Wednesday, March 9, 2011


Here is an interview I did with Marilyn over at La Salonniere a few weeks ago. She talks to all kinds of fun people, pop by and have a read. I have known Marilyn for many years, she is a brilliant poet and writer. I thought I would post it here for posterity.

Artist and photographer Shelagh Duffett is brimming with creativity. She paints delightful folk art, shoots gorgeous photographs and even creates her own recipes. Shelagh resides in Halifax, Nova Scotia and is mother to an almost 21 year-old daughter and guardian of a plump grey tabby named Monty. I’m so very pleased to feature her here and hope you enjoy our conversation about some of her creative endeavors.

1. Shelagh, when did you decide you wanted to make your living as an artist?

When I was little, my dad got the idea of using white shelving paper (which came in long rolls) for me to draw on and as a result, the most amazing murals were duly created by tiny me, landscapes which morphed into seascapes, into fairy lands into random scribblings into outer space...all manner of things. I still have one of those rolls and it amazes me when I look at it! Very inspiring. Tells me that I was always creative.

My first "real" job was as a film editor for television news and that evolved into camerawork and producing, directing, etc. for various networks and private companies. So I guess images have always been a huge component of my working life. The painting came purely by accident.

In 1999 we had an old Huckleberry Hound lunch box that I did not want. I'd heard that they were quite collectible so decided I would sell it. Our local flea market was not an option and I had heard about eBay and wanted to give it a whirl. At that time, there was only "eBay," no eBay.CA or UK or whatever, it was in its infancy. Well...the lunch box sold for $125. Hooray! I immediately scoured the house for teacups and interesting bits I could sell. In the meantime, I had been given a box of acrylic paints for my birthday and for fun had painted a quirky folky fish. One day, I was looking at it and thought, "Hmmm, eBay has an art section..." I listed it, and it sold to a person in California! I was delighted and then felt guilty that maybe the buyer thought I was a "real" Nova Scotia folk artist. I immediately painted another to assuage my guilt and that sold to someone in Toronto, the next painting went to Vancouver and the rest is history! I've been doing it ever since. It enabled me to stay home with my daughter as she grew up.

2. Has your creative path taken any surprising turns that you didn’t anticipate when you began your artistic journey?

My art has definitely improved since I started. The old answer is true, "How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice, practice, practice." I think the surprising thing to me is that I am still doing it. My art is all over the world now and I have to admit that gives me a thrill.

3. Your folk art paintings are colorful, vibrant and fun. Do you have a painting schedule you like to keep, or do you wait for the muse to strike?

I used to paint almost every day whether I wanted to or not. It was my "job" and I had to paint to earn money. The more I painted, the easier the ideas came and the process of sitting at my art table became part of my daily routine. Now that I sell prints of my work, the pressure has eased a bit and I am not painting as much as I used to. I'm also busier with blogging and market selling and doing work for other venues. I hope to get back at it in a more regular way this month.

4. Have photography and painting always coexisted in your creative life or did you come to photography later?

Photography came first. My dad had a camera and used to develop his own pictures when he was younger. I was fascinated by the process. I bought my first camera when in my late teens and have been taking pictures ever since. I actually prefer photography over painting. I think it is the immediacy and simplicity that appeals. You compose with your eye and then just click the shutter. Painting is much harder, more time and skill involved. A bigger investment of yourself.

5. How does photography complement your painting and/or vice versa?

I think that they are both about composition, colour and light. The way the eye travels around the image. The feeling I want to evoke. They are similar. I like graphic simple images with lovely light.

6. You’ve sold some of your photographs via stock photography sites. Can you share an example of how one of your photos was adapted that particularly delighted you?

Gosh, I have only come across a few examples and quite by accident. In microstock photography, once your image is sold the purchaser can do what they want within the guidelines of the license. One usage that pleased me was randomly coming across one of my pictures of junk food on Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution site. It was used as an example of what not to eat but exciting nonetheless (not there anymore). That picture was also used in a biology textbook in Hong Kong. An image of the Eiffel Tower was used in the Philadelphia International Flower Show's poster. One of my most popular photographs of a pair of red shoes has been used by an Italian advertising agency in their logo. That one was seen by someone else and reported to me. Really, it is rare to come across one's own microstock images in use.

7. You write a wonderful blog, Alice in Paris Loves Art and Tea, which came in 2nd in the People’s Choice award in the 2010 Canadian Weblog Awards. As a successful artist, why is blogging important to you?

Thanks, Marilyn! Blogging is important to me because it is another creative outlet. It also helps me to spread the word about my art (marketing) and things that are important to me (championing). For example, in 2009 I read the book Three Cups of Tea and was very moved by the work done by Greg Mortensen. I decided to take action and with the help of my blog readers we raised over $1000 for his foundation. I also love the friendships I have made and the ideas I discover through blogging. I find it quite inspirational at times.

8. The recipes you post on your blog look positively scrumptious, yet seem easy enough that even a non-cook like me could make them. You’ve even authored a cookbook, Nova Scotia Potluck. What local dish do you recommend that visitors try?

Gee, that's a tough one. I suppose fish chowder or fresh fish and chips would be what I'd recommend to any visitor coming to Nova Scotia. Depending on the season, maybe blueberry pie or lobster. We've got some great restaurants here and fabulous cooks so one would never have to worry about not eating well.

9. You’ve lived in Halifax most of your life and seem to have a genuine love affair with the city, as evidenced by your beautiful photographs of it. How do you maintain a fresh eye behind the camera when you’re shooting your hometown?

Really, Halifax is an easy city to take pictures of. It is beautiful. I have my camera with me most of the time and I never know when a picture will hit me on the head and say take me! Depends on light and place. One of those weird things, images jump out at me unexpectedly.

10. Recently you’ve sold your artwork at Halifax Seaport Market. What have you enjoyed about the farmers market experience?

The Halifax Seaport Market is a wonderful world class green building right on the harbour and it is filled with light. I have only just started selling there and so far I am enjoying it. I think the location makes a difference; I don't think I could be selling if I was in a dark enclosed space. One thing have to say about the experience is that it is quite different to be talking to customers face to face rather then via an internet connection. Much nicer really. I have enjoyed the people buying and those just chatting and the vendors as well. Working from home is a bit isolating. The internet helps with that but nothing can compare to real humans:)

11. I always love to see your beautiful travel photography. Is there one destination you’d like to visit in 2011? What do you envision photographing once you’re there?

Marilyn, I have no plans for this year, yet...but I would LOVE to walk the Camino de Compostela de Santiago...have wanted to do it for YEARS. Something about a long meandering walk meeting people from all areas of life and different countries, seeing Spain and living simply for a few weeks really appeals to me. Having just said that, New York appeals too. :)


Debra She Who Seeks said...

Hmmm, El Camino or New York -- one extreme to the other! I hope you get to do both.

Pat @ Mille Fiori Favoriti said...

I read this wonderful interview on Marilyn's blog a few weeks ago, Shelagh! It was nice to learn more about you! I hope if you ever do come to NYC again it will be at a time I am not traveling so that we can meet! :)

Mekkan said...

Thank you for sharing this. I'm happy to know more about you.

susanna said...

Terrific interview! Congratulations on the blogging award! That's awesome!

It's a treat to learn more about you, how you got into artwork, and the various creative projects you've been a part of, through this interview. I didn't know that you wrote a cookbook! Cookbooks featuring regional foods are particularly interesting. Is there a link to your cookbook here on your blog...looking...

MsGraysea said...

What a lovely interview, Shelagh! Did we talk before about the El Camino?? Maybe some years back? Anyway, my daughter did it about 10 years ago and it changed her life. She would like to go back again. Have you read Shirley McLain's book about her experience doing the walk? It is called El Camino.
I hope you are able to make that happen. If you would like to be linked with my daughter, just let me know.
I'm a big fan of Monty, by the way.