Here at Cottage Life, we realize how hard the COVID-19 pandemic has hit local businesses. To do our part, we’ll be highlighting the stories of different businesses in cottage country. This week, we spoke with Victoria Dark, artist and owner of Victoria Dark Illustrations in Naven, Ont.
What is Victoria Dark Illustrations?
I’m Victoria Dark and I paint commissioned watercolours of people’s cottages, homes, and landmark buildings.
How did you to start the business?
Before the pandemic, I was interested in photography and dance, but I never would have described myself as an “artist.” But in May 2020 I had the crazy idea to paint my parents’ cottage in the 1000 Islands, near Rockport, for their 34th anniversary. After seven gruelling hours, I somehow managed to capture the place we call “home.”
I posted the image on a private Instagram account and a good friend asked me to paint her cottage for her parents’ anniversary. And then another friend reached out. And another. Before long I had my first commission from a stranger.
At the time, I was working for the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change as a species-at-risk biologist. Because of COVID-19, my job was cut back to part-time, and I wasn’t getting benefits or a pension. I was doing this in my spare time, but ended up making more money with paintings than I was in my part-time job.
This was making me much happier than data entry — go figure — so last October I handed in my resignation. No regrets!
What is your process for painting?
One of the great things about painting is that you can do it anywhere. But I do have an old folding secretary’s desk that I have set up in a very sunny part of my house. I use natural light as much as possible because it helps bring out the colours.
I get a reference photo from my clients that I print out to scale. I sketch it out with a pencil, then go over it with ink. I use the watercolours in a couple of layers. It takes me two to six hours for each painting.
My tools are Princeton-Heritage Collection brushes, Holbein Artist Watercolour paint, Arches Aquarelle paper that’s 100 percent cotton, an old ruler I found in my Mom’s junk drawer, and my high-school pencil sharpener.
Do you have any favourite images?
Obviously, my favourite is my family cottage. But anything I do for family or a friend is special. The log cottage I did for my friend’s parents’ anniversary is a place I grew up going to so that was very sentimental. Plus, the logs were really hard to sketch and paint accurately. I did a few versions of that one. I actually gave it to them on Christmas Day, so I felt a bit like Santa Claus. I also do landmarks, such as the Museum of Nature and the distinctive yellow Aberdeen Pavilion event space, both in Ottawa.
My Dad thought it was very important that I point out that we’re very keen cottagers, and that I plan on painting Boldt Castle this summer. The Museum of Nature was for a client who could see the museum from his apartment. It was a gift for his wife. That one took me three days, which is three days longer than I expected! But I have made prints of it and have sold a few on my website.
Is the business going well?
Since I resigned from my government job — my Mom really wants me to go back — I haven’t looked back! I had a big rush last Christmas, and I currently have a wait list of six to seven weeks.
I’m still learning how to get traffic to my website, VictoriaDarkIllustrations.com. Hopefully this story will help! I’m also on Instagram, Facebook, and Reddit. The people on Reddit are really interactive. I’m also developing my Pinterest account.
How much is a painting?
Right now, I offer four sizes: $175 for a 5×7, $200 for 8×10, $250 for 11×14, and $300 for 16×20.
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