Tom Ward, Peer Gallery
The voice on the phone didn't sound apologetic.
"We have to do it now," he said. "The light is PERFECT."
"You're kidding, right?" He had to be.
"No, I'm not. It's ideal. You'll see... I'll be by in 10 minutes."
I will be forgiven for wondering if this was an elaborate joke. I made plans a couple of months before with watercolor painter Tom Ward. I'd practice karate on the rocks at Chebucto Head while he'd snap photographs, later to be transformed into two engaging landscapes that would be presented to my two karate instructors, both of whom were about to attain fifth-degree black belts.
Trouble was, this perfect day was also the year's coldest, a frigid minus 20 Celsius, compounded by brisk winds blowing off the Atlantic. With only a karate gi covering a thin pair of longjohns, Ward wasn't going to be the only person suffering for his art.
But he was right. The afternoon was wonderful. Light from the setting sun seemed golden and warm and liquid, bathing the rocks with shadow and nuance. It made for two beautiful watercolors, and a story that improves with each telling.
Ward still laughs at the memory. "Yeah, that was a good day."
This 53-year-old Nova Scotian has always found comfort and inspiration in nature, and his keen attention to detail and artistic sensibilities allow him to see so much that others might miss. His paintings capture a place that I love, in both detail and emotion.
"I've always been interested in light," Ward says, "the quality of the light and shadow, how it changes through the day, and the patterns that it makes."
Given Ward's predilection for the light's subtleties, it probably isn't surprising that he chose to work with watercolors, a medium favored for its delicacy. Ironically though, Ward's paintings are deep and rich. Strong, saturated colours are balanced with the medium's defining translucency to create art that is vibrant and immediate.
Interestingly, painting wasn't Ward's first calling, or even his second. He was always doodling and drawing cartoons in high school, but when it came time for university, his pragmatic Scottish upbringing held sway, and he chose science. After a geology degree, then four years as an oceanography technician, he chose to follow his heart, enrolling in the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design.
Even at this renowned institute, practicality won out, and his studies focused on the more marketable fields of graphic arts and art education. He graduated in 1991. But after teaching for a year, a chronic back problem — from his days as competitive cyclist — flared, making teaching impossible. Forced to take an indefinite leave of absence, his partner Helen suggested that he use the time to explore, and see just how good a painter he could become.
Influenced by East Coast realists like Hopper, Wyeth, and Christopher and Mary Pratt, he set to work painting life along Nova Scotia's rugged coastline. Finally, after close to a year, he produced a painting that sent chills up his spine. I can do this, Ward remembers thinking.
He gathered enough courage to approach a local art gallery. His first solo show, at the Moorings Gallery in 1993, sold out. He's been painting fulltime since.
The Ward family lives in Indian Point, a hop, skip and a jump away from Mahone Bay, Nova Scotia, a gorgeous town filled with historic homes and talented people. Indian Point is a working community, where the sea still shapes life profoundly.
The family's century-old farmhouse is a work in progress, slowly being restored to its former glory. Ward speaks of honouring the memories of the people who both built and lived here, of keeping their work intact. Across the street sits a busy mussel farm, owned by good friends. Saunter down the street, you come across Bill Lutwick's boat-building workshop. Indian Point feels like the quintessential maritime village.
"I like living in this area, being on the edge of a land mass," Ward says. "I'm not sure exactly why it affects me (personally), but I see how it affects my work. I like the changes in the weather, how that brings changes in light and perspective, and how we have four distinct seasons. If I wanted to, I could pick one subject. On a bright, clear day, I'd have one painting. On another day, with a heavy fog or mist, you wouldn't recognize it as the same place. I could spend months painting the same subject, and every painting would be (dramatically) different."
Although seascapes and landscapes are common themes, recent work in portraiture has opened a new creative vein, and new possibilities. Ward's eyes sparkle when he talks of upcoming projects. In fact, you get the impression that the days aren't long enough. Not that he'd ever complain.
"I'm just so happy," he says, "to be doing what I love."
Story by Richard Levangie
Site 11, Comp 10, RR#2
Mahone Bay, Nova Scotia B0J 2E0