It was a gray and rainy day on Friday, September 24, so the new mural put up at Mike Page Real Estate on Front Street brought back a bit of summer. Three Muskoka chairs on a dock, a canoe, a discarded sunhat, and a beautiful sunset — perfect for a real estate office selling cottage properties. That’s what Vera Charles (artist name Jesse) of Sturgeon Falls hoped. “If Mike [Page] is happy with it, I’ll be happy,” she says. “He came into my workplace; I didn’t know him. He introduced himself and I said, “I’m your artist!”
The mural just pops on the off-white brick wall. The chair colours are vibrant: dayglo orange, pink and green. Charles had been working on the painting since June, whenever she could get the time. She and her husband, Ray Charles, operate Ferme Chien Noir on Sabourin Road, and sell produce at the farm gate. Both are avid canoeists. She also holds down a job. Summer is her busy season, yet she managed to pull off an epic piece to add to the array of murals in Sturgeon Falls.
Vera also had the distinct advantage of being able to consult with her husband, himself an artist. “Ray has been my coach whenever I’m stuck,” she says. “He pointed out that it will be looked at from a distance – to do it as I would think at first, then look at it from a distance and I might want to increase the contrast. I increased the contrast right off the bat so I wouldn’t have to redo too much. The chairs are very contrasty.” It makes for a great visual. She worked from a photo but made some calculated alterations, like putting in a sunset, and tossing a hat on the dock like someone had just been there. “That’s what [my friend] Tee said! That she felt like she had been there all afternoon and got up to go inside and turned around and “Oh! I forgot my hat!’”
Vera relates that Gayle Primeau matched her up with Mike Page, who provided the original photo to work from. “He’s a real estate agent, he wants to sell cottages, and this says ‘We are the new Muskoka’.” Vera changed the colours and background, and conceptually changed the image. She planned everything out on the board in pencil. She is happy to discuss the technical details, much as a teacher who wants to help others with their efforts. She was initially shy about going to Gayle and saying she wanted to do a mural. “I didn’t feel comfortable just going up to her and saying ‘I’m an artist and want to do a mural.’ She got to know me because I pick up garbage, and she became my Facebook friend, and she saw my art, a watercolor poppy I sent to Tee for her birthday – then she started snooping, she told me ‘I checked you out, saw your FB page and saw the work you can do’.” Gayle expressed confidence in Vera, so the timid artist proceeded.
Working in outdoor acrylic paint was also a new experience. Vera started actually painting in July. There were numerous revisions, and she often did 10–12-hour marathons, but on the whole is satisfied with her results. She says the things that bother her, non-one else would notice. One thing that was helpful was consulting with her friend and fellow artist Liane Boudreault Longfellow. “When I was ready to paint, I happened to be visiting at Lianne’s. I teach her kids to swim, and she was painting a two panel for her shop. She had it flat on horses, and I asked ‘You paint flat? Why?’” Vera was told that to paint vertically with outdoor acrylics would take 15 coats because of the runny nature of the paint, but painting flat, it’s one coat. Consequently, she set up her studio space as something like an old bed frame in a greenhouse room. “I could go around it and paint from every side.”
Another tip for future muralists: choose the brightest colours of the outdoor mural paints, and if you need to tone the colours down, add a bit of white, or add some colours from dollar store acrylics. “I did have to use some deeper red from the dollar store to make a nice sky – just a few drops, half a teaspoon, and it made a nice purple.” These are helpful hints for other artists. “Yes, it was an adjustment because these paints are runny. I used an old muffin tin for the mixing… I wore out my paint brushes.”
If you’re getting the notion that Vera Charles is a bit of a perfectionist, spot on! For each challenge in her painting, she consulted with friends and fellow artists, but especially with her husband Ray. She wanted variegated lines and gradations, and through consultation found the solutions. She took a medium she wasn’t familiar, and worked out the solutions.
Living on a farm, surrounded by the inspiring colours of the flowers and vegetables, sitting among giant red stalks of Swiss chard, or being in her canoe in the early morning as mist is rising off the waterway – Vera finds inspiration in her surroundings. She photographs, she paints, she thinks about better ways of doing things. “The Swiss chard is beautiful. I thought of painting it. And this is also a peaceful place, which is conducive to painting; the greenhouses, the peace and place to do your work. …The name of my mural is Weekend Welcome, by Jesse.”