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Building Community Capacity Through Art

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Meet the four artists whose work depicted the newsmakers in our feature story. At YMM we’re passionate about working with the talented artists in our region, and who better than these to illustrate what has been making news in our community?

Russell Thomas

Russell has been exploring the use of unorthodox colours in portraiture for a number of years after receiving a watercolour lesson from his father-in-law Neil, a retired high school art teacher. He moved into the world of acrylics and larger size paintings in June 2014 when he discovered that his shed had been tagged. Intent on turning a negative into a positive, Russell did a mural portrait of elder Elsie Yanik which inspired the #selfiewithelsie movement on social media and a visit from Justin Trudeau. The portraits that followed have included local legends like former Fort McKay First Nation Chief Dorothy McDonald, actor Norm Sutton, councillor Phil Meagher and many others. Russell continues to paint as much as he can, in between bouts of writing and acting. Russell moved to Fort McMurray in 1996 as a program director with the OK Radio Group. He spent 15 years working at Keyano College before accepting the interim role of Executive Director of Arts Council Wood Buffalo. He is currently the Director of Communication and Community Impact with the United Way of Fort McMurray and co-owner of Birdsong Connections with his lovely wife Heather. They have two sons, Dylan and Ben.

Photos by Sean McLennan & Photomagic

Liana Wheeldon

Liana has been living in Fort McMurray since 2009. She has always had a passion for art – creating it, reading about it and experiencing it first hand. She recently completed the Artist In Residency program here in Fort McMurray. Liana also teaches a number of workshops and art classes through the Regional Recreation Corporation of Wood Buffalo. Her education includes a Diploma in Fine Arts with a Major in Printmaking from Emily Carr College in Vancouver as well as studies at Langara College, Ontario College of Art, Keyano College and the University of Victoria. Drawing and printmaking are Liana’s preferred mediums to work in. She has recently been exploring oil painting and mixed media works. Although Liana’s formal art training was at Emily Carr College, her real influence came from the comic books and old movies she devoured throughout her youth. The comic book artist’s magic ability to tell a story in a panel, the actor’s ability to convey emotion with a look and the storyteller’s vision created with words and light inspired Liana to create her own stories. One of Liana’s greatest pleasures has always been getting caught up in great writing – whether a novel, a movie script or a great song. She finds few things more magical than having the imagination captured so strongly that one feels like the characters are people we know. Liana hopes her pieces will capture the viewer’s imagination in the same way.

Photo by R.d.Cane People

David Ball

David Ball originates from Coventry, England, having attended the Coventry College of Art, studying illustration and graphic design. He immigrated to Canada in 1978 where he has continued to develop his artistic and creative styles. David has worked with most mediums but prefers to use pastels. David moved to Fort McMurray in 1981 as a graphic illustrator for Syncrude Canada. Over the years David has been commissioned to produce illustrations of bucketwheels and draglines, trucks and shovels for a number of oilsand companies.

David has not settled into a particular niche but enjoys painting a wide variety of subjects including landscape, marine, wildlife, city scape and portraits. Since retiring from Syncrude Canada, David’s art focuses more on local landscapes featuring the rivers and river valleys in our community, as well as the mountain parks near Banff.

Supporting our community is important to David as he has donated pieces to local charities’ fundraising events.

His work has been shown in galleries in Edmonton, Fort McMurray, England, and in many private and corporate collections.

Photo Credit: Nancy Ball

Erin Stinson

Erin Stinson is an artist of many genres, calling Fort McMurray home for over a decade. Visual arts, including photography and painting, songwriting, and the written word are all creative outlets for what inspires her. That inspiration comes from observing and reflecting on the world around her with a faith-based perspective.

Erin’s journey into committed artistry flowed from her education and experience as a music teacher. Teaching in schools gave her the opportunity to teach a wide variety of subjects in addition to music. In encouraging her students to develop their abilities and take risks in their learning, she found tremendous value in allowing herself to do the same.

She believes there is a story unfolding all around us, revealing identity and purpose. Preserving her personal experiences while striving to hear, see and capture this story, are integral parts of her artistic process. Currently, her primary work focus is a multi-genre solo gallery exhibit, taking place in early 2016. This body of work will be an exploration of the space between the heart and mind and the attempt to connect the two. In addition to this project, she has been looking forward to a number of collaborative projects over the fall/winter season that will concentrate on abstract work.

Erin is thrilled to be part of Fort McMurray’s artistic community. From her viewpoint, this is the perfect environment to take risks, create and collaborate – a region teeming with life and vibrancy, adventure and opportunity.