No place like home: Victoria Dark's watercolour illustrations celebrate where we live
OTTAWA -- During her three years with the federal government, Victoria Dark believed she’d likely become a career civil servant.
“I thought if I left the government I would waste the opportunity of a lifetime. So, I wasn’t planning on leaving, ever,” said the 26-year-old.
Then one day, on a whim, she decided to do a watercolour painting of her parents’ cottage; a creative gesture to honour their wedding anniversary.
“And it actually turned out,” she laughed.
Dark shared her work on Instagram to show her followers what she had created.
“And then I got one friend asking me to do one for her parents, and another friend asking me to do one for her parents, and it kind of just snowballed.”
With no formal art training, Dark began taking commissions and filling orders.
“I ended up making more money with the paintings than I did from my part-time job with the government.”
She also discovered how much she loved to draw and paint.
“Expressing yourself every day. There’s nothing like it.” said Dark.
So, surprising even herself, Dark left her federal government job.
“I told them I wanted to give painting a shot and they were actually very supportive. It was a huge relief because all this pressure I felt from trying to please other people was kind of gone. It was the best decision I ever made,” she said.
The proof of that decision is in the numbers. Dark’s illustrations of homes and buildings in Ottawa are in high demand. She says she is humbled by the interest in her art.
“People are so kind because they want to support local right now, so everyone’s looking for online artists. It’s been all word of mouth. At the beginning I started posting on Reddit and I got a lot of support from people there,” said Dark.
“I remember telling my sister ‘if I get two a week, I’ll be happy’. But then I ended up with 42 orders in 35 days to finish.
She finished every one of them, delivering her last painting to a customer on Christmas Day.
Dark says there are many reasons clients want a watercolour memory of their homes.
“A lot of people who are my age, millennials to mid-twenties, their parents are downsizing, so their childhood homes are going up for sale. They’re purchasing these illustrations as their parents move on to the next chapter. They want to encapsulate the life-time of memories that go into it.
“People are buying their first homes, so they are giving them as gifts to their partners, or spouses, or boyfriends, or girlfriends, so they can put it on the wall and make it their first art piece of this new journey.
“I have one client, she was so sweet, her grandmother had just sold the house and moved into a long-term care facility. I do calligraphy underneath my paintings, if it’s requested, and she wanted to put ‘Nona’s House.’ It was just so special. Even though these homes mean nothing to me, I can sometimes sense the attachment to them,” she said.
Using a pencil sharpener Dark has owned since high school, and a ‘free’ ruler she found at her mom’s house, Dark works from photographs she’s taken, or from images she’s received from clients. She uses high quality paper, heritage brushes and mixes her own colours to match the distinct tones and landscapes of every home.
“Not everyone’s brick is the same colour. Everyone has different coloured flowers and different characteristics you want to capture,” she said.
She believes her technical drawing talents are inherited from her father, an engineer.
“He would come home and do blueprint sketches, or just drawings. I guess I watched him do it and learned from him.”
Although she’s elated to be painting other people’s homes, Dark has no immediate plans to settle into one of her own. She and her partner, Kevin Nault, a videographer, have different dreams.
“We’re planning on moving into a van and travelling across the country. I didn’t know what I was going to do to make money, or for a career, but I realized I can do this (paint) anywhere. So, the goal is to hit the road in 2021 in the summer.
“I want to do landmarks across the country and then sell them as prints in my online store, so I can expand beyond Ottawa.”
Though Dark says she’s never worked harder in her life, she’s grateful to have discovered her artist within. By venturing into unknown territory, she’s found her way home.
“It was such an eye-opening experience that you can make changes and learn something new at any point in your life, as long as you give yourself the permission.”
You can visit Victoria Dark's website here.