Design & DIY

This artist’s Georgian Bay cottage is a classic, colourful gem

You can usually find one of artist Kara McIntosh’s abstract paintings of Georgian Bay hanging above the living room sofa in her Pointe au Baril, Ont., cottage. But move to the dining room, and fine art quickly gives way to arts and crafts: the entire back wall is lined with glitter-covered paper plate awards earned by her three kids (now young adults) during summer camp at the nearby Ojibway Club. “One year, my daughter won the ‘Crazy for the Cliffs’ award because she was always asking to go cliff jumping,” Kara says. “Everyone’s a winner of some kind. And the older the awards are, the more washed out the construction paper has become.”

These types of family memories were exactly what Kara had in mind when she bought the 2,350-sq.-ft. cottage with her husband, Jeff Taylor, back in 2001. “Georgian Bay is such a beautiful landscape—it has this rugged geology, magnificent pine trees, and clear water that make it a very magical, spiritual place to explore,” she says. “And I wanted my kids to have that sense of wonder and curiosity that comes from spending time in nature.”

Built in the early 1930s on its own small island, Kara and Jeff’s cottage had been owned by just two other families before they moved in. “We took possession on September 9, 2001,” Kara says. “We were up here when 9/11 happened with only the radio, so it was quite a dramatic start.” She quickly grew to appreciate the rustic building for its comforting sense of history. “A few of the ceiling boards even have handprints on them from when they were being laid,” she says. “They’re visual reminders of the work that went into the building in the first place.”

In 2012, Kara and Jeff added a small bunkie that contains their bedroom, a bathroom, and a compact second sitting area. As a newer build, it is much better sealed and far easier to keep warm in the late spring or early fall, when the couple fires up a sleek woodstove from Danish company Rais.

Another update came when Kara converted one of the main cottage’s downstairs bedrooms into a painting studio by taking out the bunk beds and moving in her supplies. (She does keep one bed there for overflow guests.) Located on the cooler side of the cottage, the studio’s windows face south and east, which welcomes indirect daytime light that lends itself well to painting. “I can only work on a few big pieces at a time there because I don’t have a ton of wall space to hang in-progress stuff,” Kara says. “But I love the wonky wood floors and wood walls.”

Now a full-time career, her creative practice developed slowly at first, spurred by an artistic drive that she only began to feel in adulthood. After taking a few painting classes, she experimented with several techniques before eventually committing to oils. As her kids spent their summers learning canoeing, sailing, and tennis at camp, Kara honed her style. Georgian Bay made for a natural subject.

While she started off painting realistic representations of its raw terrain, she has since moved into more expressionist territory. This is reflected in her colour palette, which includes the earthy hues that you see in more traditional Canadian landscape paintings, mixed with electric pinks and teals. “I don’t believe that I need to use only the colours that I see,” Kara says. “Instead, I’m thinking more about how the colours respond and react to each other—so I might use purple to hint at shadows, for example.”

During the summer, she paints en plein air. Many mornings, she sets off in her tin boat with her oil paints and a small canvas in a latched wooden box that she can mount on a tripod or rest on her lap once she’s found a vista or a rock grouping that catches her eye. “It’s faster, looser, and more free,” she says of working outdoors. “There’s wind, and the light is changing, so you need to be quick.” Sometimes she will take the paintings from these sessions back to
her cottage studio (or to her larger Collingwood studio) to use as inspiration for bigger pieces—including hooked-wool and silk textile works, which she started creating a few years ago.

She has displayed her canvases in many exhibitions over the years, but Kara still remembers hanging her paintings for the first time back in 2015 at the Ojibway Club’s annual art show. “It was a super safe, supportive audience,” she says. “I brought six little paintings, and I sold every one.” She is now the co chair of the event, and plans to paint fresh pieces for this year’s show throughout June. “By getting lost in the meanderings of the landscape, I’m also getting lost in my own interior thoughts,” she says. “It’s a way to explore myself.” If Kara were awarded a paper plate for her summers at the cottage, surely it would be for Biggest Artistic Awakening. Such is the power of Georgian Bay.

Eric Mutrie is a senior editor at Azure, where he covers architecture and design.

This story originally appeared in the June/July ’23 issue of Cottage Life.

Beyond rock and pine

Kara shares her tips for getting the right mix of cottage art.

Keep it personal
“Go with what you love and respond to—either because of an emotional connection to the artist or to the art itself,” Kara says.

Think about sun damage
Kara is careful to keep all paintings (and watercolours especially) out of direct sunlight, which causes fading. For works framed behind glass, she recommends UV-protective, museum-quality glazing.

But don’t be too precious
“Occasionally spider poop or dead flies might get on some of the art that we have up here,” Kara admits. “But that’s all just part of the charm.”

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