Featured Artist for August 2019 – Nancy MacDonald


I grew up in Trenton, a small industrial town on Nova Scotia’s Northumberland shore. I studied
at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design in Halifax, graduating in 1991 with a BFA in
painting and photography. My first job out of college was as a staff photographer and darkroom
technician for the Evening News in New Glasgow, NS where I was working when the Westray
Mine disaster occurred on May 9,1992—a devastating experience that I will never forget. Not
long after, I decided to take some time to some travel and explore new possibilities.

After an eventful road trip across Canada and the Northern US, I travelled to the Bay Area of
California to spend some time with my brother, Ian, who was working in the midst of the 1990’s
dotcom tech boom. This new creative environment inspired me to start using digital art-making
tools like Photoshop which ultimately led to contract work in the Bay Area, Toronto and then to a
full-time job with a video game developer, Artech Studios, in Ottawa. I have been fortunate to
have had a 25-year career as a digital artist and graphic designer, creating images for
everything from video games to children’s books for companies such as Disney, EA, Scholastic
and Hasbro. It would seem that a fine art’s degree wasn’t a “waste of time” after all.

Ten years ago, after many years of living in the city and working in a fast-paced environment, I
decided it was time to slow down a little and find a home back in Nova Scotia which held the
inspiration of unspoiled nature that I missed. I think that most “Maritimers” who leave home
never stop feeling the draw of the ocean, something that’s pretty hard to resist. I now live on 7
acres of Acadian forest along the LaHave River, just outside of Bridgewater, NS. I spend a lot of
time at the stunning beaches on the South Shore or outside hiking with my dog near my
century-old house surrounded by wildflowers, huge old trees and a variety of critters including a
nest of Bald Eagles.

Over the past few years I’ve been moved to get back to my artistic roots and do more hands-
on work, getting messy with pencils and paints. Digital tools helped me develop confidence in
my artistic skills. Their unlimited resources and the much used “undo” button were game
changers but I was feeling the physical effects of years of computer overuse. I also wanted to
rethink the way I was working: Traditional art making involves an entirely different set of
problem-solving and coordination skills, which I felt I was losing.

My recent pet portrait work started when a friend asked me to do a painting of her dog,
something I had never tried before. I really enjoyed the process and loved the outcome,
especially the reaction from the dog’s family! Last summer I began working with oil-based
colored pencils, a very portable medium, so that I could take my tools outside to work on my
front porch which overlooks the river. I can work there, rain or shine, with my dog, Clover,
happily laying at my feet.

My animal portraits have become a bit of a life saver for me. This past year I was diagnosed
with Central Sensitization Syndrome. In simple terms, my central nervous system has gone a bit
haywire and results in chronic, widespread nerve pain, fatigue and brain fog which prevents me
from working full time at the moment. I can, however, work on my drawings, if I pace myself.
The drawings are built using many layers of pencil and take an average of ten hours to
complete. I find the process quite meditative. The best part about this is creating something very
meaningful for my clients. Being able to make art that is guaranteed to put a smile on
someone’s face is gratifying and helps me feel like I am still being as productive I can be while I
adapt to this chronic illness. When I’m able to accomplish it, I plan to have a proper studio
space where I can work on a larger, unrestrained scale, and be free to make a mess. For now, I
am just thrilled to be making art.

You can find more examples of my work on Instagram: @nancy.m.artist , Facebook:
@nancy.m.artist as well as commission info on my website: https://tinyurl.com/yyq7uf7r