MEET YOUR MAKERS
Presented by TIX on the Square
Sometimes, when you work really hard, you fall in with the right people, community, and—bears? Watercolour illustrator Gloria Ho has that kind of a story. What began as a series of whimsical bear-themed cards, grew into a signature collection of prints, depicting the sartorial wild side of nature. From hipster house cats to owls in Starfleet uniform, Gloria’s delightfully furry fashionistas have become her trademark. In this interview, we had the great pleasure of chatting with her about the unpredictability of watercolours, the certainty of a handwritten message, and the joy of seeing people smile. Meet this week’s maker, Gloria Ho.
TIX: Out of all the mediums, how did you land on watercolour? What is it about the medium that suits your style of storytelling so well?
G.H.: I found watercolours very tricky and a bit frustrating at first. But after some time, I fell in love with how unpredictable it was. I loved learning ways to control it and ways to let it go wild! I love to paint people and animals – living things. Watercolour almost feels alive because it blends and bleeds and moves. It’s as animated as my subjects!
TIX: Does showing in a gallery allow for your ideas to become bigger?
G.H.: I think so. I’ve shown my work in a few gallery settings, and it’s such a different experience than displaying my work at markets or online. There’s no pressure for it to be about sales and being marketable. It’s more about communicating my ideas and telling a story. It’s been a long time since I’ve made work for a gallery setting, and I definitely look forward to doing it again in the future.
TIX: In your animal series, your characters depict so much emotion and story through their body language and fashion. Do you build the characters first in your head, or do their personalities reveal themselves as you work?
G.H.: It happens both ways! Sometimes I see an image of an animal that I really want to paint, and then I will do research and gather reference photos to get a sense of its personality. Other times, I have a clear character in my head. I also love people-watching, and very often I will see people that I want to capture in animal form. I’ll take inspiration from their fashion, their body language, and their personalities to create animal characters.
TIX: With correspondence becoming much more digital, what do you think the charm of receiving a physical card still holds?
G.H.: Absolutely! It is such a wonderful feeling to receive a physical card in the mail or from someone’s hands. Touching the paper and seeing someone’s handwriting brings a special warmth that’s different from a digital message. Also, taking the time to pick out a card, write a personal message, and deliver it to a loved one is such an act of care! I’m quite old-fashioned, and I still write letters and cards to friends. I’ve also recently started writing letters to seniors living in care facilities.
TIX: What is the best advice you’ve received, and how have you applied that advice to your work?
G.H.: I started selling my artwork in February 2014, which was coincidentally the same time that I started my current job as an English teacher to newcomers to Canada. It felt great that I was able to juggle both of my passions. At that time, a former university professor was incredibly encouraging of me, and he advised me to continue to strike that balance for my whole life. I’ve always kept that in mind. However, I’ve felt overwhelmed at times trying to manage both jobs. Sometimes I can’t paint as much as I like. At times, I’ve felt like quitting one or the other. But I often think about my university professor, and now I don’t pressure myself to take on every project that comes my way. I try to focus on that balance and just do what I can.
TIX: What from your everyday life fuels your creativity?
G.H.: Before the pandemic, it was definitely being out in public and people-watching! Travel was also a big part of my life, and I loved seeing design and aesthetics in other countries and cities. Now, it’s probably watching movies, having conversations with friends, and trying to be aware of what’s going on in the world.
TIX: What’s coming up for you?
G.H.: I am slowly making my way through custom portraits. My clients are incredibly patient and understanding of my limited painting hours, which I’m so grateful for. I am also in the process of designing a more diverse collection of greeting cards. A friend asked me a few years ago if I had an adoption card and, regrettably, I didn’t make one until last year. I’m trying to think of cards that will be meaningful to more people.
Want more? Visit gloriaho.ca and tixonthesquare.ca for the latest from Gloria and other great artists.