Eileen Gidman loved her nursing career, one she spent 20 years at. But she’s taken everything she learned from that experience, added a lifelong interest in painting and is now carving out a career in her true passion, art.
Born in Bentley, Alta., the youngest of four siblings, Gidman grew up in Dawson Creek and then came to spend a year with an aunt and uncle who lived in Canyon when she was 16. She completed her high school education at Prince Charles Secondary School, where art teacher John Grigoruk was a well-known figure.
It wasn’t her first education in art, though.
“I took my first adult education course in art when I was about 13,” she recalls. “My mother realized I wasn’t going to be a basketball player even though I was tall so I got enrolled in an art course because that was where my interest was right from the beginning.
“I loved art from day one. It’s not in my family, so I don’t really know why. I have early memories of Grade 2, painting watercolours.”
Her nursing career also was varied. For nine years she also taught the resident care aide program at the College of the Rockies, learning that even an introvert can stand in front of a classroom when she is confident about her subject.
While she was nursing, she took any art classes she could.
“I’ve had a lot of mentors,” she says. “I would say that (artist and former PCSS art teacher) Ute Bachinski has been my strongest role model. More than anything, I have learned to be who I am by watching other people and emulating what I like in them.
“Ute shares everything about art and when I was transitioning from nursing to art she was very strong in helping me be the person I wanted to be.”
Gidman describes herself as a lifelong learner, and credits her husband for giving her the support to follow her passion.
“Whatever has come to me in art has come to me through nursing and everything else I have done in life, including building a log house. I built 50 per cent of my home and that self-reliance and discipline comes through in my art life.
“After about 20 years in my nursing career I started to realize, with encouragement from my husband, Greg, that if I was going pursue an art career I had to do it, as time was ticking.”
She went to Emily Carr University of Art and Design in Vancouver to get a certificate in art and has returned several times since.
“That gave me the confidence to change,” she says.
“I think where I am today is I’m more mature and I know who I am. I am not as afraid to share that in the world. My husband has given me a lot of confidence — without him I’d still be painting in the basement. He’s encouraged me to get out there and share myself.
“I’ve done a lot of textile work in the last five years. It’s not traditional type of artwork. I fight the craft/art thing a lot but it’s of great interest to me. It’s who I am and I’m going to do that.”
When she took an interest in working with textiles, there weren’t a lot of opportunities, at least regionally, to take classes. But Elaine and Andy Alfoldy, who have been making cloth and paper batiks for most of their very successful careers, have served both as examples.
Now, she herself is becoming the teacher.
“I’m just starting to share what I have learned over five or six years with others because it was a lot of learning, a hard row to hoe,” she says.
A plein air (outdoor) painting enthusiast, Gidman likes to paint what she sees around her Arrow Creek neighbourhood — scenes, plants and flowers, clothes hanging to dry outdoors (more about that shortly) — and to get out on hikes.
“I had the most wonderful experience this year to go to Cathedral Lakes, out of Keremeos, on a hiking trip,” she says. “I got to paint there in fields of flowers, on the top of mountains. One of the things I’m very, very proud of is that I painted a mountain goat.”
She had been watching the animals and sketching from a distance for a couple of days, and was prepared when she saw a mountain goat coming back from the lake.
“I got maybe a three-minute watercolour sketch of him and I’m so proud of that. I’m so happy. It’s a rarity.”
Back to the clothesline story. She has created paintings she refers to as her Clothesline Series, but not without good reason.
“I have never had a clothes drier in my life. I lived without power for six years. As you mature you can have more of a voice to say, ‘This is who I am, this is what I believe in.’
“Fortis has a clothesline initiative that has been running for four years. I’ve clipped it out of the paper every year and it sits on my fridge.
“This year I sent off an email to them about my Clothesline Series to say I have my work in shows, trying to promote clotheslines usage. They were very interested and tweeted it around and then got back to me after a few months and asked me if I would paint a painting for them. How cool. So I did.”
Fortis has since used the painting as part of an award presentation to help promote conservation efforts.
“Artists throughout history have had a voice to make change and speak for issues. I’ve had some percolating in the back of my mind about Creston for quite a while,” she smiles.
Gidman’s self-confidence and passion for sharing is reflected in the way she approaches her textile art. Some pieces she finishes in frames or quilt-style. Others are intended for the purchaser to use as part of their own creation.
“People can take my work and put it into their own work, into a wall hanging or a quilt. And they are often scared to do so. It’s a big excitement for me when they do. Sometimes they just frame it, which is fine, too.
“Some pieces I’ve cut right into strips so people know it’s okay to make something with them.
“I’ve had people commission me for a particular show they are in of textiles, like maybe a theme. I’ll produce something for them and they will maybe applique on it or something. I’ve had somebody win an award for that combined work. I’m so proud of that.”
Like many artists, Gidman has no illusions of getting rich with her creations. But she is learning to treat art as a vocation that deserves her best marketing efforts.
“I like to sell my work but mostly it’s to share it with others more than the financial rewards.”
To promote her art, she has taken up blogging and is building a following on Facebook. She credits Community Futures for helping small business people learn about social marketing and she now meets monthly with a group of artists who gather to talk, not about art, but about the business of art.
Gidman has shows planned for Cranbrook (Key City Theatre) and Kaslo (Langham Cultural Centre) next year and sells her work at Creston Card and Stationery, markets and at Your Arts Desire in Kaslo.
Pieces are also available via the Internet (www.eileengidman.com) and her blog can be found from a link on the website.
Her advice for artists?
“Have a willingness to grab on and don’t be so focused that you think you know what you’ll be doing for the next five years. You need to be ready to veer off when new opportunities present themselves. You’ve got to be uncomfortable sometimes.
“As I get a little more mature I’m less concerned about getting into that uncomfortable state. It was much easier to go to work and know what was expected of me, but now it’s only self-driven. That’s a big change.”