Interview with Justina Smith


Turn on images to see a photo of Justina Smith and me

At Robson Valley Music Festival
Photo by Doug Koyama.

I met visual artist Justina Smith at Robson Valley Music Festival two summers ago. She was sitting in the outdoor dining area ~ beside her on the table, a book brimming with notes and sketches and other fascinating bits of paper. We hung out together over lunch, and I discovered she’s a very cool cat. Since then we’ve kept in touch, and I’ve been following her work through her website:

When it came time to decide on artwork for my new album, I knew I wanted to commission an artist to create original paintings for the cover and insert. Justina immediately sprung to mind. I asked her, and she said yes… hurray! We are figuring out the design now, so it will be a month or two before I have a sneak preview to share with you. Meanwhile I thought it would be fun to introduce you to Justina Smith and some of the other folks who are the creative sparks behind the new album, More Than A Hero.

This past week, Justina and I had a virtual sit down over email to talk about her work. Justina Smith lives in Edmonton, Alberta.


K: You often paint animals wearing quirky expressions and / or human clothing. These are some of my favourites in your web gallery, and they first attracted me to your work. Where did the idea for those portraits come from? Is there a concept/meaning you are setting out to express with them?

Turn on images to see Clad In Plaid, a painting by Justina Smith

Clad In Plaid by Justina Smith

J: The anthropomorphized animals were actually inspired by my friend who happens to be a tattoo artist. He had given me the idea of animals in suits and so I painted some….and when people saw them, they loved them. I had a blast painting them so I started painting them in a variety of other clothes too…plaid shirts, lace collars, madmen style dresses. I like to challenge myself to paint new things, so I think about what animals I HAVEN’T painted yet…and then paint pictures of those. I have a little series planned for Christmas of animals in vintage hockey gear. I’m pretty excited to start on those!

K: How does a painting start? What sets off the spark of an idea?

Turn on images to see Open Cupboard, a painting by Justina Smith

Open Cupboard by Justina Smith

J: There are fewer things that DON’T spark ideas, but my inspiration comes from all over. Paintings I see in galleries, lyrics from songs, silly things I think of while on a dog walk, conversations with friends, or random people talking to me about my work and saying things like: “hey….have you ever thought of painting…….?” I have a book of ideas (the Great Book of Art I call it. I’m currently working on the 2nd edition) where I sketch things out, keep color swatches and palette samples and I also have an idea wall in my studio. It’s quite literally a wall that is slowly being covered by bits of paper with tiny sketches and notes on them. Most of the paper is bits of scrap from the chit printer at the cafe I work at. I tend to jot down an idea that comes to me while I’m working and then hang the little paper on the wall when I get home, so I can paint it later.

K: What’s the most unusual painting you’ve been commissioned for?

J: The most unusual commission to date? I guess it would have to be a painting I did of a dude’s old Chevy truck and vintage motorcycle. They both had the same off white/teal paint job, and he commissioned me to paint a picture of them on the same canvas. It got me interested in painting pictures with older vehicles in them… it’s not so strange now, I guess.

K: How about the coolest location you’ve found yourself painting?

J: I painted at my sister-in-laws wedding this past summer. Just in my watercolor travel sketchbook. But it was very cool capturing the moments of the ceremony as they happened. The finished sketches turned out awesome, and she loved them too.

K: If you could do a portrait session of your biggest hero (living or dead), who would it be?

Turn on images to see Sunflowers And Crates, a painting by Justina Smith

Sunflowers And Crates by Justina Smith

J: My biggest hero? Goodness! Creatively, I guess Emily Carr. I love how she painted how she wanted to paint….despite the lack of enthusiasm for her work in her hometown of Victoria. I admire how she would camp out in the BC coastal wilderness alone with her animals so she could paint and sketch and be immersed in the things she loved most…. the quiet and the trees…. the largeness of the West Coast. I love her writing and her painting. She was a double edged sword, that one!

K: We met two summers ago at Robson Valley Music Festival in Dunster, British Columbia; Doug Koyama pointed us out to each other, saying we looked like twins. Hahaha! It seems from reading your blog that you are often adventuring around from festival to festival with your sketch pad. Does that mean you a music fan? Would you say you feel camaraderie more towards musicians or other painters? How do you see music and painting linked together?

J: I have just started going to music festivals in the last 3 years. So far I have brought my sketchbook to the RVMF and the Edmonton Folk Festival. Like any trip I take my sketchbook on….it helps me capture the moments of the trip in a very tangible way for me. I see things better when I’m focused on drawing them. I always listen to music when I’m working in the studio. I either have my itunes up, or am listening to CBC radio 2 or CKUA. I have quite a few friends that are artists or musicians or both. I love hanging around creative people and environments of all types. Creativity begets MORE creativity….and for me, inspiration for painting comes from seeing and listening. For me, painting and music are firmly linked. For some of my other creative friends….even more so as they paint AND play instruments.

K: Sooooo… what’s your favourite colour? :)

J: My favorite color changes all the time. Right now, my favourite paint color is naples yellow. It’s a color that mimics low sunlight at this time of year. It’s beautiful. My favourite color to wear, is green. My favourite shoe color is red and my favourite dog colors are rust and black. (Rust for my golden retriever, Gershwin…and black for my border collie mix, Luke)

K: Sweet or savoury… which one and why?

J: Sweet AND savoury! Rose lemonade! Lime and rosemary macaroons! Pumpkin ale. Maple & bacon….in anything! Why choose? There are so many tasty options that involve BOTH!

K: Oh yah, you’re totally right! Yum! Okay, one more question…

K: If you had one super hero power, what would it be and why?

Turn on images to see Magpies In A Study, a painting by Justina Smith

Magpies In A Study by Justina Smith

J: Superhero power…..hmm…..the power to freeze time. Sometimes cool things happen to fast for me to draw them, or inconveniently I’m driving and seeing something cool whizzing by….and it’s happening too fast for me to capture it on paper properly.

K: That would be awesome! :) Thanks so much for sharing your time and thoughts in this interview, Justina. I’m excited about the new paintings!
Check out more of Justina Smith on her website:


This is the first interview in a series introducing you to the amazingly talented people behind my new album, More Than A Hero. Support the making of the new record… CLICK HERE to find out how you can Jump In ~ Be A Backer! xo Karyn



Filed under Interviews, More Than A Hero, Music

3 responses to “Interview with Justina Smith

  1. Pingback: Karyn Ellis » Introducing… a new series on my blog

  2. Pingback: strange bedfellows » Just Little Art :: Justina Smith's Art Portfolio

  3. Thanks for one’s marvelous posting! I genuinely enjoyed reading it, you are a great author. I will ensure that I bookmark your blog and may come back later in life. I want to encourage continue your great job, have a nice afternoon!

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