The Speech I’m Not Doing Tonight at the MUN Grenfell 25th Fine Arts Graduate Art Exhibit

January 20, 2017

Me c.1990 in our Grenfell Fine Arts studio in Corner Brook, Newfoundland. Pic thanks to Jenny Armstrong (I think!)

So tonight was supposed to be the opening of our 25th Anniversary Grenfell Group Art Show at the First Space Gallery in the QEII Library here in St. John’s and I was doing the graduate address, but thanks to the impending East Coast Newfoundland snowstorm, it has been cancelled. C’est la vie! The show is open to the public until 20 April 2017, so grab a coffee and wander through…many wonderful pieces to take in.

Since I was all ready to rock ‘n’ roll, thought I would post the speech anyways – see below. PS: thanks, Jennifer Armstrong (from my class) for connecting us all and getting this reunion show going. Always love your make-it-happen attitude. xo

Now to put on the fire, drink some beer and batten down the hatches…even if the storm doesn’t happen 😉 Happy friggin’ Friday!!

Here it is (picture me all dressed up, confident, witty and funny – haha!):

Hello everyone, great to see you all here tonight. Hard to believe the school has been open for 29 years and we’ve produced 25 years of graduates! Where has the time gone at all?

*pompous* As you probably all know, when I graduated from Grenfell in 1994, I was the very first Drawing Major out of the Visual Arts Program. Oookay, I’m probably the only one who knows that (oh, and my mom, of course…hi5, Mom!) 😉 Even with my beloved drawing major, out of my whole class, I probably would have voted myself “least likely to pursue art as a full-time career”.

When I left fine arts, I went on to do an interior decorating and design program here in St. John’s and like many Newfoundlanders, I moved to Toronto. I worked in the fabric and interior design industry and amongst this career I painted murals and created faux finishes in some fab homes and buildings and did commissioned paintings for interior design clients. When I was transferred to Vancouver, I did a few commissions from time to time when the word got out about my “other talent”.

In 2000, I moved across the country to Halifax and opened an interior design firm with a friend from school. Having a fine arts degree definitely gave me more cred in the field and an edge for selecting artwork for clients.

Two years into self-employment, I worked all the time so one Friday I had had enough of the grind so I rallied my friends to head downtown to let loose. Little did I know I would meet my husband, Besh, that night and even littler did I know that he would become my most faithful art muse.

When he convinced me to move to Ottawa with him, I had no idea what was in store for me. His pitch was “just move here, use one of the rooms and set up your studio and paint for six months. I’ll take care of everything else!” So of course you know what my answer was… “Hell no! I can’t do that!” And off I went and got a “real” job in the fabric industry again.

Soon after, Besh was posted to Borden, Ontario, where I got another “real” job with a sports magazine publishing company despite Besh’s constant encouragement to “try out the art”. He kept saying “Why do you work for other people when you have this talent?” And my answer would always be “because I don’t want to be a starving artist!”

Eventually the publishing company closed, which meant I would get 9 months of unemployment and that’s when I thought “Ok, I’m gonna take a kick at the art, now that I have at least some money coming in and maybe it’ll shut him up…finally!”

Knowing I needed discipline and a great marketing angle, rather than hiding at home left to my own accord, I proposed I set up my studio in the front window of this beautiful French restaurant in nearby historic Collingwood, Ontario. “The French paint in public so maybe they’ll go for it?” (perhaps secretly hoping they wouldn’t!) The owners jumped on it that Friday and said “Ok! Sounds awesome! Why don’t you start Monday?” And in shock I replied “Ok, see you then”. Sheer panic set in! “I’m not even a real artist! I’ve never painted in public and I don’t even own an easel!”

Besh pep-talked me all the way to IKEA on Saturday to get ‘art-like things’ and all the way to Curry’s to buy ‘real artist supplies’. And on Sunday I decided to paint the view from my new studio across the street from the restaurant and drew it out on the canvas with my ‘twisted’ perspective.

Monday I headed into my new “job” with my artist kit. I set up, held the brush in my shaking hand, looked out over the big scary airy room to see everyone staring at me wondering what the hell I was doing. Clearly I was wondering the same thing myself! I remember saying in my head “just start painting…put the brush on the canvas…pretend you know what you’re doing” and next thing I knew, I was painting! People loved it and I didn’t die of a heart attack! AND that first painting sold for WAY more than I had ever gotten for a painting in my entire life and it sold before I even finished it! Whew! *breathe*

From then on, I would paint 5 days a week and talk to about 100 people a day…300 a day on the weekend. It was definitely therapy for a lot of patrons, as well as for me. I was even better than a bartender because I couldn’t move from my spot. I knew the secrets of the whole town. And did I mention the marketing benefits of painting there were invaluable?

After almost 2 years there and getting my name everywhere from Toronto to the Muskokas, I moved across the street to a much quieter public studio with 4 other artists. That was the most truly artistic time I had had since my fine arts days a mere 15 years earlier. We talked art all day and night long – the trials and tribulations – and had the best time. I learned a ton there.

Besh retired from the military in 2006 so in 2009, we decided to move back to Newfoundland. I felt nervous being an artist here more than in Ontario since my fine arts peers were here. Besh would always say “Don’t you think they be proud of you for doing this?” But I doubted myself anyways.

I had made a business out of my art. I was doing unlimited digital prints of my work because I wanted everyone to have my artwork, if it made them happy and I wanted residual income to take the pressure off of producing originals. But in the back of my mind I thought “What will they think of me?”

It’s taken me 11 solid years and countless hours of coaching from Besh, my family, my friends as well as mindset and marketing coaches to get me where I am today as a full-time artist. I still have doubts and it’s not always easy but I am glad I did it. I have learned so much about myself. When you are your own brand, it’s like self-analysis 24/7 to make sure you’re staying in check and coming from the right place. Sweet merciful!

I’m quite happy and proud to say that today I have a successful business that now truly reflects all my ‘pieces of pye’, integrating all my artistic interests – art, social media, blogging, photography, cooking, hiking and my love of Newfoundland.

I guess the point of the story is that we never know where life will take us but the art is always part of us. We may question whether we are ‘real artists’ but know it is a building block for who we are today whether we do art full-time or not at all. Our creativity comes out in our every day activities.

And if your class was like our class, the friendships we made back in the day continue on today. So let’s hang out, remember the good times, appreciate the artistic diversity here and celebrate the artist in all of us 🙂 Cheers and thank you!

The exhibit is open to the public until 20 April 2017 so drop by and check it out!



  1. Beautiful Keli-Ann – I have a feeling many, many people will be hearing that speech. I am glad I got to read it. Thank you.

  2. Wonderful! It has been an adventure and you continue to impress and inspire me. You are a “real artist” and a successful business owner as I love to remind you. Thanks for introducing me to my own creativity and artistic eye. Too bad you don’t get to strut your stuff tonight. Snuggling in for the night with beer and fire sounds perfect!
    <3 K

  3. Wonderful speech
    You and Besh are inspiring. Im always so happy to follow you
    Nothing but good vibes. World needs more pieces of pye ❤️

  4. Loved Reading about all your life adventures. I Didn’t want the reading to stop. Your Lives are so interesting. You do amazing work. So happy you both moved back to NEWFOUNDLAND and our lives crossed paths. Hopefully our paths will continue to cross. Congratulations to both of you.

  5. So interesting to hear how you came to be an artist … So many people enjoy your beautiful and quirky artistry , great career choice!

  6. Kelly, do you sketch in monochromatic. If so, can you tell me how much? Also, may I get your free colouring sheets? I need them to start doing art again. You have always been an inspiring to me . Thank you. You are a kind and lovely lady.

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