Artist makes broad strokes

Arts & Entertainment Community Featured

It’s a far cry from the crayons and colouring books of her youth, but today Nancy MacDonald’s colouring has broader appeal.

MacDonald, originally from Trenton, is the marketing director at MacIntyre Purcell Publishing Inc. in Lunenburg and she is responsible for getting the word out about all of the publisher’s products, including Colour Nova Scotia, an adult colouring book by Nova Scotia artist Julie Anne Babin.

And she has been pretty successful so far. Well-known Nova Scotians have put their creative talents to work colouring a page in the book. The pages were then auctioned off with proceeds going to the IWK telethon. Academy Award-winning actress Ellen Page and the Trailer Park Boys joined musicians including Natalie MacMaster and Myles Goodwin and others to pick up the crayons and colouring pencils and get creative.

“It’s been pretty great so far,” MacDonald smiled over a cup of coffee.

The colouring book holds particular interest for MacDonald who is herself, an artist.

The petite brunette was always interested in art — in one form or another.

“I did a foundation year at Nova Scotia College of Art and Design where you get to try all kinds of things to see which direction you want to go,” she explained. “I went in knowing I could draw and had some artistic ability. They put you in painting and photography and ceramics and jewelry … there are so many things you can do. That’s where I picked up photography. I thought, Oh I actually really like this.”

When she finished school, MacDonald worked for a time at what was then The Evening News as its staff photographer. In fact, she was the staff photographer during the Westray tragedy 25 years ago.

“I stayed mostly in the dark room at that time but I remember doing illustrations for a few stories and one of them was my mom and dad holdings hands,” she smiled, eyes lighting up at the memory.

After she left the newspaper, MacDonald found herself in a bit of transition, unsure of which direction she wanted to take her life. So she decided to go West. To California, that is, to visit her brother, Ian.

“I was luckily able to travel all the way across Canada, stopped in to a few places along the way and met some people in Whistler, BC., who had a Volkswagen van and were driving to California so I got to tag along with them. Times were different then!” she chuckled at the perceived danger. “And they were friends of friends.”

While it was supposed to be just a visit, MacDonald found her life changed dramatically while there.

“Ian’s housemate at the time owned his own company. Ian had a computer at home and all these fancy programs I’d never used and one of them was an art program, so I started just fooling around with it and his housemate said, ‘Hey, I have some stuff you could try to do,’ and it ended up turning into me doing computer graphics. I just fell into it.”

She loved the work and ended up doing contract work in that field. That saw her moving back and forth from California to Canada, wherever there was a contract. Once back in Canada, MacDonald set herself up in Toronto for a year doing contract work, then ended up working for a computer game company in Ottawa.

“I worked for two or three companies because, the way that business works, they come and go. The first one I started with shut down and I ended up with a bigger company and stayed with them for 12 years. I did about 50 games with them, isn’t that something?”

MacDonald worked with some big name companies like Hasbro and Disney and EA. “Hasbro owned lots of different licences so we did Monopoly, Trivial Pursuit — a lot of the games shows, all kinds of family and kid-oriented stuff.”

She loved the graphics and computer animation part of the job. It was a far cry from what she learned at NSCAD.

“I was all self-taught. I learned a lot of skills as an artist and then was able to translate that using the computer. At NSCAD, it was basic computer graphic software when I was there,” she laughed.

MacDonald credits her brother’s housemate with getting her involved in the line of work that allowed her to make a living for many years. “I sort of learned as I went. Which, in that case, is probably the best thing to do because it wasn’t quite as big as it today, people were still learning.”

The company she was with in Ottawa shut down so MacDonald came back to Nova Scotia without knowing what she was going to do. She gravitated to the South Shore. “I have friends there and it’s just a beautiful part of the province. And I was able to buy a half decent house. I went from a 750 square foot condo in Ottawa to 7 ½ acres on the LaHave River in Nova Scotia and I’ve been there ever since.”

Over the past seven years or so, MacDonald made her living doing a variety of jobs from working at an art gallery “which I really loved,” to working at the Super Store cooking school — “that was a lot of fun!” and serving in an administrative role at a sleep apnea clinic.

“Luckily, the job I have now came along. I’ve been there for about eight months and I do a little bit of everything.”She is now the marketing director at MacIntyre Purcell Publishing Inc.

Her first project artistically was a book titled Row Bot.

“I am credited with doing the design and layout. I kind of jumped right into it and enjoyed that. I also worked on cover designs for five different books and all of those eventually turned into the marketing part of it. Right now I am marketing eight books. I am learning every step there is to putting a book together.”

There are more projects on the artist-turned-marketer’s agenda, from books with a provincial flavour to books with a more national appeal. “We’re doing a couple of history books similar to the book that Fergie MacKay did about Pictou Landing. We’re doing one on Saskatoon and Moosejaw.

“The next big one that we’re excited about will be for the the 100th anniversary of the Halifax Explosion this December and we have well-known writer/historian John Boileau doing a coffee table-type book with information and photographs titled 6,12,17 (December 12, 1917). At the same time we’re doing a children’s book called The Little Tree by the Sea and it’s about the Christmas tree that Nova Scotia sends to Boston every year. Halifax writer John Demont is doing the book and his daughter Belle, who went to NSCAD, is doing the illustrations.

“I actually got to put that one together.”

Naturally shy and reserved by nature, MacDonald is enjoying this newest twist in her her career. “The leap at the newspaper really put me out there. I had to go out and talk to people,” she laughed. “So that was good.”

Sagely, she concluded, “I didn’t want to continue with the computer games, partly because the more you moved up the ranks the more stress was involved. And although I was getting paid very well to do my job, I was getting to the point where wondered if it was really worth it.

“I am enjoying being back into doing something with my skills and experience and training.”

Leave a Reply