A Portrait of Canada
Canada is a place of boundless natural beauty, and part of being Canadian means appreciating the natural wonders of where we live. Few understand this better than Leah Pipe, the BC-based artist who pens the awe-inspiring beauty of the Skeena Watershed area in Northern British Colombia. Beautifully arresting, rivetingly detailed and quietly absorbing, Pipe’s art communicates that unique Canadian essence through her minimalist yet detailed impressions of her surroundings’ wildlife and culture.
“I would describe my art as capturing intimate moments in nature with a modern twist. That’s the small, short answer.” Pipe says with a laugh. “As a realist in art, that’s what has sustained me for 30 years of making art — it’s the capturing of the subtlest of shades, and the smallest of details and the most poignant of light reflections.”
The subtlety of her artistic style does not undermine the ferocity of her passion. Pipe describes the process and inspiration of her work as simply wanting to get her viewer to look, to really look at the astounding and subtle details of her subject. Anyone can see the devotion with which Pipe applies herself to her canvases — the beak of a raven, when illustrated by her hand, is infinitely faceted, textured and powerful; while each feather on an owl’s neck stands out as a masterpiece on its own. Not everyone has time to wander the vistas of British Colombia and see with Pipe’s detailed eyes, and that is why she paints as she does, collecting each minute detail that makes up her Canadian lifestyle.
Leah Pipe, like many others, began drawing as a child, and after showing some natural abilities at a young age, became determined to be become a fashion designer. But that career path was set to change.
“My mom brought home some fashion magazines to introduce me and to inspire me… and it pretty much changed the course of everything; I was just completely mystified and stimulated and excited by these amazing photoshoots and the details. And for some reason I was compelled to capture it.”
Pipe draws a great deal of her inspiration from her surroundings, which, for two decades, has been the Skeena Watershed area in northern BC.
“We have this amazing accessibility to wild rivers, clean rivers — you can actually drink out of the rivers up here — vast mountainscapes, and incredible moments. Even living in a small town in British Colombia, you can step out into your backyard and you’re part of a vista that is really inspiring to the soul.” Pipe tells us. “There’s many things we don’t have access to. And yet what we have access to is paradise.”
Much to Pipe’s delight (and unsurprisingly, given her talent), the region has responded very eagerly to her artwork. Leah Pipe now works with the Skeena Watershed Conservation Coalition as the group’s Communications Director, using her knowledge of artistic form, and experience with creative communication in the Coalition’s design and marketing. Since joining forces, she has been working on building artful graphics and changing the way the conservation group connects with the rest of the world.
“If you include art, if you incorporate art — art will have the power to compel someone to listen to your message, more so than standard advertising or standard design layout. Art has a great ability to move people and to stir emotion — asking people to ask themselves important questions.”
Although she has now found her place in British Colombia, the army-brat-turned-artist once lived her life on the move.
“I happened to be born in Ottawa” explains Pipe, making a claim on our Capital city through lineage: “My mom and my dad met in Ottawa, at NDHQ, the National Defence Headquarters. My mom’s family is actually from the Ottawa valley, so Ottawa holds a part of my heart.”
We asked Pipe what advice she would give aspiring artists, and she answered with a laugh. Most people who ask that question, she says, hope for a romantic answer, one that she wishes she could give them. The reality of being an artist, however, is long hours and dedication:
“There’s this joke between artists — we go, ‘What’s your day job? What’s your real job?’” Most artists, she explains, have a steady paying job during the day, and afterwords return home to work on their art which adds up to a full-time job itself.
“And my simple answer for people when they ask me this question is: it’s the midnight hour.” laughs Pipe. Despite all the challenges of an artist’s life, she concludes, “I can’t not pursue it. I can’t not creatively communicate.”
Luckily for Canada and for anyone who’s had the privilege of encountering her artwork, the artist’s life is one that suits Leah Pipe well. Canada may be one of the world’s most beautiful countries, but it becomes even more striking through the pens and brushes of artists like Leah.