Painter finds her piece of Kootenay paradise

Pastel artist Sharon Bamber paints her own definition of success

Leaping into new adventures is an old habit for Sharon Bamber and her husband Simon. Balancing a love of nature with a love of travel, the pair traveled the world before deciding to move to a piece of property deep in the heart of the mountains of Arrow Park to build their own home in 2006.

Developing her already formidable artistic skills, Sharon began to show her wildlife pastel paintings, and began winning national and international awards. But the life of a studio painter is a lonely one, and the work is done mostly indoors, particularly during long Canadian winters.


Turning her passion into a career

Thanks to a grant from the Society of Animal Artists, Sharon spent time training with master pastel artist Albert Handell learning plein-air painting. It was the first time she’d done plein-air painting, or “out-of-doors painting,” where the artist sets up an easel at the site they want to paint. Handell told her she had something special and she should pursue it, even if it meant taking out a bank loan to follow her painting dream.

“Handell gave me the confidence that I could do it,” said Sharon. “The biggest part was sorting out what we wanted our lives to look like.”

Unlike studio painting, plein-air is social and is all about being outside.


Taking inspiration from the outdoors

“I love being outside in nature. Everybody talks about meditating and mindfulness – that’s what painting is.” The sense of well-being and oneness with nature Sharon experiences is profound. Fully immersed in this quiet activity, she has had a stag meander up and lay down to watch her paint. “It’s magical.”

When I caught up to the Bambers they had just returned from Sharon’s first stint teaching plein-air painting classes. Students gave rave reviews, and Sharon was relieved to discover that she really enjoyed teaching, which gives her another way to earn money.

“Being an artist is just being a small business really,” said Sharon.


Finding her own definition of success

And her plein-air paintings are already winning awards. At a recent exhibition in California, one of her paintings garnered an award. And during a Paint Out, a heavy-pressure quick-draw version of plein-air painting, Sharon’s piece was voted best by both artists and spectators.

“At a Paint Out, you have no idea where or what you’re painting. You have half an hour to get to the spot and set up and pick what you’re going to paint…then you have two hours to paint, and then you have one hour to get back, frame and hang your piece,” recounted Sharon.

And her talents again came out on top, even though it was the first piece she’d painted that incorporated a building, and her first Paint Out. Her painting was judged first from among all the oil, pastel and acrylic offerings.

It’s these moments of success as well as encouragement from serious artists that keep Sharon pursuing her dream and living the life she wants.

“It depends on your measure of success. Awards are nice, but the big measure of success is living the kind of life you really want to live.”

The Bambers are off to visit family and trek with donkeys through France’s small villages painting as they go this winter. Sound like they’ve already found success.