Joy Snihur Wyatt Laking brings colour to winter’s white in a playful children’s picture book about learning to see beauty wherever you are.
Colours in Winter (Pottersfield Press, $14.95) is about a little girl who wishes winter was full of colour then ends up tangled up in multi-coloured snowflakes to the point she wishes all the colour gone. She then discovers that winter does have its own colours: in rose hips, in leftover beech leaves, in purple rocks.
“I love winter,” says Laking, who lives in Portaupique near Bass River in a house overlooking the Bay of Fundy. “ I like the look of it. I like the white with shadows. I grew up in Owen Sound where we had real solid winters.
“Most people hate it, I know that!,” she says with a laugh.
Known for her over 40-year career as a landscape and still life painter in oil, acrylic and watercolour, Laking has always secretly written children’s books.
She never admitted to being a writer at all until Facebook became a vehicle for her to publish her thoughts and ideas about painting, life and experiences travelling to countries including India, Sri Lanka, Bolivia, France and Portugal.
As a child Laking had a vivid imagination. She played with an imaginary friend Rednot, who wore a red skating outfit and skates. “He was small; he’d ride on my shoulders. I remember taking him into the girls’ bathroom and thinking that wasn’t appropriate and leaving him on the sink!”
With Colours in Winter, “it wasn’t a stretch for me to imagine you could hang on snowflakes and climb on them.”
Most of the pictures, including images of adorable, little blue and green birds, were painted many years ago. However, Laking painted the elaborate, gaily-patterned cover of snowflakes with hidden snow angels during the hottest part of last summer.
Her story’s journey from white to colour mirrors Laking’s own journey as a painter. “My first solo painting exhibit at Mount Saint Vincent University Art Gallery was all white flowers on white paper. I was intrigued with making something appear white without paint.
“I’ve always loved painting snow with watercolour. You leave the paper white and add a bit of shadow to the paper to create snow.”
Over the years, though, her use of colour has gotten more and more dramatic and intense.
Laking has a second book near completion, The Painted Province: Nova Scotia Through an Artist’s Eyes. Also being published by Pottersfield Press, it features outdoor paintings from throughout Nova Scotia and 40 pieces of text. “Some texts are on being creative, some are funny stories that happen when I’m out doing the painting and some are word pictures.
“It’ll be a cheap book everybody can keep in the glove box,” adds Laking, who has been working on this project for the last 30 years. “The paintings will have GPS coordinates so people can find the spot in the painting.
“Hopefully it will tie in with geocaching sites so people can post a photograph of the spot and kids can say, ‘Oh she did it here but she left out that house.'”
Laking enjoys the balance of painting outdoors in the summer and indoors in her studio during the winter.
“The painting I’m doing today is out our kitchen window with lemons and stones on the windowsills and plants so that is kind of on location.”
She and her friend and fellow Nova Scotia realist Susan Paterson are doing a series of paintings of views from out the windows of the Elizabeth Bishop House in Great Village.
“We don’t often get to paint winter on location so doing it out the window is a way of doing it on location.
“There is a new Elizabeth Bishop house in Key West, Florida. There are great possibilities,” says Laking, who would love to paint from those windows.
(Key West Literary Seminar (https://www.kwls.org/bishop/) recently purchased the house. Bishop, a Pulitzer Prize-winner who spent her childhood in Great Village, lived in Key West in the 1930s and 1940s. )
Laking will have a solo show in Halifax in January, 2022, at the Nova Scotia Archives. It will not be a retrospective. “I want it to be innovative. I’m trying to indulge myself now and create what I want to create.”
Winter Colours is distributed by Nimbus and is available at all Nimbus outlets including its Open Book Cafe. It is available at Woozles, Coles in Truro, the Masstown Market and through Laking by phone or internet “but I have to charge mailing,” she says. “I’ve sold out three times and I have given away a zillion to all my friends.
“Books are a labour of love. You do it because you can’t hep it.”
The red snowflakes in Colours in Winter remind the little girl of the delight of ripe strawberries in summer.