A Conversation with Alice Maclean

Photo by Andrea Vahrusev

There’s a poetic quality of capturing fleeting moments in Alice Maclean’s watercolors. A quality neither too subtle nor outlandish that resembles in sentiment Ezra Pound’s In a Station of the Metro; it’s as though Alice not only sees the faces in the crowd but understands what it is about them that needs conveying.

Alice was born in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, and studied biology at Dalhousie University before she ventured into fine arts. She’s studied and lived in Paris and Scotland and now lives in Toronto. The mild manners of the Atlantic’s small town and the confidence of metropolitan life she’s come to know are found in her soft spoken yet assured answers. I recently had a chance to meet with Alice at her studio and talk about her latest series, Impermanenceand her career.

Photo by Andrea Vahrusev

Hoon: You studied science at Dalhousie before studying fine art. How did you come to make that decision? 

A: It happened in an unplanned way. I was finishing my undergrad in biology and found that I was not enjoying my time at Dalhousie, so I kept thinking, How can I make this last year better and what would I really like to do? There was this quiet voice inside that just said I’d really like to take a drawing class. The class didn’t even count as an elective. The teacher was very supportive and she continuously urged me to go to art school full time. For a long time I didn’t agree with her because I was worried about money and was fatigued with undergrad. But what ended up happening was, she set up a meeting with the chairman and he gave me entrance to the school based just on my portfolio.

So I went into art school with the intention of doing just one year and was thinking about scientific illustration where I can use my science background. But once I started to learn more about painting, I felt that I connected more to an impressionistic style and decided to do four years at NSCAD.

H: Did you also paint or draw as a child? 

A: I don’t remember taking many art classes in high school or junior high — there really wasn’t much support for that. But I did draw as a child and my mom she still has framed drawings of mine from early on. She herself is very creative so I grew up always doing something creative, like drawing on walls, etc.

Photo by Andrea Vahrusev

H: Does your understanding of science inform your work today?

A: I think it does. I was thinking back to what it was like when I was studying biology and all the lab works involve observing and drawing; some of my favorite classes were concerned with ecology, which is about looking specifically at animals and plants. At those moments, you’re really looking closely at, investigating something. I think in my art that kind of observational and investigational approach is applied to people.

H: Tell us a little bit about your creative process. 

A: It’s changed recently. In the summer time, while I was doing a two-week residency on Toronto Island,  I decided to focus just on watercolor mostly because it dries quickly and is more accessible for projects that need to be done more quickly. It changed my process a lot. I started to document people I met on the island and drawing from that: I’d go around and be around the community and take a lot of pictures of people I knew and people I didn’t know. Then I’d go over the photos. It’s hard to say but there is some connection I feel when I think that someone is showing a kind of unmasked version of themselves; you can catch people being a bit vulnerable, or showing the reality of their emotional state at the time. I look for those candid moments where I think I get a reaction and think, There’s something more there. So I’m not interested in documenting sports or yoga poses — I’m more interested in people when they are not aware.

It was important that when I ask for permission I’d make clear that I wasn’t about their identities. There are sometimes clues — in later ones you can tell the subjects’ genders and whatnot but some of the very first ones were really abstract. It was about posture and capturing the moment than anyone’s identity.

H: Would you say that there’s a thematic continuity between them? 

A: At the time, I was reading a lot about archetypes and shadows; aspects of a person’s persona that they don’t want revealed. That was really what sparked all of the works. That’s why I don’t really want to document people’s identity so much because archetypes are shared mythologies that we all can take on and inhabit ourselves. It’s more about shared experiences. I see something in someone else that invokes in me a kind of vulnerable, familiar human experience.

Photo by Andrea Vahrusev

H: Tell us a bit about your latest series, Impermanence

A: Impermance is a bit of a departure. I began to think less about the archetypal aspects of ourselves and more about impermanence as an idea, the constant flux and change found in nature. Emotions and physical bodies are constantly changing and it inspired me to look at things differently. I also just started to think about how water color itself is in constant flux and I allowed it to have a lot of say in the final pieces. The materiality of watercolor — the water and pigment mixing on paper and changing through evaporation — fit just so perfectly with the concept of impermanence.

H: What was the transition from oil to watercolor like?

A: There are some links but they are very much different. I’m still informed by all the time I spent with oil, mainly in that I will block in the image, use monochromatic first layer. and work on top of it with more color. But what I get to do with watercolor is, I get to be a bit looser and more spontaneous. With oil, I felt that I was in control of it all, but with watercolor, I get to have more of a conversation with or an exploration of the material.

H: Is there a reason for choosing numbers over descriptive titles for your pieces in Impemanence?

A: It seemed more practical. Previously I would name the paintings after the person or with a description of the person, like say, ‘the girl in the blue dress.’ But with Impermanence, it was less about the individual and his or her individuality and so the numbering made more sense in that they are all titled Impermannce. It seems to fit all of them.

H: Series as a whole rather than as individual pieces.

A: Yeah, I think so.

H: Do you paint everyday?

A: I would like to be painting everyday but it’s not something I can always manage. I can’t force it and there are other responsibilities as well. When I was doing the residency I was painting everyday.

H: How long does it take you to finish a piece? 

A: I really don’t know because I’m always working on a number of them at the same time. There have been paintings that came about in a day and they are special for that. They were clear from the start and just happened. I would say that most of the time, I work in layers, so I go back at least a few times until I feel that it’s become completed. It’s a funny thing to know when something’s done.

H: You are originally from Nova Scotia and you now live in Toronto, and you’ve studied abroad in Paris and Scotland.

A: I moved to Paris to study for a semester and that was mostly to experience a lot of visual works in the flesh. Growing up in Nova Scotia, I didn’t have that many opportunities to see a lot of paintings in person. So in Paris, I spent a lot of time going to museums and looking at art. I also walked all over the city. That’s where the watercolor work all came from. Looking through all of the photos I took in Paris I started thinking about how bizarre it was to have all these strangers in my pictures. The same goes for Scotland. They’d often be in the background of something I was actually trying to take a photo of. When I travel, it puts me in a very observational space. I’m connected to who I am in a different way, away from my comfort zone. You become more observational and it visually informs my paintings.

H: Are there any subjects or ideas you’d like to explore in the future? 

A: I’m not so sure. At the moment, I want to do a project based on a rural setting and an urban setting and to compare them. But I’m not exactly sure what this will look like. I’ve also been thinking about compositions that involve more than one figure and compositions of people from different places — they wouldn’t have shared a moment in reality but become a composition that can perhaps tell a narrative. And I want to explore the materiality of watercolor and work on it on different types of papers.

Alice Maclean’s latest series, Impermanence, was on view at Souvenir on Dundas West. She was recently featured in Toronto’s Artist Project. Impermanence and other works by Alice are on view on her website here and on her Instagram page here. Continue following our arts & culture coverage on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram.

Treat Yourself Real in 2017

A couple of years ago, I used to close my eyes and imagine colourful videos. That was my reflection on the brightest moments of my life. Sadly, I notice that it’s getting harder and harder to do the same now. While images keep changing, I see less and less continuous scenes. Life becomes more of a picture rather than a video. A picture in a museum, a picture on the beach, a picture in a new cafe… We are trying to be everywhere and experience everything. But very often, instead of experiencing we get just another picture on Instagram.

That’s why my biggest New Year’s resolution is to capture everything I do, wear, and experience in my heart. Here are some tips on how to treat yourself REAL in 2017.

Musician Oddane Taylor. Photo by Sveta Soloveva

Go for Music

You already know how to make Spotify and Soundcloud create a playlist that satisfies your musical tastes. However, you can make your musical experience even more entertaining by actually going to events. The fact that the Greater Toronto Area is a home to many talented producers, singers, and DJs makes your musical discovery not only exciting but also affordable. You don’t always need to spend hundreds of dollars on a ticket to see someone at the Air Canada Centre. A lot of musicians prefer to hit nightclubs. For example, a Brampton-based rapper Roy Woods has recently performed in Mod Club, while Tory Lanez (from Brampton as well) threw a dancehall party in Rebel. A $25-50 ticket for those shows buys you a party and adds many favourite songs to your playlist. The songs that you will have personal connections to.

Bonus: Check Red Bull Sound Select for more inspiration. Last fall, I explored Mick Jenkins and Smino, two cool hip hop artists on one of the Red Bull concerts.

Sousse, Tunisia

Make your travel destination your dream motherland

Instead of hitting multiple places, explore one place in depth. Saying you’ve been all over the world sounds cool, but saying it doesn’t make it real! Your trip doesn’t deserve a quick glance from bus windows or an impressive post on Facebook or Instagram.

Build a relationship with a place. Make a playlist of its music and listen to it on the plane. Meet the locals and go to their parties. Dance with them and listen to them talk. That will tell you a lot about the country.

Ask your new friends (not your tour guide) about the best places to eat, go for a picnic, and party. Keep your head up, don’t let the camera on your neck restrain you from looking around. Pick one or two days for a proper photoshoot, and forget about pictures for the rest of your trip. Breathe, take your time to stop and live in a moment. That’s what will make your travel experience unforgettable.

Last summer I made friends with Tunisian animators during my stay at a hotel in Sousse. I helped them host mini-disco for kids and entertain people on the beach. That experience made me closer to Tunisian culture and added many funny moments to my vacation.

Bonus: Explore the world through volunteering and educational programs. They will help you bring a positive change to the communities and make new friends. Volunteer Forever has recently posted 2017 Best Volunteer Abroad Programs, Organizations, & Projects.

Photo by Olga Rodionova

Build Your Dream Wardrobe

This year make your style iconic by purchasing only high-quality clothes and clothes that will tell a unique story about you. Don’t buy items because they are on sale or because you just need another sweater. Choose something you really love. Most of the time, it will be pricier, I agree. But with hundreds of fast fashion items in your wardrobe, you still complain about having nothing to wear — it’s worth a try.

I noticed that clothes that I usually buy in malls lose their attraction after a couple of weeks. But items such as overalls from Smoke + Ash or a Mischa Lampert fur-pom-pom beanie that I bought years ago, still give me confidence and a sense of beauty.

Items that I got when traveling to other countries make me feel special too. One of a kind leather gloves with orange ruffles that I bought in Venice seven years ago still get many compliments as well as a cheap scarf that I bought in Turkey.

Make your skin your sunshine

It’s fun to smell and try different skin products. But honestly ask yourself: Do you really need all those day and night creams, toners, and serums? Loading your face up with products or using many of them at the same time might cause irritations and breakouts.

Clean your beauty shelf out of everything that didn’t work for you last year and leave or add only those products that make your skin perfect.

If you still haven’t found your ideal skincare, you might want to check Mèreadesso, a new line that Novella reviewed last month.

The creator Linda Stephenson proposes a simple combination of products such as moisturizer, cleanser, and body balm that will replenish all the needs of your skin.

Bonus: DIY beauty hack recipes for fans of natural treats.

Photo: Tullahoma News

Don’t take your phone to the gym

Get better results from your workout by simply leaving your phone in a locker. My personal trainer in Russia always asked me if I was thinking about something else while exercising. He urged me to turn off my brain for half an hour and think only about the areas of my body I was working on. Exercises such as sculpting and stretching need your full attention. Checking your phone and messaging interrupts you from the process and extends your breaks between exercises, which can ruin the entire workout. If you already follow this phone etiquette, try to improve your results by shortening your breaks between exercises.

Photo: Food & Wine Magazine

Go on a food trip in your kitchen

Tired of your standard dinner recipes? Broaden your culinary horizons and take your family on a food trip! Ask your Italian friend about an authentic pasta recipe or get an Irish family to give you the secret for the best Shepherd’s Pie. You can also search for the recipes on the Internet. Write them on pieces of paper and throw them in a bowl. This is your new culinary globe! Each time you aren’t sure what to cook for dinner and thinking about ordering in a pizza, slip your hand into the bowl and cook whatever you get. Moroccan chicken tonight? Hawaiian poke bowl tomorrow? All countries come to your kitchen in homemade goodness.

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Top 10 Instagram Moments: Winter in Toronto

We collected Toronto’s best winter moments. Our snowiest days in the city were snapped by the locals this holiday season. Here are the top 10 captures.


1. @sincerelyanam


2. @marilimabarros


3. @staffordable_blog


4. @soteeoh


5. @mindz.eye


6. @juluminate


7. @kozbe.jpg


8. @bofajardo


9. @riyazn


10. @celiafdezcarnicero

Continue following our fashion & lifestyle coverage on Facebook, Twitter, and instagram.


Christmas is literally right around the corner and I’m sure everyone is scrambling to get their last minute shopping done. With jam packed malls and crowded stores, it makes you not want to get up and head over to your favourite shopping centre. But an amazing gift doesn’t have to be sitting on a heavy duty rack, surrounded by people fighting over the same item. Shopping online definitely has its perks and the best part is, you don’t even have to leave the comfort of your own bed. So this is where I introduce to you, HelloFresh.

HelloFresh is an international meal delivery company that offers sustainable packaging and delicious, healthy meals. There are three different plans to choose from; the Veggie Plan, which offers delicious vegetarian dinners; the Pronto Plan, filled with a variety of farm fresh ingredients; and the Family Plan, which feeds up to four people. Every plan is assembled with three different meals in one box. You never know what type of veggies or meats you’ll be receiving each month, which makes the whole process even more exciting.

To keep all of the ingredients nice and fresh, everything is packaged into 100% recyclable and biodegradable cardboard. It is then insulated with silver box liners and filled with recyclable plastic icepacks. To ensure freshness, certain ingredients are then placed in food-safe plastic packaging. Once you receive your box, you want to store everything directly into your fridge or freezer right away, unless you can’t wait and decide to whip up a quick meal. If you’re not too sure how to make the best out of the ingredients you are given, HelloFresh has recipes for each meal on their website. If you’re not one to follow recipes, get creative and put your own twist on it.

This subscription box is absolutely perfect for anyone who loves to spend time in the kitchen, or enjoys experimenting with new foods. And you never know, maybe you’ll get a tasty Christmas dinner from it.

If you are interested in trying one of these delicious subscription boxes, visit www.hellofresh.ca and have your pick. When checking out, use my code ‘NOVELLA60’ for $30 off your first box. If you decide to order another one, use the same code to receive $30 off your second box! So lets get cooking this holiday season. Cheers, and enjoy.

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ICYMI: Hyakki Yaygo: Night Parade of 100 Demons Exhibit at the Northern Contemporary Gallery

Clayton Hanmer -Akaname (Flith Licker). Digital print on wood. Photo credit: Sveta Soloveva
Clayton Hanmer -Akaname (Flith Licker). Digital print on wood. Photo credit: Sveta Soloveva

A cool breeze fills the gallery when visitors walk in. Natural light from the large windows starts travelling across the white walls. The radio plays in the background. Everything is beautiful and peaceful at the Northern Contemporary Gallery, except that there are one hundred demons all-around.

An exhibition called “Hyakki Yaygo: Night Parade of 100 Demons” celebrates Halloween and highlights illustration as fine art.

“We were looking for a sort of concept for Halloween-show that really highlights our mandate of pushing illustration as fine art, especially in Toronto,” said Hitoshi Murakami, the owner of the gallery.

The theme features Japanese folklore, where one hundred demons parade through the night streets of Japan in one massive spectacle. People with supernatural beliefs stay inside their houses and chant the magic spell.

Photo Credit: Sveta Soloveva
Photo Credit: Sveta Soloveva

As a gold chandelier throws its light on the supernatural creatures, there’s no spell needed at the Parkdale art gallery.

Twenty five illustrators interpret the Japanese folklore classic by creating four black-and-white demons each. Most of the local artists are OCADU grads, including Emily May Rose.

Looking at her illustrations, you immediately recognize an artistic version of a raccoon in your backyard or a deer you saw in the forest.

Even though the exhibition is Toronto-centric, there are international artists too. Among them are Harvey Chan from Hong Kong and Daniel Zender from Brooklyn, N.Y.

Murakami said that they didn’t select works by geography. They were more interested in personal style of the artist, his or her visual signature.

“The artists in that show are fantastic,” said Murakami. “They’ve done pieces for New York Times and Walrus. These are artists that you always want to curate for.”

Photo Credit: Sveta Soloveva
Photo Credit: Sveta Soloveva

Everything has a soul in Japanese folklore. Among the whimsical animals and devils, there are everyday objects – a walking tower and dragon-watch – animated into life. The demons are sticking their tongues, practicing witchcraft, driving their magical transports or just looking at their audience.

Done in gouache, pencil, ink, digital print and silkscreen, they appear on paper, wood and panels

All of the artwork are available for purchase.

The exhibition is on view until Oct. 31, at the Northern Contemporary Gallery, 1266 Queen Street West, Toronto, Ontario.