Visually Speaking: Painter Carolyn Mallory

Anna Horsnell

Sometimes we just know. Like the first time artist Carolyn Mallory stepped off a plane in Iqaluit back in 1999. The land, the light, and the culture spoke to her. What followed were twelve adventurous years living in Nunavut, raising three children, and immersing herself in the North. That experience still shapes her work and her art, and she wouldn’t have it any other way.

Although Nova Scotia is now home, Mallory still spends her summers travelling in the Arctic on a ship as a resource person with Adventure Canada. She’s written three books (Common Plants of NunavutCommon Insects of Nunavut, and Painted Skies), and shares her combined experience and knowledge teaching people on board. “I also teach watercolour painting in our downtime. It’s the culmination of everything I love while visiting the land that nourishes my soul. You can’t beat that,” she smiles.

Translating her love of the land into art means getting up close. “I was really into macrophotography while in the North. And in a large way that still influences my art,” she explains, “I have this huge file of photos that I would like to paint. I mostly only paint from my own photos. It’s so much easier because they speak to me. I know the places. There is a story. I’ve been painting in watercolour for years and it’s really only when I started painting my own photos that I noticed growth in my work. Well, that and painting every day. I love how watercolours can blend on the page and produce surprising effects.”
“I want to convey my love of the natural world. I want to encourage people to look beyond the surface of things. Get down on their knees and see what’s under the ferns. Lie in the snow and look at the sky. I want to encourage joy and wonder. I want people to delight in the minutiae and the vastness. Nature is intrinsic to our well-being and survival. If we can appreciate all of the beauty, perhaps we will be better at protecting it. And it’s all beautiful from the tiniest flower, to the largest iceberg, from the beautiful seaweed colours to the bleakness of the graves on Beechey Island, from the majestic polar bear to the bones decaying on the tundra. We are a part of nature and I revel in it.”
Sometimes we just know. As an artist, Mallory found her muse and more. “And the light…oh the light. Sun setting at noon in the winter, with beautiful residual light and sundogs. And in the summer, light most of the night. It captured my imagination and nourished me in ways I didn’t think were possible. I love snow and ice and there were so many new types. I didn’t know there was so much I didn’t know. I’ve seen a part of the world that not many people get to see. And I am so grateful.”

What’s next? “I have a constant need to learn. And although watercolour is challenging, I felt like I needed a new challenge. So, I started taking oil painting classes,” Mallory shares. “I would like to become more proficient at both watercolour and oil, but in a more experimental way. Maybe getting away from painting what’s truly realistic to something with a little more abstraction. Perhaps deviating more from the photos I’m looking at to something a little more intuitive. That being said, I love painting what I see. I guess we’ll have to assess again somewhere down the road.”

Carolyn Mallory’s paintings are available at Tides Contemporary Art Gallery in Kentville, online at, or email her directly with any questions at

Image: Willow, Lichen, and Ribs by Carolyn Mallory