A passion for painting

Sally Cole scole@theguardian.pe.ca
Published on October 12, 2012
Artist Ellen Martin shows her painting, To The Cottage. It’s inspired by her summer visits to York Point as a child. It’s one of the pieces in From Ellen’s Easel. The Sixty Days of Fame Exhibit continues at the MacNaught History Centre in Summerside until Nov. 30.


P.E.I. artist Ellen Martin never has to look far for inspiration.

That’s because her ideas for paintings come from nearby — her own memories, as well as the florals and landscape of P.E.I.

For example, To the Cottage, which depicts a tree-lined lane leading to a house next to blue water, is an image Martin says she will never forget.

“It was a cottage I went to when I was 10 years old. It was turquoise and had checkerboard windows with a little bird’s nest outside. It was a very happy place for me. So I when walked down that lane for the first time in many, many years I felt like I was 10 years old,” says Martin, who resides in Summerside.

Another painting, simply entitled Geraniums, pays tribute to one of her favourite houseplants.

“It’s one of my newer paintings. I like the nice mixture of colours, bright red and various shades of green. I like geraniums because they are old-fashioned plants,” says Martin of the two pieces which are among 13 featured in From Ellen’s Easel, the current Sixty Days of Fame Exhibit, underway at the MacNaught History Centre in Summerside.

On another wall, Path of the Lupine Lady takes the viewer down to the shore on a red dirt road, past a pine grove and a profusion of pink and purple flowers and a cluster of tiny cottages.

“It’s quintessential P.E.I. I’m obsessed by red clay roads. I just love the colour. I’m also very much a water person. I just find it a peaceful place to be,” says the painter, pointing to the dazzling view of Malpeque Bay.

While Martin has spent her life taking solace in art, it’s only recently that she’s taken her painting seriously.

“This is my first art show. It’s a big leap for me,” says Martin who attended the commercial design program at Holland College after high school but changed her career path.

“I felt I needed to make a living so I went into nursing,” says Martin, who graduated from the P.E.I. School of Nursing in 1983.

Then her life got very, very busy.

“I got married in 1984 .... Then I had two children and raising them took a lot of my energy,” says Martin who put her paint brushes aside until her youngest daughter was 10.

“That’s when I started taking lessons from Maurice Bernard and Henry Purdy. Then I joined the Summerside Art Club where members had a chance to take lessons from different Island artists .... And I’ve been painting ever since.”

However, her creativity stopped abruptly nine months ago when she suffered a back injury after moving a 100-pound chair from one floor to another.

“I was decorating for Christmas and I needed more room. The accident left me with two herniated discs in my spine. So for five months I couldn’t paint at all,” she says.

The experience was “horrible,” she says.

“It was like having my hands tied behind my back. Ever since then, painting has taken on a whole new meaning for me. It’s so much more important to me.

“Over the summer, I started to paint again and discovered that it didn’t trigger my symptoms,” says Martin, adding the experience left her feeling both relieved and thankful.

“I realized that art is a big part of who I am. I was meant to do this. And so, to get it back is a very big gift,” she says.

As for what’s in the future, Martin sees many more paintings coming. She’s also learning as much as she can about art.

Recently she travelled to Nova Scotia to take private painting lessons from landscape artist Cluny Maher.

“I’ve been learning a whole new style, so the next few paintings will be a little softer, more impressionistic.”


Up close and personal with artist Ellen Martin

Favourite food: Ice cream.

Favourite subjects to paint: Landscapes.

Favourite artists: Sandi Komst, Cluny Maher.

Favourite art teachers: Maurice Bernard, Henry Purdy.

Favourite fun quote: “There’s nothing so great or grave that it cannot be greatly improved by a great cup of tea.”

Favourite movies: Shawshank Redemption, Ordinary People.

Five things to take to a desert island: Food, matches, firewood, blanket, art supplies.