A woman’s warm voice asked her toddler if she could draw a portrait of her. Not expecting much – the toddler was too young to even talk – a squeaky voice enthusiastically agreed. Small hands reached for a pencil and clumsily put it to a piece of paper. The young girl looked at her mother for reference and confidently started to sketch curly brown hair. Slowly, the picture came together as the toddler shakily added more components – facial features and a triangle dress – pencil marks making deep indentations into the paper with the strength of her tiny hand. Topping it off with sticks for arms and legs, the portrait was complete.
It’s crazy to think about but at the age of one, Ella Charette drew her first picture.
That was the early start to Charette’s career in painting – which included teaching at a young age. Charette had her doubters, but today she is an established artist who teaches while also guiding her daughter along her own creative path.
Charette, who now lives in Calgary with her husband and daughter, was born in Ufa, Russia. She always knew she was going to be an artist – and so did her mother, even before she was born.
When Charette’s mother, Elena, was pregnant with her, she had the strong urge to go to several art stores to buy painting oils. “She went to St. Petersburg to see all museums ... it was art in her mind all the time,” Charette said. It was a strange occurance because Elena and the rest of her family had never shown an interest in painting before. Charette believes that it was her influencing her mother from inside the womb.
As she grew older and entered elementary school, she busied herself with drawings and art classes and was constantly featured in small exhibitions at her school along with her classmates. At 12 years old her parents decided to officially enroll her into a school for gifted artists in Ufa.
The days were long – from eight in the morning to eight at night – where she was practicing art for four to six hours, meaning that Charette was fully-immersed into the arts.
Those formative years, coupled with a love of children, led Charette to teaching art at a private school when she was 15 years old.
“I was six months already – or seven or eight even – and I was doing all these murals, running up on the ladder and down and up and down and that was my pregnancy.” – Ella Charette
The students might have been excited about this, but parents of those students, having paid expensive school fees, thought differently. They expected someone older and in their eyes, more qualified.
She had to grow up fast after becoming an art teacher at such a young age, but the artist believes that this helped her in the long run. “I had to stand up for myself, I had to prove that I’m better,” Charette said. “And kids liked me.One of the kids was running away from math and running to my classes. They were quite happy there.”
Charette loves to teach kids because of the different approach they take to making art. “You get very good mood from there. Because they funny, because they – not scared to do anything.It’s very good vibes from the soul ... you happy too when they happy.”
Charette’s first official exhibition was with the Russian Young Artists Group Exhibition in 1998, where professional artists chose which of her pieces would be featured. They chose a picture of her late grandfather.
“It wasn’t easy for me to finish that portrait because my grandpa died that month, but they chose it and I had to finish it,” Charette remembered. She made it through and was happy that her grandfather got to be in her exhibition.
Charette needed to learn English when she met her Canadian husband. Long hours spent in the library helped her overcome the language barrier. She looks back on that as being the most difficult struggle she faced when she made the decision to move to Canada.
Once settled into her new environment, Charette became pregnant with her daughter and she continued to accept strenuous commissions from her clients. “I was six months already – or seven or eight even – and I was doing all these murals, running up on the ladder and down and up and down and that was my pregnancy,” Charette said. “I was so busy, I didn’t even feel anything ... I’m thinking, when to sleep? No time to sleep.”
After her daughter Emilia was born, Charette dealt with the trials of carrying a baby around while still trying to do her artwork, as Emilia’s feet constantly got into the paint oils or her little fingers tried to grab her mother’s brushes.
When Emilia hit the 12 month mark, Charette decided her daughter needed to try drawing just like she did at that age. Emilia immediately took to art as well and now at 10 years old, Emilia has been creating her own pieces and selling them for years.
“I’m very happy about that,” Gilles Charette, Ella’s husband, said. “We really encourage her to discover and pursue any passion that she has.”
The artist still teaches classes to kids and adults alike and she loves them both equally, according to Charette’s friend, Tarra Riley.
Riley also stated that she loves what Charette brings to her pieces. “I think her passion is like her art. I think it's rich. I think it's layered. I think it introduces so many multitudes of colours and style. When there's a commission, she is brilliant at bringing her unique eye and richness to the personality of the commission-ee.”
Charette is currently focused on classical and abstract impressionism, which is a mismatch of components that come together to form a whole picture.
Through the years, Charette has done many different art mediums, including but not limited to: pen and ink, mixed media, and clay.
However, if she had to choose, Charette likes doing graphic-pen-on-canvas the most because of the level of focus required that leaves no room for error.
Inspiration for many of Charette’s pieces come from anything and at any time, even if it’s in the middle of the night.
“It depends on if I get up at night and I want to paint. It’s so many thoughts in my head coming at night. I can see something that people can’t even see. And I’m teaching Emilia to do that too.”
Charette had her work juried in Moscow, Russia in 2015 after she sent in her website to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) for them to judge. They approved of Charette becoming a member of the art association and now she is recognized as a national level UNESCO artist.
Charette’s art pieces have also been showcased in galleries in Calgary, Lloydminster, Vancouver and Toronto, in the U.S. and in her home town of Ufa.
Charette hopes to be recognized as a good teacher in the future and to have her art entered into more galleries. One of Charette’s ultimate goals is to have her work shown in a romantic place, such as the Louvre in Paris, France.
As for right now, Charette is content with continuing to teach and paint and imparting all her knowledge to her daughter.
- By Chula Casey