If you’re a collector of Canadian art, a Jolene Mackie piece is essential. Known for her robots, ships and moons in surreal and whimsical landscapes, you will see her work all over the Okanagan Valley in British Columbia’s interior.
Based in Kelowna, BC, Jolene graduated from the Emily Carr University in 2009 with a Bachelor of Fine Arts. As a professional oil painter who exhibits across BC, her work is in private collections worldwide.
Jolene has always acknowledged the artist within. “I was raised with two very creative parents who instilled in me a love of making things. Some of my fondest memories are times when I would be alone in my bedroom, or spread out in the backyard with art materials, just playing and making art.”
When she began making art professionally, Jolene struggled with imposter syndrome and often referred to herself as a ‘painter’ instead of an ‘artist’. “It has taken me time, but the title of artist works much better to encapsulate the many facets of making art full-time. I’m not just a painter these days as my practice has expanded to printmaking, drawing, and collage.”
In Jolene’s world, the purpose of art has many layers. “For myself as an artist, creativity is a tool I use to try to understand myself and my place in the world. I have always found the act of creating to be meditative. When my hands and head are busy making decisions in the moment, I am pulled out of my worries about the past and future. I struggle with anxiety and depression, and I find my creative practice is something that helps me mitigate the side effects.”
The connectivity and relationships that Jolene builds through her art are very valuable to her. “By making honest work that speaks to me and my own interests and curiosities, I am finding my like-minded tribe in the world. I think art has so much power to remind us of our humanity, and to connect with each other.”
Jolene takes inspiration from the world around her, translating those moments and feelings into paint. “I am always inspired by the smallest things — shifting shadows, the shape of leaves, the colours in the clouds — and I try to bring how those moments feel into my work.”
Many of Jolene’s paintings depict a surreal dreamscape universe guided by a robot character. “I often get asked what the name of the character is, and his origin story. This character has been showing up in my sketchbooks for over a decade, and I decided to follow his adventures in paint! I personally love the ambiguity of the character. I love that viewers can bring their own narrative to each piece. I see this character as my muse. I think he is guiding me through these increasingly surreal other-worlds with a sense of curiosity and wonder.”
Jolene can’t picture a life without creativity. “I keep a pretty consistent studio schedule for myself. I work 5 days a week in the studio developing my own work, or working on commission paintings for clients. I always have many projects on the go at different stages of completion. This way of working allows me to tap into whatever energy level I have each day: either a focused attention span to sit with one piece for many hours, or a more flighty attention span that loves to jump from piece to piece. I typically like to start my days with work that is easier to just dive into, like the prep work, or the varnish work that needs to be done. Once I have started, I find the momentum really helps me move into the more tedious and meticulous aspects of my work. I will most often tune into a podcast while I work, especially when I need to be still and focused. I find my music is great for more of the looser prep work!”
When Jolene is away from the studio, she still finds herself working with her hands. “I love playing in my sketchbooks with watercolour paints and drawing materials. I also like gardening and roller-skating, which feels creative in a whole different way!”
Teaching used to take up a good chunk of Jolene’s time and energy before March 2020. She was in the middle of an oil painting workshop which she had to postpone indefinitely. “I really miss teaching. It’s something that gets me out of the studio and sharing my passion with other people. I have found so much joy though this creative practice, and oil painting specifically, that I love sharing these tools with anyone who is interested. I love to host group workshops, but also work privately in my studio with individual artists on a weekly basis.”
It has been over a year since Jolene has taught group classes. “I have considered transitioning to virtual classes, but paint is so tactile. I haven’t been able to figure out an online course that works for me yet. I love the ability to connect with a wider audience online, I just need to make sure I approach it in a way that is still wrapped up with my passion and love for the medium. I also think we learn so much from each other in a group setting, so at the moment I’m just waiting for a time that it is safe to continue with my teaching.”
Jolene loves the variety of opportunities that come her way through commissioned work. “The easiest and most fun projects for me are open-ended projects. I love when clients will peruse my website, tell me which pieces they love, what colour scheme and size they want, and leave most of the creation to me. I love working with people to make their vision come to life. For me, part of that is sharing the process of creation. I love taking process photos and videos that give clients a behind-the-scenes look at how their painting is built! However, I also love projects that challenge and push me outside of my comfort zone — that is where the growth happens. I’m lucky enough that I have the option to say no to any project that doesn’t feel right. What I love to do is to refer my artist friends. It’s awesome being part of such a diverse community of creatives in the Okanagan, because if someone comes to me seeking work that I don’t make, I have a wonderful roster of referrals for a variety of styles of work!”
The pandemic has affected the way most people work, and it has definitely shifted Jolene’s work, too. “I have put more energy into my online platforms, and have been really enjoying the community on TikTok! I share my art videos, and have had the opportunity to ship originals and prints all across the continent. One element that has sprung up for me over the last year has been playing with holographic and colour-shifting pigment powders in my work. I have loved working with gold and silver leaf accents over the years, but have just this year learned how to incorporate a wide variety of pigment powders into my oil paintings. There is something about these shiny and eye-catching elements in an original work that really make it special when you see it in real life. I love when the work feels different depending on how the light catches it; there is something magical about it. When paired with my increasingly surreal imagery, I feel like these little details really make the work transcend reality.”
While life has been unpredictable and no one can plan a direction with complete certainty, Jolene has goals and ideas that keep her going. “I have been renovating my studio in my home to work more efficiently, including an art storage area. I worked on a private mural this summer, and hope to create more public art going forward! In 2020, I installed a mural for the Vernon Public Art Gallery in their neighbouring parkade, and worked on a ‘Mini Mural’ exhibit at Cannery Brewing which was coordinated by the Penticton Art Gallery. I would also love to travel more with my work. 2019 took me to Chicago for my first international exhibit, and to Toronto for a painting competition. I miss those opportunities to explore the world and share my art. Fingers crossed that is in our near future!”
A rotating selection of Jolene Mackie’s artwork can be seen and purchased at Karmyc Bazaar in Kelowna, BC. Her work is also featured at the Tumbleweed Gallery in Penticton, at the Lovecraft Gallery in Tofino, and at Cannery Brewing in Penticton (mini mural project). You can also find Jolene’s original paintings, prints, calendars, necklaces and apparel in her online shop.
The banner image at the top of this page is a commissioned (sold) oil painting titled Wonderland, 2021, 48″ x 18″ by Jolene Mackie.