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Tia Gillespie – An OCAD University Graduate, Professional Artist from Canada

By in Interviews

1 comment

Being an artist

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Please give us a few words of introduction about yourself

I am an emerging artist based in Kingston ON Canada. I graduated from OCAD University with a Major in Drawing & Painting and a Minor in Art History. I completed my final year at OCAD U in Florence Italy, through their Florence Program, using my time to paint and travel. I graduated in 2011 and have since been building my professional practice.

When did you decide to pursue art as a career?

Growing up I was forever creating things; sculpture, clothes, drawings, paintings, poetry, any medium I could use to make something from nothing. In 2006 I took a course called Creative Arts run by Karen Peperkorn. The program allowed me to focus on building a portfolio that I could use to apply to college and universities. It was Karen who opened my eyes to my talent and convinced me that I could go places with it. She encouraged me to apply to OCAD where I was accepted. Everything started to snowball from there. In my first year at OCAD I acquired representation by “Latitude 44” an Art Gallery in Toronto and sold my first piece through the Gallery. It was then I started to imagine art as a career.

I always took my work and my desire seriously but it was when I graduated from OCAD U and the commissions started coming in that I realized the demand and reality of creating artwork as a profession.

What training did you have?

I began my studies with a one year Creative Arts program here in Kingston. I continued on to OCAD University in Toronto for a four year degree program. I completed my final year in their Florence Italy Studio graduating with a Bachelor of Fine Arts.

What has been the high point of your career so far?

The high point of my career so far has been experiencing first-hand how deeply artwork can affect people. I frowned upon commission work, hesitating to spend time on an idea that wasn’t my own, until I realized I had it backwards.

If someone has an idea and needs assistance bringing it to fruition, I can help them make it a reality. Artwork is a method of preservation, capturing an idea or a feeling in a work of art is to immortalize it.

Having a stranger come to me with a memory they want to preserve forever and trust me to translate it is a very humbling experience.

General Questions

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What’s your favourite quote?

“Unleash your curiosity and listen to the stories people tell you.”- Hal Wake.
This world and the life within in speak volumes. The only key you need to unlock this amazing gift is to open yourself to what is around you.
If someone wants to divulge something personal, it should be appreciated. Actually hearing what someone has to say is one of the most appreciative things anyone can do.

Who is your favourite artist?

One of my favourite artists at the moment is Jeremy Mann. His figures are full of depth and intensity, while his compositions are quiet and thoughtful. I am amazed when artists can have a perfect balance and duality in their work. It is something I strive for.

What are you aiming for?

My aim is to be able to look back on my career and know I touched people with my work. The only way I can do this is to keep making art. By turning my artistic career into a sustainable business, I can spend the most amount of time creating my artwork.

How will you get there?

By creating a business plan for myself, keeping the commissions coming in while continuing my personal work for exhibits and workshops, I feel I can make stable money through art.

Is anything holding you back?

The most exciting thing is that there is nothing holding me back. My motivation and drive push me closer to achieving my goal. I also have an incredibly supportive and knowledgeable group of people in my life without them I would not be where I am now or be able to get to where I want to go.

You and art


What feelings or reactions do you hope to arouse in people who view your work? Are you ever surprised by reactions that you get?

If my work can make someone pause their life, even for a moment, and contemplate what they’re seeing, or arouse a memory- I feel I have succeeded. Through technique, concept or execution, my goal is to invade someones daily routine and create a new thought. I’m very flattered when someone stops to ponder my work or step forward to see how I painted something.

Being out of school, the harsh reality is that people do not have to care about what I make. If a viewer is willing to contemplate my artwork it is because they genuinely want to and that matters to me. I will make my work one way or another, but being an eternal optimist, I believe that someone, somewhere will connect with what I do and that drives me to share.

When I was in second semester of the Florence Program, my prof, Jean-Christian Knaff was heading one of my critiques and told me something I’ll never forget.

I presented a series of gray scale watercolours depicting a pigeon family that lived outside of my apartment window. In watching their daily lives unfold I saw a very elegant and proud creature. So many people look down on pigeons assuming them dirty and undeserving of attention. I wanted to prove that by giving unlikely creatures a chance you can be surprised by the beauty you will find. During the critique JC said, “You need to make these into a book. People need to see this work. Someone across the world could see this and it could change their life.”

Until that moment I never thought my work could affect anyone else but me. From that selfish place, I have come to a place of knowing that putting my art out into the world will allow people the opportunity to see it and experience it as I do.

A number of my commissions are memorial based, eliciting strong emotional responses of their owners. Tears are the most flattering reaction I’ve ever been gifted with.

From start to finish, how long does it take for you to create your work?

My pieces normally take me between 10-30 hours. Aside from size being a factor there is a time difference between my oil and watercolour processes. My watercolours take longer as I build up the colours through layering, where with my oils I use the alla-prima technique of building my image out from one spot as I go.

What music do you like to listen to when you work?

My music tastes are wide and varied. Anything from Lana Del Ray, to Mumford and Sons, to EDM (Electronic Dance Music) to Drake. I usually get a new album and listen to it on shuffle+repeat for an entire artwork and then move onto a new album. I choose my music depending on the mood of the piece I’m working on.

What are you working on next? Any future plans or projects in the pipeline that we should look out for?

I have some pretty exciting things in the works. A series I have been planning for a few years is finally coming to life. “Until you’re all I see” is the first of the series and I have the opportunity to work with some really amazing and talented people. The series is about the Preservation of Memory. How we, through thought, action, and creation, immortalize the things we care about. Once complete I will be showing the series in Toronto at Latitude 44 Gallery and then here in Kingston. Personally I’m really excited and can’t wait to see everything come together.

Being inspired by art

Who (living or dead) inspires you? and why?

One of my biggest inspirations for the last few years has been Kristy Gordon. An amazing artist I studied with while at OCAD U in Toronto. She is not much older than me, yet has already had an incredible career. She is a representational oil painter currently studying at the New York Academy of Art. Aside from her incredible talent, she is one of the nicest people I have ever met. Kristy has this immediate way of capturing her subject that grabs the viewers’ attention and hold it there. If I was to ever study in someone’s studio, I would choose hers first.

What feelings, subjects or concepts inspire you as an artist?

I’m inspired by ephemerality and the concept of time, organic things that live grow and die, the stories people tell, and the things we choose to spend our energy on. I suppose time is ultimately the driving force behind my work.

What is your favourite work that you’ve produced so far and why?

One of my favourite pieces is “Fidelity”. It captures a moment between my dog and I.
The creation of this work was very spontaneous; I thought of the painting in the morning, took the photo, started it that day and finished it a week later. I often try to emulate aspects of the painting. It is one piece I truly created for myself.

an artist’s advice

Until youre all I see

For those thinking about turning a passion for art into a career, could you give any advice?

My advice is to take every opportunity that arises, always produce a high quality of work, and remain modest but proud of your success. Go for your goal head on.

If you are passionate about your craft and are willing to put in the time and effort to perfect it, you will always be successful.

Like any entrepreneurial avenue, it takes more then ‘liking to paint’ to become a self-sustaining artist, but I can say from personal experience it’s one of the most gratifying decisions I’ve made in my life.

At this point in my career I’m the most excited I’ve ever been, and it’s in anticipation for all of the things to come.

Any tips on how to get your work seen and get the commissions coming in?

One of the things that I have found helpful has been sharing with people in person. I get really excited about what I do and I take every opportunity to tell people what I’m working on and show them progress pictures. Shameless self promotion is showing pride in what you do. Confidence in your work and sharing your excitement is infectious. It not only feeds others excitement about what you’re doing, but builds confidence in you as an artist and encourages them to invest in you and your work.

I am also blessed to have an amazing partner who is incredibly supportive putting in countless hours spearheading all of my online marketing. Thank you Bradley!

Brad Devine has facilitated access to my work for people around the world. My favourite things are his time-lapse videos of my paintings creating a backstage pass into my studio through my YouTube channel.

Thank you ArtWeb for the honor of being interviewed! Your blog is an incredible space for artists to share insight and hopefully inspire more creative individuals the push to make their dreams a reality.

Check out more about Tia and her artwork at
On Facebook at
And on Youtube at

1 comment for “Tia Gillespie – An OCAD University Graduate, Professional Artist from Canada

Lana Butler

November 14, 2013 at 4:27 pm

Nicely Done, Tia… Very inspiring!!

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