Karen Tamminga-Paton

I am a painter from the Crowsnest Pass, who has a love for Fernie through the connections I’ve made with dear friends and the creative community here. You should at least know this about me: my outdoor preference is paddling down the Elk River over downhill skiing any day because I cannot bear the chairlift for fear of heights. And no, skinning up the slopes does not make up for this problem.

I taught jr/sr high school art between doing my own studio work and raising three daughters. Students heard me say these often-repeated phrases during my 30 years in the classroom:

  • Art is a language and not just something to match your couch. You have thoughts that can be expressed through imagery. This is a great thing.
  • It’s simply in us to make marks, whether it’s with sand, or on velvet, or with the end of a charred stick after roasting marshmallows. And it’s in us to love colour and form. We can’t help it, so do it.
  • Process is more important than the product. Pay attention to it and you will notice that the more you create, the more elegant your work will become.
  • Giving permission pretty well summarizes my teaching practice. Especially during the crazy years of adolescence, to let oneself mess with form, line and colour is a big deal. It is my sincerest hope that students would continue to be makers even as adults, that perhaps some kind of creative practice would give them voice for what’s going on in their inner world and they would find solace through it.

These days, I’m able to give myself to a fulltime painting practice in my little blue studio in old downtown Coleman. The things I repeated to my students are embedded in how I approach my own work. Painting gives me the space to explore what I think about; it’s my voice. It is an absolute joy for me to make a colour or draw a line. Every time I enter my studio, I give myself permission again to create something. Sometimes it’s a marvel, and sometimes it’s plain cringe worthy. Regardless, I show up nearly every day and keep painting because it’s just a good thing for me to do.  

My paintings explore what matters to me:  environment, connection, community, faith. I love to play with juxtaposition, throwing unrelated images together as a way to create my own meaning. 
To illustrate my process and why I paint the way I do, here is a story. Some years ago, I visited the Butchart Gardens near Victoria. There, I heard how Jenny Butchart taught herself about local botany so she could plant flowers and shrubs on the gutted landscape left behind by her husband’s limestone quarry. She made rope ladders and eased herself down the bare cliffs to plant ferns, stonecrop, and kinnikinnick. From these slow beginnings grew the renown gardens that we enjoy today. When the pandemic hit and I found myself so solitary and uncertain, I remembered this story. It was the seed that inspired my Journey with Flowers series – a boat (my metaphor for journey) carrying flowers (beauty, longing, seeking a better way to live) for every month we’ve lived through COVID. I am currently painting my 24th piece. 

Painting makes space to reflect. There’s both lament and joy in this particular series. I grieve for what we’ve done to the earth and wonder about my little grandson’s future. I experience the loneliness and anxiety of our times. But I also celebrate the incredible beauty found in the natural world, the goodness found in community and find some courage to face hard things. All of this as I prepare yet another canvas for a painted boat carrying flowers in undefined space. As meaningful as this series has been, I’ve decided last month was my last one! It’s time to explore some other ideas that have been brewing.  

You can see more of Karen’s work on her website tammingapaton.com, on Instagram @tammingapatonart, or in person at the Fernie Arts Co-op and occasionally at H-Squared Gallery.