An Artist's Cottage

An Artist's Cottage

Inside the Studio with Frances Ferdinands

Inside the Studio offers a behind-the-scenes peek into the work environments of WTP artists, as well as insight into their creative process within these resonate spaces. See Frances Ferdinands’ work in WTP Vol. VIII #3.

By Jennifer Nelson, WTP Feature Writer

Eight years ago, painter Frances Ferdinands changed her life dramatically. She left her studio in an artists’ colony in downtown Toronto to set up shop in a cottage on three acres of land an hour’s drive away. There, Ferdinands could devote herself full-time to her art. No longer did she need to teach three days a week to support living in the city. She named the studio Studio Vimy Fine Art for its location on Vimy Ridge Road. “I wanted to move to something quite opposite of downtown living so most of our neighbors are farmers or hobby farmers,” she says.

A small cottage studio with a bright red door and evergreens surrounding
The outside view of Ferdinands’ cottage studio

The move meant expanding a shed next to the main home into a heated 340-square-foot studio. The property, on rolling hills, features English country gardens, first planted by the former owner, a British book illustrator who wanted to recreate a bit of his homeland in Canada. She draws inspiration from nature, the changing seasons, living with numerous species of birds, insects, reptiles, and other animals, and growing food in the gardens. “Nature has always been a source of metaphor for me,” she says. “In this present work, nature finds its way in in even more profound ways.”

A painter works on a colorful collage-like painting with cows, bees, and seeds
Ferdinands at work on one of her nature-inspired paintings

In a rectangular-shaped studio with a 10-foot ceiling at its highest point, Ferdinands paints thematically-based series about social, environmental, and political concerns; she also looks to her personal life for issues to address in her art. On her worktable that runs the length of the room, she make small works of art and stretches canvas. “There is an obvious thread to my work, even if technically the work looks quite different over the decades—from realism to surrealism to abstraction, and a combination of all three as seen in my current work,” says Ferdinands. 

Paintings in progress line a studio wall
A moveable wall where Ferdinands pins works in progress
A painter sits at a table working on one of her paintings
Ferdinands works on one of her paintings

The studio, heated by a gas fireplace, features a moveable wall where she pins works-in-progress, currently small collage explorations on paper. For this project, she cuts digital reproductions of one of her recent paintings “Snakin” into circles of various sizes; she finds fascinating the patterning within each circle. “I am playing with reusing them within small abstract works on paper following Jasper Johns suggestion of an approach to making work: ‘Take an object. Do something to it. Do something else to it,’” says Ferdinands, who grew up in Sri Lanka.

This studio contrasts to her previous one in a former factory in Toronto that once manufactured coffins for the province. The converted building was filled with artists, musicians, actors and carpenters. For 29 years, she loved her 350-square-foot space because of its proximity to galleries and museums, companionship, easy access to feedback from fellow artists, and location in the heart of the city. “I am now at the time in my career where I don’t need that degree of feedback/discussion about the work,” says Ferdinands. “I am on my own trajectory doing work that is unique and not particularly influenced by what other artists are doing.”

Ferdinands’ house provides a place for her to store her materials and showcase her artwork. In the basement, she stores in five bins the installation “108,” while in an upstairs bedroom in hanging shoe racks in a closet she stores the installation “26.” In a guest bedroom, she displays the sculpture “From Doilies to Dustmasks.” “I use the house as a showplace for works in my personal collection,” she says. “Sometimes I put works that are available for sale up in the house as well to show clients what it might look like in a home environment.”

A work of Ferdinands hangs on an easel in the corner of her studio
A work of Ferdinands hangs on an easel in the corner of her studio
A worktable lined with paintings and the entrance to an artist's studio
A view of the worktable and entrance of Ferdinands’ studio

Since lockdown in mid-March, her routine has involved taking an-hour-long walk with her husband David and dog Mosley in the nearby woods. She tends to wake up later, which she says, is possibly a sign of anxiety or depression, though it doesn’t weigh on her. On a positive note, with few deadlines, she’s had more time for experimentation in her artwork. “I am involved in a search for, and assertion of beauty and authenticity in my work, and hopefully longevity,” she says.

See more of our Inside the Studio series.

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