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Artist finds calling, market in preserving history.

South Porcupine -- Preserving Northern Ontario's heritage in vibrant watercolour prints and ink renderings is inspiring work for Gayle Ballantyne of Gayle's Drawing Room.


Returning to her roots, Ballantyne has worked as a full-time artist for just over two years in the small mining town of South Porcupine, just east of Timmins. She has taken her hidden passion and transformed the self-taught craft into a business, capturing images of historical buildings, homes, cottages, properties, mine sites and entire mining communities.

As a graduate from the business program at Roland Michener Secondary School and Confederation College's recreation program, creating portrait watercolours wasn't at the top of her agenda. However, Ballantyne always had an interest in art and incorporated it into various aspects of her work.

While working in vocational rehabilitation at the South Porcupine Continuing Care Centre during the '90s, she used her talent as a means of communication in the speech and language therapy department.


"When I needed to show a picture for something, I would just draw it," she says.

In the 1980s and '90s, Ballantyne moved between Northern and southern Ontario, raised a family and gained a variety of art-related work experience.

During that time, she met a fellow artist who mentored her about using the proper paper and other techniques to enhance the craft. At that point, she approached her work more seriously and began selling portraits on a part-time basis.

"When I worked in Guelph, I gained a lot of my hands-on experience in the interior decorating area," Ballantyne says.

In addition, she worked at the three-floor Barber Gallery, which allowed her to learn the business of art, attend art shows and meet a myriad of artists.

Since her move back to Northern Ontario, her decision to become a full-time artist has inspired her creativity and desire to expand facets of her business.

Ballantyne works from photographs in her home-based studio. Approximately one-third of her business is house and cottage portrait work, while the Heritage Series (of old mines and towns) and industrial site portraits, picture framing and tapestries comprise the other two-thirds.

When preparing for a customized piece, the customer plays a significant role in the planning process.

"It is very much their vision--very customized."

Meticulous with her portraits, capturing the vision down to the last detail--is what makes her work unique and well received. One example is a property portrait that she backdated and added elements memorable to the customer.

"I put in something that looked like a light, and when he opened it up, he loved it."

It struck emotional chords, because the light was an area where he played during his childhood.

"That is what makes the work special to me," she says.

As the business expands, sales of the Heritage Series are increasing. Ballantyne never runs out of ideas for the combined collection of 18 watercolour and ink renderings of former mine sites, communities and historical buildings in the area.

The reproductions are located at the Shania Twain Centre, the Timmins airport cafe, the South Porcupine museum and several local gift shops.

What began as a wedding anniversary gift portrait of the Hollinger Houses has developed over the years into The Heritage Series portraying various mine sites such as the Dome, Hoyle Pond, Pamour Royal Oak, McIntyre, Buffalo Ankerite (ink) and many more. Ballantyne is pleasantly surprised with the growth of this series. She has scheduled restocking at the Shania Twain Centre and plans to add a historical script with each piece. Presently, she has the original McIntyre mine site sketched out ready to be painted.

"Many people say they remember when the old buildings were there," she explains. "So in part, what I do is bring that back for people."

Other pieces in progress are the Old Dome "Big Red," Kidd Creek/Buffalo and the Fishbowl restaurant. Another prospective piece is the "pavilion" dance hall on the Mattagami River in Timmins, a popular hot spot during the 1950s.

She also donates some Heritage Series prints to support community fundraising events.

A newer, alternative product line Ballantyne has brought on board is "Fine Art Tapestries."

With an in-home art consultation, her intention is to extend the house portrait work and offer more choices for the finished product. Named "picture weave," a watercolour piece can be converted into a tapestry, afghan or pillow.

As a means of marketing her product, Ballantyne participates in home and mall shows and summer festivals. She initiated a networking group called "Designers Unlimited." Realizing that self-promotion was necessary, Ballantyne organized a group of interested designers to begin a cross-referral system.

"You get to a point where you decide you have to get out there and promote yourself."

The group is made up of a variety of talents such as a clay designer, pet portrait artist, landscape designer, interior decorator, and a virtual tours designer, to name a few. Now 18 strong, the members work independently of each other, but act as a support network.

Being a member of the Timmins Chamber of Commerce has also helped her stay connected with businesses and industry.

She plans to create portraits related to the forestry sector in the future.

The Domtar mill in Espanola is on her growing list of potential works.


Northern Ontario Business
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:special report: Timmins
Author:Larmour, Adelle
Publication:Northern Ontario Business
Article Type:Biography
Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:Jul 1, 2006
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