I’ve always been all over the place with creative mediums, including dressmaking, acrylic, graphite, polymer clay, you name it. What I really wanted to do was learn to paint with oils, but the learning curve seemed steep and intimidating. When I saw Zaria Forman's iceberg and glacier pastel drawings for the first time a few years ago, it inspired me to take up pastels. Around the same time, I also happened to take up landscape photography as a hobby, so I had a bunch of beautiful photos to reference. In 2017 I created my first landscape in pastel, and that was really the beginning of it all. Then in 2019 I decided to finally teach myself to learn oil paints, and that’s now my main medium.
“I wanted to take that leap, but it was never the right time.”
I found it hard to get any real momentum with my artwork while I was working at my other jobs, especially since my art is so intricate and it takes a lot to get in the zone for it, so it was hard to work on it in little patches of time here and there. I wanted to take that leap into being a full time artist, but it was never the "right time.” Then in 2018 I had an episode of Multiple Sclerosis which tends to attack things like your vision and fine motor skills, and that was a huge reminder that life is short and anything can happen. That was really the catalyst I needed to make me commit full time to my artwork. My partner Sarah has played a major role in my becoming a full time artist, and I really couldn’t have done it without her. I knew I would have sparse income for a while, but I am so lucky that she fully believes in me and my work and has supported me in every possible way in this journey.
Why do you use the medium you use? Did it take you a while to find the right fit for yourself? Have you tried out a lot of different mediums?
I only did pastels for a couple years and then I stopped. I was afraid of doing oils since it seems like there’s so much chemistry involved and rules involved – it could deteriorate long term. Pastels feel so much more approachable. It was a good gateway drug and I really love pastels but I started to run into problems. Having every piece framed behind glass is very expensive. If you leave it out, it will collect dust. I started hitting a wall with the difficulty of shipping pieces framed with glass.
Last year, after I spent months and months researching how to use oils, Sarah and my mother bought me some oil paints and supplies, and I took the plunge. It's so much easier to get detail in with oils, because you can wait for it to dry and layer it. Plus you don't need to frame it to have it on display, and they're much easier to ship.
What’s the scariest part about painting for you?
I have so much anxiety that I’m trying to let go of. Usually getting started is the hardest part for me. The under-layers affect the finished look, and I’m very rigid and perfectionistic. I want it to be the best it can be. Even if I cover it up – it feels like there’s this flawed part of the painting.
I procrastinate - not because I'm lazy, but because I'm terrified of making mistakes. I'm just really hard on myself. It's the biggest thing holding me back.
What is your best artist habit?
Even when I'm not actively painting, I'm using every bit of time to work on it in some way whether it's updating the website, answering emails/DMs, brainstorming ideas, writing Instagram captions, taking reference photos, I'm constantly doing something.
The business side of art comes fairly easy to me, but takes up a lot of time. I paint quite slowly, so I usually don’t have a lot of new content to put out. It feels like a lot of pressure.
How has your work changed over the years? Has it grown with you?
My art has grown with me in so many ways. I've shifted from landscapes to painting figures, which has felt like going home for me. When I was growing up I would pretty much only draw people, and it wasn’t until taking up landscape photography that I took an interest in scenes. It’s nice to do both, but I feel a particular pull to the human figure.
I really like working from my own photos, because it feels fully like my own creation. It used to seem really hard to get photos of people for reference, which is another reason why I focused on landscapes before, but now I realize it’s very doable. Sarah has become my figure model which has been super helpful and inspiring.
Strict photo-realism used to be my aim, but then I got to know more people’s art and became really drawn to paintings that look more like paintings with visible brush strokes and drips.
“I really like working from my own photos, because it feels fully like my own creation.”
Do you create your art in collections or random pieces? Is that intentional?
I would like to work more in collections – I think it keeps you focused. It makes your work more cohesive so it really resonates with people. They like to see different variations of a color palette or subject.
Right now I'm working on three different collections: one West Coast ocean collection and two figure collections.
One is my Works Created in Isolation that I started while in quarantine. The idea was: all I have is me, Sarah, my camera, and our apartment. I took these reference photos, and the entire collection was started and finished in the confines of our isolation space. That’s kind of the concept for that one. The other figure collection is based off other people’s reference photos. I was inspired by Taylor Swift’s folklore album and that whimsical, nostalgic vibe. It's a very small series of black and white pieces like memories of a simpler time – I'm almost done with that one.
Is it hard to be an artist?
Doing art like this is really hard work, and people think if you’re naturally talented you sit down and paint and something magically appears.
People get discouraged without understanding the work and mental stamina that goes into it from practicing regularly to learning color theory. Its such intense work. I don’t want people to think it's something you're born with.
If you’re willing to put into the work, you can do it too.
Amy Webber is an oil painter living in Calgary, Alberta. See more of her work at amywebberart.com or @amywebberart.