The Ocean Painter

Nova Scotia artist captures the healing power of water

T&C Eye Candy / "Lucent" - a painting by Nova Scotia artist Katharine Burns

Hi everyone!

It’s been a while since we posted here as we’ve been going hard on our social channels: sharing news on Twitter about the pandemic’s effect on travel, checking in with Facebook followers as they adjust their lives to this new reality and highlighting the work of Canadian creatives on Instagram because when life is rough, we need art more than ever, right?

Here, we present Nova Scotia ocean painter Katharine Burns, whose work was flagged for us when we queried readers about their favourite Canadian artists a few months ago.

Our lead image — called “Lucent” and inspired by the waters around Peggy’s Cove near Halifax, Nova Scotia — brings beauty, optimism and even a sense of renewal to our eyes. The painting also connects us with the natural world, another much-needed balm that we all stand to benefit from.

We were excited to interview Katharine Burns recently and learn more about the person behind this outstanding ocean art. A special thanks to you, Katharine, for making time for us. It’s wonderful to have you on our pages.

— T&C

Photo of artist by Chris Crawford

Q: Where were you born and when did you first pick up a paintbrush?

A: I was born in Halifax, Nova Scotia and I was introduced to painting at a very young age by my father, who was also an artist. Although he passed away when I was just seven years old, those early years of my life spent with him definitely shaped my creative path.

Q: What is it about painting the ocean that sustains you?

A: The ocean has healing powers for our psyche. Being on the ocean’s edge can relieve stress and anxiety. It can make us feel refreshed and it nurtures our connection to the earth on an emotional level. I think that as humans our brains are hardwired to have positive reactions when we’re close to water — be it a lake, river or ocean. For me, it’s the ocean I relate to most. Its vastness, mystery and power make me feel alive and incredibly humbled.

Q: Why do you think your paintings resonate with people?

A: What I try to capture is intimacy, and the qualities of ocean waters that captivate us whether we realize it or not. The sparkles created from sunlight on the surface. The vastness of a body of water as it fades into the horizon. The force behind a wave, or the little windows of translucency that happen for a split second before a wave crashes to the shore.

Q: Best compliment you’ve ever been paid?

A: I love it when people say “I feel like I’m there” or “I can hear the waves” or “I can smell the salty air.” I think it’s amazing that something purely visual can invoke all these other senses, like sound and smell and a feeling of being elsewhere. It’s very touching. I owe a lot to my subject matter. The ocean is universally loved and I think this is evident from the broad interest that my art garners.

Q: How do you feel when you create your paintings?

A: Fulfilled. That’s not to say I never struggle or get frustrated with my work. Painting is hard. Water is an incredibly challenging subject matter. The calm, glassy scenes are the most challenging. They require a more subtle approach. The spray of waves has been a challenge in the past, but now I have fun with it — combining methods of flicking fluid paint from my brush onto the canvas and scrubbing a dryer paint with a soft brush to make the spray more believable.

Q: How has the ocean and your relationship with it shaped you?

A: I think for all of us ocean lovers, it teaches us humility, appreciation, happiness, respect and gratitude. It has so much to offer. I can tell when I haven’t visited the ocean enough. My creativity and motivation lag in the studio. Trips to my favourite ocean spots revitalize my passion for painting these scenes.

Q: What do you think about the state of the world’s oceans?

A: The path we’re on is deeply concerning and clearly not sustainable. As a species, we have to do better. I, personally, have to do better. The role artists can play in this movement to heal our planet, aside from adjusting our own lifestyle habits, is to show nature’s beauty in order to broaden the world’s appreciation and love for it. It’s encouraging to see climate change become a mainstream topic and see younger generations protest for their future. The more action I take as an individual, the more hopeful I am.

Q: Past, present and future goals?

A: Initially, I never dreamed I would make a living from my art. I’m fortunate to be able to do this now. I don’t know where it will take me, but I’d like to continue cultivating my skills and never become comfortable with where those skills are at. So I would say continual growth is my path to happiness and fulfilment.


Founded by two Canucks on the loose in a big country, Toque & Canoe is an award-winning Canadian travel blog. Follow us on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.

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