One Day in the Studio: Joanna Aplin

Posted by Elizaveta Zhurkovskaya on

Joanna Aplin Kefi Art Gallery Canadian abstract figurative artist

Joanna Aplin’s figurative and abstract paintings are clean and captivating. She takes her visual cues from the complexities in nature and the human form, then welcomes a reductive process – knowing it will lead to a simpler, more essential presentation of the subject matter. With a comprehensive grasp of colour theory and an unwillingness to compromise on materials – her acrylic paintings bring about a rich presence for the viewer to behold. We interviewed Joanna to learn more about her practice, inspirations, and what she is working on today.

1. How does your creative day look like and what inspires you to make art?  

My day usually begins with a reflection on how my studio day ended the day before. I journal thoughts from the previous day, and read them over, in order to get a starting point for the day’s work. Having a designated space for creating allows me to have greater focus and self-discipline.  

My studio space greatly inspires me. I love walking into it and seeing all my supplies and works on the wall. I am reminded of the value an artist brings to society and in turn, the privilege of being an art maker. That always sets my heart above my thoughts and emotions. The process of art-making for me is a delicate balance of intuitiveness and order. For instance, if I have made a list of changes to a piece that I want to do, but come into the studio and get an idea of a new piece, I need to go with the spontaneous. This has proven to be good practice for me.

Joanna Aplin Kefi Art Gallery Canadian abstract figurative artist

2. Tell us more about your art studio.

My studio is located in an old building called the Windsor Hotel, which was built in the 1920s.  I’m on the third floor which is filled with other creatives such as jewelry makers, photographers, and writers. When I first saw the room, it looked like a bomb had gone off in there, but I liked it - a lot. I could feel that internal excitement of having a designated, creative space where I could be free to unleash ideas. That connection to a physical space doesn’t always happen. With good planning and some heavy-duty cleaning, it eventually grew into the vision I originally had for it.

Joanna Aplin Kefi Art Gallery Canadian abstract figurative artist

3. How did you first get interested in your medium?

I had very good high school art teachers - both specializing in sculpture and painting. Acrylic paint wasn’t as good of quality as it is today, but that was all the school had to offer so I learned to work with what was available. By the end of high school, I had done so many paintings with acrylic that I felt very confident to keep using it while in University.  

4. Describe your style in one sentence.

My style is intuitive (free) yet intentional (focused). 

Joanna Aplin Kefi Art Gallery Canadian abstract figurative artist

5. Has your style changed over time?

Definitely. Working full time as an artist has matured my skill, and developed a more refined approach to art making. It’s also allowed me greater freedom and confidence to take risks - whether that be to keep moving forward with an idea or hold back and wait on it.

6. What are your main artistic tools?

Brushes and drawing sticks are like an extension of my hand. A close second is the palette knife because of its rebellious bold ability to add levels of color with loose, frayed edges. 

Joanna Aplin Kefi Art Gallery Canadian abstract figurative artist


7. Do you ever experience creativity blocks and how do you stay positive and inspired?  

Yes, I do. My husband who is an artist himself, completely understands the creative process but from a musical perspective. He is good to speak ‘release’ over me if I start to go to “negative town”, reminding me that not every work will be a masterpiece. It’s humbling but true, and that keeps me balanced. It’s also a good reminder that creating art is as much experiential as it is productive. If I do not have vision for the “next piece” - I will simply sketch. Whether it be life drawing or imaginative drawing, these little “sketches” have often times led to some of my favorite pieces.  

Other sources of inspiration include walks in the escarpment, listen to water flow in the river, people watching, or even just listen to the laughter of the jeweler makers echo down the hall at my studio. It all celebrates Life and brings me through those creative lulls.  And finally, if I’m struggling with a piece, I will put myself to work with mundane tasks like jobs around our home that I’ve been procrastinating on. After a couple of days, I am ready to work back into things with ‘fresh’ eyes and a renewed energy. 

Joanna Aplin Kefi Art Gallery Canadian abstract figurative artist

8. What artists - either contemporary or from history - have had an impact on you and your art practice?  

I love this question because I am a lover of art history. In regards to specific influences, I would say over the past five years, Henri Matisse’s figures, the sculptures and drawings of Henry Moore, Edgar Degas, and early Rembrandt Van Rijn drawings have all influenced my figure painting. My landscape paintings reflects the influence of JMW Turner, Andrew Wyeth, and Peter Wileman. Their works deeply move my spirit. In terms of contemporary influence, Deborah Tarr and Iryna Yermolova both use color in such dynamic ways that inspire me to play more with my placement, application, and choice of color.

9. Do you think the art world has changed or will be changing due to the pandemic? If yes, how?

I feel the pandemic required much patience, resilience, and pivoting from the art world. I’ve noticed in the last couple of years that art-making videos are very therapeutic for the viewer.  Artists are becoming more transparent with their process and it is opening a way for a greater understanding and hopefully a greater appreciation of artists (and their work). I am encouraged to see more people exploring their creative side and taking classes to learn the skills behind art making.

Another interesting by-product of the pandemic was that people really started to think more about their living space and how they want to personalize it. Many people started to purged what they don’t like or need and I feel this is a good time for galleries to engage that ‘personal connection with art’ angle and that it does not have to be experienced while at a gallery or museum but it can happen each and every every day in your home. Art goes further than home decor it has the ability to remind us of historical moments and times in our lives and uplift our state of being. 

Joanna Aplin Kefi Art Gallery Canadian abstract figurative artist

10. What project are you working on right now? What would you like to do next?

In regard to my figurative work, I am working on a series that expresses great intimacy with God - and that this intimacy is initiated by Him first. Finding unique poses, possibly cropped angles of the figure that show the pure essence of how God sees us and loves us. 

I have an ongoing list of potential series of works that I would like to explore in the near future. There is one that is very close to my heart, but I am waiting for more emotional preparation and vision. It is a series of figures that I find in and amongst the rubble of a demolished barn. This barn has a lot of memories of my dad and we recently sold our family farm, which has heightened my journey of how life changed after his death. There is definitely an element of redemption and the beauty in something made ‘new’ that will be the focus of that series.

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