Painting is all about experimenting, mixing and finding the right balance.
Amber Fast’s art follows these rules as well. A combination of art theory and technical knowledge, matched with natural ability and a creative eye, has informed her painting style for the last 11 years.
The Lloydminster painter, while largely self-taught, has absorbed a number of influences from across genres and styles. She says having some art education is a valuable starting point, but from there it’s important to discover one’s own individual style.
“I like to paint animals and still life. I’m really getting into landscapes now. I’m definitely a different kind of person, I don’t like staying in a groove,” she said. “I’m a definite realist, but I like to add a little bit of surrealism to it, like an edge. I like bright colours, but I don’t mind also adding a little subtle colour to make it pop.”
Originally from Chilliwack, B.C., Fast moved to the Lloydminster area with her family when she was 13. She always had a talent for drawing. Her Grade 2 teacher even accused her of tracing pictures from books. It wasn’t until high school that Fast was exposed to painting, and she completed her first “serious” painting at the age of 15.
“I painted an ocean with a dolphin for my grandma,” she said. “And then I added sparkles.”
After over a decade of serious painting, she continues to mostly paint for family and friends, but she has sold some of her pieces as well. Fast was first drawn to acrylics because it shares a number of favourable qualities with other paints, without the downsides.
“I find acrylic dries fast, so you can finish a painting relatively quickly as compared to oils and there’s more control as compared to watercolour, so I just like that in-between,” she explained. “With acrylics you can thin them out so they’re kind of like water, but you can also have them thickened so they’re more like oil paints so it’s versatile.”
At Fast’s workplace she is constantly surrounded by art. She works in office administration at the Lloydminster Cultural and Science Centre (LCSC). It’s a job that has her doing a bit of everything, including personally handling the paintings and art displays that guests have to view from a distance.
“I have many hats, or as I like to say, many shoes,” she said. “I have high heels for tours, flats for programs and then steel toes for working with collections and storage.”
The LCSC provides Fast with a new outlet for her art; she teaches painting and colour mixing classes in the art studio. She introduces her students to basic colour theory and painting techniques, and from there she lets them experiment with different styles until they find something that suits them.
“I could teach them all how I paint, but that doesn’t give them a chance to do everything else, so what I want to do is show them the basics of how you can paint and let them go their own way.”
Examples of this spontaneous discovery can be found in her own work. She has with her a painting of a fish swimming through murky water, she points out a swampy discolouration in the bottom that was the result of spilled paint. At first she saw an accident, but then she saw possibilities.
“Even a subtle mistake can make something so beautiful that you never expected,” she said. “This here was a mistake and then I sort of stood back and looked at it and thought, ‘You know what, I like that.’ Even the slightest brush move can create something you never thought you would create, or an effect that you weren’t even going for, but it really makes the painting. So, If I do make a mistake, I like to go with it.”
Fast says Lloydminster has a community of painters, but because people are busy it can be hard to bring everyone together. Fast’s classes offer an opportunity for creative people to meet and learn together. Fast would like to see a space where artists can come together to collaborate and inspire each other, and she’s working with a friend of hers, a former student, to accomplish this goal.
“I think it would be essential for us to have a guild where artists can come in and learn from each other and work together,” she said. “We were trying to think of something we could all do together. Maybe if we took a whole bunch of canvasses, did one drawing, and everyone would take a canvas and create something, then you put them together. You have a whole bunch of different styles and techniques, but it’s one picture. I think it would be fun.”
Back in the art studio, Fast puts paintbrush to canvas. After planning her painting and making the technical considerations, she lets her creativity take over.
“For me definitely it’s a conscious thing. I’m thinking about what colours I need to mix, I’m thinking about tone, I’m thinking about composition,” she said. “Then really once you start painting you get into the zone … it usually just flows.”