– Story by Laura Langston Photography by Don Denton
When Kelly Corbett was eight years old, her mother enrolled her in art lessons. For the shy little girl, it was a big push out of her comfort zone. Unbeknown to Kelly and her mother, however, it was a push towards Kelly’s future.
“I was always drawing, always crafting, and Mom wanted to nurture that,” Kelly says. “I ended up staying with the same instructor until I was in university.”
Today, the 43-year-old Nanoose Bay artist is garnering attention for beautiful and realistic paintings featuring the stunning landscapes and wildlife of Vancouver Island and the Okanagan Valley. While her mother started her down the artistic path, it was her father who helped her foster a love for her subject matter.
“We always went camping or hiking or boating as a family, and we still take annual week-long family kayaking trips together,” Kelly says. “Being in nature inspires my art.”
Born and raised in Chilliwack, Kelly originally wanted to be a marine biologist, but her distaste for chemistry and physics ruled out that career. “So, I decided to follow my talent.”
After graduating with a Fine Arts Diploma from University of the Fraser Valley and a Diploma of Photography from the Western Academy of Photography, Kelly became a professional photographer. She pursued that passion for the next 14 years, though she always found time to paint or draw. It wasn’t until 2014, however, when Kelly moved to the Okanagan with her partner, Joe, that painting became the sole focus of her professional life.
Soon after arriving, Kelly went into the Lloyd Gallery in Penticton to get one of her pen-and-ink drawings framed. She mentioned she was looking for work. Impressed with the detail in her drawing and needing someone on staff who had a meticulous eye, the gallery offered her a job.
After a few months, Kelly worked up the courage to ask her boss if she could show her work in the gallery.
“She wasn’t sure if I could paint enough to be a gallery artist,” Kelly remembers. “I took that as a challenge and decided to try.”
Her boss eventually agreed to display a few of Kelly’s pieces on the back wall near the framing area where there wasn’t much traffic. That first year, Kelly sold 12 paintings. Spurred by her success, Kelly asked if she could display some of her work in the main part of the gallery. In the second year, Kelly sold 36 paintings.
She went on to approach a new gallery every year and she’s now represented by six galleries, including the Mark Penny Gallery in Ucluelet, the Village Gallery in Sidney and the McMillan Arts Centre in Parksville, where she’s also the artist in residence every Friday from 10 am until 3 pm.
Kelly’s work has a strong sense of place. She draws deeply from her surroundings, and she especially loves Vancouver Island. She and Joe moved to Nanoose Bay in 2018, but the year prior she was on the island five times, drawn back by her love of the ocean, the big mossy trees, and her best friend in Errington.
“I’ve been lucky enough to travel to many different places, but there’s an endless amount to see at home, and I only want to explore and paint BC now,” Kelly says. “I am rooted here.”
Kelly paints every day. Her chosen medium is acrylic on canvas. She doesn’t have the patience for oils (they take too long to dry) and while she started out using watercolour, she prefers acrylics because she can paint over them. Her self-described method is thin, watery layers that mimic watercolour.
The artist loves large canvases because they look so impressive. Whether it’s large canvases of the majestic west coast, or her smaller pieces featuring quail or other BC birds, Kelly’s attention to detail is evident in everything she paints. She has an eye for beauty and a particular talent for capturing the play of light as it dances off the water or filters through the leaves of the trees.
Passion for her art makes it easy for Kelly to go weeks without a break, particularly when the weather is poor. In the spring and summer, however, she’s off hiking or kayaking almost every weekend, capturing interesting reference images for future paintings. She plans what she calls her adventure calendar at the beginning of every year. Telegraph Cove and Desolation Sound are on the list for 2020, as is seeing more of northern Vancouver Island in general.
Also in the works for 2020 are solo exhibitions in Parksville in February, Peachland in May and Qualicum Beach in September. And if you’re passing through Victoria International Airport between now and mid-January, look for Kelly’s art on display there.
Kelly has come a long way since starting art lessons all those years ago. But those early efforts aren’t forgotten.
“Mom still has paintings on her wall I did when I was 12,” Kelly says with a smile. “And they’re actually pretty good.”
For more information on Kelly Corbett’s art, visit her website: kellycorbett.ca