The shape of bears

An Alberta artist reflects on her wild inspiration

T&C Eye Candy / "I will follow you" — a painting by Canmore, Alberta artist Julie Lamoureux

If you’ve been following Toque & Canoe’s coverage over the last dozen years, you’ve likely noticed that we get really excited about that place where art meets nature in Canada.

For example, we were thrilled to share British Columbia-based landscape painter Charlie Easton’s wondrous “Lake Milky Way” on Earth Day in 2022.

Earlier, we posted a rare and intimate image of a satiated polar bear in Nunavut taken by Calgary fine art photographer and wilderness guide Natalie Gillis.

And we loved our conversation with Ontario’s Kurt Swinghammer about the forces at play that shaped his unique giclee print of the common loon.

In keeping with this publishing tradition — which our readers seem to really enjoy — we’re excited to add oil painter Julie Lamoureux to our roster of featured Canadian creatives.

Thanks Julie, for letting us share your work and for chatting with us about your wild inspiration.


T&C: You moved to Canmore, Alberta from Winnipeg, Manitoba in 2017. Back then, you were primarily a landscape painter. What changed?

JL: After years of painting landscapes, I adopted a rescue dog, a Bichon Frisé named Bucky, and decided to paint him. After a few months of practice, I realized I was much better at painting furry creatures than landscapes.

I painted my first grizzly in 2018 and the rest is history.

T&C: You’ve entitled this artwork “I Will Follow You.” Can you tell us more?

JL: The cub is following close to her mother’s side, but she’s learning about what it takes to survive as a bear, as generations of grizzlies have done since the origin of the species.

As such, the cub is following not just her mother, but all of the grizzlies who came before her. She’s also a link to the future of grizzly bear populations.

T&C: Where did inspiration for this painting come from?

JL: This painting is based (with permission) on a photo by Canmore photographer Jonathan Huyer. The mother grizzly and her cub were at the north end of Chilko Lake in B.C.

His series of images from this region are what inspired my first attempt at painting grizzlies. I appreciate Jon for inspiring the path that I’m on, but also for being an ethical wildlife photographer.

He takes a respectful, sustainable approach to photographing bears.

T&C: What do you love most about painting grizzly bears?

JL: I love the round shapes in bears, and the plums, blues and browns you can put into their coats. I also love their long fur and their golden eyes.

Painting the eyes is the part where I really, really take my time. Their amber eyes have a quality to them that is different from that of any other animal.

I paint the eyes slowly, in layers, making sure not to add the pupils and the sparkle until I am completely sure I have the positioning correct.

T&C: What thoughts ran through your head when you were painting “I Will Follow You.”

JL: As I painted the cub, making her a little lighter and brighter than anything else in the painting, I was frequently struck by how adorable she was — her large head, her compact body and features. It’s possible that I may have wanted to give her a kiss from time to time.

I was also struck by feelings of sadness, thinking about how difficult it is for grizzly mothers to teach their cubs how to be bears in a world where human activity puts increasing pressure on them, adding previously unheard-of risks to their existence on a seemingly daily basis.

T&C: Is there a current conservation effort that you care about?

JL: Living in Canmore, I have been very concerned about how ongoing development is continuing to erode habitat, especially for our apex predators who have already been pushed to and past the brink in so many places.

There’s a group here called Bow Valley Engage, which is spearheading opposition to a proposed development that will cut off an important wildlife corridor.

T&C: What is the best compliment you’ve received in response to your grizzly portraits?

JL: The time I witnessed a non-art-collector fall in love with one of my pieces so deeply that she came back to the gallery three times that afternoon and ultimately left the gallery that day as a first-time art buyer.

There is a psychological shift that happens when a non-collector becomes a collector, and that shift is triggered by falling in love.

T&C: When you travel in Canada, do you have wildlife destinations in mind?

JL: I believe I live in the best area of Canada for the type of wildlife I like to paint. The other day I was on a hike and we had a perfect encounter with Nakoda, the white grizzly bear.

It was perfect because we were at a distance, the bear was calmly walking in the other direction and everyone was safe. We enjoyed watching Nakoda until the bear disappeared into the trees and then we turned around and went back the way we came.

Of course, having grown up in Manitoba, it would be a shame if I never get to Churchill to see polar bears. That would be amazing.

T&C: What is your hope in terms of your legacy as an artist?

JL: When a wildlife lover, or a lover of the regions where grizzlies still exist, brings one of my paintings into their home, I hope that when they look at it they are reminded that wildlife and their habitats are worth protecting.

As for society at large, my artwork has been a link that connects me with individual conservationists and conservation groups.

This is meaningful because effective conservation will only occur when there’s a critical mass of people letting politicians know that our natural world matters and is worth protecting.

I would love it if my paintings spark awareness that leads people to take action.

T&C: Where is this painting now and what does your painting future hold?

JL: This painting was bought by a private collector, who I know loves bears and cares about conservation as much as I do, which does my heart good.

As for my future subjects? Bears, bears and more bears! They’re such iconic figures. It’s a privilege to paint them.


Editor’s note: Julie Lamoureux’s work is carried by The Avens Gallery in Canmore, Alberta. Lamoureux can be found on Instagram @julielamoureuxart


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