How Claire Desjardins started her art career
‘I try hard to create art that aesthetically pleases me.
If someone else likes it that’s great. I paint from my soul first.’
– Claire Desjardins
Claire Desjardins is an award-winning Canadian artist living and working in Gore, Quebec. Claire’s work is often abstract and highly personal, dynamic expression that is bright and uplifting.
She regularly exhibits her work in galleries and art fairs throughout North America.
Claire has been involved in various corporate collaborations, including Anthropologie, Urban Outfitters, Microsoft, and Shutterfly, among others.
In January 2019, Claire launched her new signature collection of art apparel, Claire Desjardins, which is sold in stores across the US, in Canada, and as of early 2020, in the UK as well.
This is a transcription for two Instagram Live interviews in May 2020.
Natasha: Hello Claire and welcome to The Artists ChatRoom, it is so good to have you here with us.
Claire: It’s a pleasure to be here. Thank you so much for inviting me. This is my first live chat with a shared screen I have had. I have done Instagram’s Live, but this is a different format for me.
N: Everything is a learning curve during COVID-19 isolation
C: Yes I’m learning lots of things that I didn’t know before. Probably because I have a lot more time to learn them. It is little things like this Instagram Live, that are useful. Like life hacks.
N: You grew up in a creative family. It was a normal part of your life to be creative. Tell us a bit about that.
C: My mother is an artist. She was the person who got every started. In our nuclear family, my brother, my father, and I because she always made art and she is the daughter of an artist. All the grandparents, aunts, uncles, everyone in our family seems to be involved in the arts in some way shape or form. There is a lawyer, but he is an entertainment lawyer so even he is involved in the arts.
N: Growing up with this around you must have influenced you a lot?
C: I think it did without my even realising it. Growing up I thought everyone made art and that it was normal. It was a given. My brother and I were only a year apart and when we lived in Vermont and my mother would send us outside with crayons and paper and we had to make and create things. We learnt to be creative by ourselves. We didn’t have the internet or the usual sources of entertainment or distractions. We lived in a time where it was a slower pace. Actually, it’s very similar to what is happening now. I feel like there is less pressure.
For the first time in I don’t know how long I’m not painting for an exhibition or a fair or something. I’m just painting because I feel like painting and that’s really fun. It’s different for me because I put a lot of pressure on myself to be out there and put my work out there.
N: Did you always know you wanted to be an artist?
C: Absolutely not. It was the last thing I wanted to do. I wanted to get into business. My father was an insurance broker. He is also an artist, but his main career was as an insurance broker and I thought that’s where I have to go. I wanted to go to the business side of things – that’s where the money is.
My father was nice enough to hire me one summer to do some filing. It was supposed to be a full summer job, but I didn’t last past a week. It was not for me. So that was that.
N: Did you go to art school after high school and became an artist?
C: No. I have a very unconventional start as an artist. I was working in marketing for a communications firm. In the end,, I was in business but as a graphic designer in Montreal. Towards the end of my time with this firm I was starting to paint more and more.
I had a studio in my apartment, and I had a space where I could paint and could leave my work out. I think it is very important to have a space that you don’t have to pack up and bring out all the time. Because that’s just too difficult and a chore.
I got laid off from my corporate job. I was sad to leave the people. They were so nice and supportive of me. I was fortunate to get a package. I went to an artist’s residency in Vermont. And I was able to jump in from my job straight into art. Fortunately, within a short time, I was picked up by a gallery in Toronto. It was a smooth transition.
Just before I left, almost like a premonition, I got an email from Anthropology saying that they were interested in my work. That was nice to get that recognition. They have stores across Canada, US and even London. I still do collaborations with them.
N: Would you say that was your starting point in your career. Like the platform by which you took off in your career.
C: Well it was certainly the platform that gave me the most exposure early on in my career. I was nobody, not to say I am a somebody now. I was just starting out, I had not done anything. I had not even considered an art career – it was more of a hobby. Then suddenly people were buying my work.
Anthropology was great they picked up on me. I remember the first time when they came to my apartment the General Merchandising Manager said we are going to take her signature and we are going to make this into something. There were four of them and they were buzzing like bees in my apartment. I had floor to ceiling art, and they were looking around getting all excited by it. I was getting excited them listening to them. I saw there was a possibility in this too. I never realised it would last as long as it has. That was back in 2011 or 2012. I thought it would last only a year, so it has been amazing for me.
Anthropology has been very good to me, a great company to work with. I still enjoy collaborating with them and still do.
N: You said you used to be a graphic designer. Do you think we take something from your old life our new life as artists? Are there skills we learn that we take to our art or art business?
C: Yes, there sure are.No experience is ever wasted if you are cognitive about it.If you do something with it. One of the takeaways for me was working in marketing helped me know the importance of social media. My social media is very important to me.I see it as a full-time job. Every day I post I have certain hours that I post. I watch and I pay attention to what people are saying. If I start to post information and pictures that people are not interested in that doesn’t help. I’ve been lucky as people have responded well. But Yes, it’s all intertwined. You take what you know from one thing and take to another.
N: You are a phenomenal abstract artist creating beautiful bright and bold works. You have been able to transfer that into merchandise. Some of the merchandise is what you would expect like tote bags but then you have lounges and chairs quite unexpected things. Some artists feel that being an artist and merchandising your work ….. how can I put it?
C: Is it Selling yourself out? That is what they want to know.
This also goes through my mind. Of course, is it purely for the sake of the art?
This time here and now, May 2020, I have no exhibitions, fares or shows during this pandemic, I have really been painting for myself. It has been the purest non-sell-out art that I have done in a very long time. But I do like to pride myself say that I try hard to create art that aesthetically pleases me. If someone else likes it that is great. I paint from my soul first. Yes of course I’m making money from licencing. There is a judgment that is made on artists who do the kind of work I do. Is it art or is it something that’s made just for apparel or a product - I see no shame in doing that. I would rather do that than have another job. to support myself as an artist. This is security for me or any artists who gets licensing. That is really nice. No, I don’t think I am selling myself out because I’m true to myself.
N: It also makes your work accessible. Not everyone might have the money or space for an original Claire Desjardins artwork but could have your work in a different format.
C: Yes, it could be something they could wear. Exactly put on apparel buy a pillow or a rug and it’s a piece of what I do. It’s a nice way to get exposure. I don’t paint political messages as a rule. I paint to make myself feel good and I am true to myself, I do for myself and that’s what resonates with other people.
N: I’ve looked them up your apparel and WOW. Tell us how that came to pass.
C: I licence out my artwork to a company in Montreal. My friend runs the company and I’ve known since High School. His family in the industry for over 30 years. He and his wife came over for dinner one night and my husband said why don’t you talk to him about doing the apparel. Though we have mentioned it previously, it never went anywhere. But the timing was perfect as one of he had just dropped on of the brands he represented. We worked so hard and so fast with his designers to put together our first season. January 2019. I learnt so much, the cycle of designing, producing, manufacturing all that stuff is 3 months ahead of time. We worked hard to get this done quickly to get the first season ready. We met all our deadlines and we had 30 pieces in our first season. There is leisurewear, dresses, blouses. Best place to find it is at wearableartstore.com. It is really in North America and in London. But now the pandemic has hit, and everything has slowed down.
N: By doing the merchandising and apparel you said that you don’t need to have another job. Sounds like you have a great business plan. What comes first a good business plan or great art.
C: I would say for me it’s the most important thing to be painting art that pleases me first. It needs to resonate with me. Regardless of whether other’s think it is good art. Moods are contagious. My work emanates joy in me when I feel like that then other people will feel it too. Then it becomes a good basis for a business because it will have its own momentum. If I don’t have great art how could I possibly have successful merchandise. Art is subjective so there will be people don’t like my art.
I just realized that it’s a transcript, and not an interview itself, so I guess you could just post it. I know you said that it’s a transcript, but in my mind, I was imagining something else!
N: Well Claire I think we have squeezed enough out of you for one interview. We will be chatting again soon. Thank you so much for your time and sharing so candidly your journey.
C: It was really nice to have me on. I really appreciated it and I look forward to our next chat.
· Taking time to learn new things
· COVID time is a time to create for yourself
· Tap into previous skills and training to further your career
· Create work true to yourself and it will resonate with others
· Merchandising is another form of income that allows you to paint more
· Merchandising is another way of getting your work out and getting known
· Consider merchandising as an extension of your art – different form of art
· Great art is needed to have successful merchandising
You can find Claire Desjardins on:
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